Copyright 2002 www.thetimes.co.uk

[ August 24th 2002 ]

Much like the audiences of Hollywood films, the UK's cinema advertising industry is hoping for a happy ending to what has been so far an Oscar-winning performance. This year cinema is looking to reprise its role as the success story of the advertising community. Cinema advertising revenue for the period from January to May was Pounds 54 million, nearly 10 per cent up on the same period last year. The advertising market overall has shrunk by 4 per cent over the same period, according to the latest figures from Nielsen Media Research. Ahead of us lies a steady stream of bankable blockbusters -from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to the new Bond film, Die Another Day -guaranteed to put more bums on seats and keep the advertisers smiling.

If it looks too much like a scriptwriter has been at work, here is the reality. Cinema is a media minnow; it accounts for less than 2 per cent of the UK's annual Pounds 16 billion advertising revenue. It may have grown 32 per cent year-on year, but it is from a relatively small base. Nevertheless, the rise is significant, and Adam Mills, sales director of Carlton Screen Advertising, which sells more than half the advertising in cinemas, believes the industry has cause to celebrate. He says: "Cinema used to fluctuate wildly. We could have good months followed by bad ones, which made it difficult to sell against. Nowadays we can say with confidence to advertisers that we can deliver about 3.5 million people each week, every week."

Mills's ability to say this has been helped by a radical change in the way that the film industry launches and markets films. Until recently the studios and distributors rushed to get their films out for the summer blockbuster period, with the result that the market was overcrowded and smaller films were swamped by the year's big releases. No advertiser, bar the local car hire firm and local tandoori, wanted to be in that scrum.

Now the film studios have finally realised that it makes better sense to have films spread across the year, bringing in audiences on a regular basis and ensuring more consistent returns. Whereas the pick of the year's films used to be reserved for the school holidays and Christmas, now not a month goes by without the release of at least one big film. In July it was Stuart Little 2, this month it was Men in Black II, and September will bring Disney's Lilo & Stitch - currently number one in the US. If the increased frequency of releases has attracted more people to the cinema, then, more crucially for advertisers, the variety of films on offer today has widened the age base of cinemagoers -traditionally 16-24 -to include older viewers and families.

The trend of luring people aged 45 and over back to the movies began with Titanic, but has gained pace with the release of films such as About a Boy, Gosford Park and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Meanwhile, films that appeal to both young and old, such as Monsters, Inc., Ice Age and Scooby-Doo, have made the trip to the cinema with the kids a more enjoyable experience for the parents, much to the delight of car and finance advertisers, who have drifted to the medium in ever greater numbers. In the past year alone more than 100 companies moved some of their marketing budget to the cinema for the first time.

Mark Priestley, broadcast director of Carat, the media buying agency that buys the largest amount of cinema advertising space, says: "We recommend cinema to our advertisers as a flexible medium. They can buy space around a particular film, audience or region. And you can also presume that people in the cinema will be watching the ads, unlike in television, where research records a presence in the room, but not whether they are actually watching." That is where cinema has the edge. In today's crowded and fragmented advertising market, the cinema, with its ritual of making the trip to sit in a darkened room in front of a screen 40 times the size of a TV with Dolby stereo, offers something more for an advertiser -a unique environment, free of other media and with a captive audience to boot.

That is why BMW chose cinema as the medium to kick off the new Mini's launch campaign -"It's a Mini Adventure" -focused on the release of the action movie Tomb Raider. This year Orange, the mobile phone company, negotiated a unique deal to place a 60-second film advertising its text messaging service between film trailers and the beginning of the feature. Later this year, Orange will create individual ads for different genres of films, which it hopes will reach other audiences.

Orange's James Smith says: "You really do have a captive audience. There is nothing else competing for your attention. And for us to be connected to films further strengthens our brand's association with culture and the arts." (There is already an Orange Prize for Fiction.) Cinema may not be able to deliver the numbers that TV, press or radio can, and at three times the cost of television it is not cheap, but it is successfully selling itself as a medium that can offer advertisers quality rather than quantity.

Last year was a record-breaker and this year promises more of the same, prompting the industry boldly to project revenue increases of 15 per cent over the next five years. But when cinema advertising is so reliant on the quality of films showing in the cinemas, it is not hard to see what could happen in a year of turkeys.

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