FEATURE7 July 2010

And cinema’s best supporting actor goes to... MR


If Oscars were doled out for the best performing advertising medium during a recession, cinema would be in with a shout – and research would be its best supporting actor, as Pearl & Dean’s Anna Cremin explains.

For Anna Cremin, research manager at Pearl & Dean – one of the two big cinema ad sales houses – it’s not hard to fathom why. “We as the cinema market have done a really big job in pushing cinema as the medium that creates impact,” she says. “We’ve been saying to advertisers, ‘OK, our cost per thousand may be more expensive than your mass market TV, but actually when you look at the impact you receive via cinema advertising you are getting much more bang for your buck’.”

All of which wouldn’t be possible without research to back up those claims. If cinema gets that fictional Oscar nod, MR must surely be in the running for best supporting role, as Cremin explains.

What’s your take on how cinema has performed versus other sectors of the media during the recession?

The last two years have been really tough for all media, with massive decreases in advertising revenue across the board – into double digits in most cases. Cinema has fared better than most. Because our admissions were so positive last year and we had an increasingly large number of brands either returning to cinema or going on to cinema for the first time, it sort of held its own. But agencies were really scrutinising every penny they spent and it was all about return on investment and added value, and the procurement departments were really pushing from every single angle.

It’s surprising to hear admissions were so positive. You would think people would be more inclined to stay at home during a recession rather than go out to the cinema.

No, that wasn’t the case. We run a panel called Movie Talk and just towards the end of 2008, when Lehman Brothers had gone under and everything was kicking off and it was all doom and gloom in the press, we talked to these cinemagoers and what we found was that they would start cutting out certain parts of their nights out – the pub, the restaurant or the café, for instance – but the cinema trip was still the core thing. The research was an online qualitative forum, but if you look at admissions then that is true all round. Admissions were as high as they have been since 2002. People were still going to the cinema.

How much of that was to do with the release of James Cameron’s Avatar, which was a massive event?

Avatar was only released on 18 December, so while it did have a big impact in the few weeks it was out, it was nowhere near a way of affecting admissions for the whole year. And actually, the year before that Mama Mia came out, which was the biggest film of all time up until Avatar. Mama Mia was released middle of 2008 and ran throughout cinemas for about four or five months. So last year’s admissions figures… I was a bit sceptical at the start of the year, because I thought ‘How are we going to beat Mama Mia?’ But we started off the year with Slumdog Millionaire – massive admissions there – and then we had Terminator Salvation, Transformers 2 and lots of other big blockbuster franchises that kept people coming back for more.

Cinema does depend on film slates a lot of the time, and we’re lucky that as the market develops – the increase of digital screens allowing for more diverse film products, the growth in the number of screens in general so big multiplexes can show more films than just the week’s biggest – because of all of this growth it means there are more films showing each year, and if there are more films showing each year then there are more films on the slate and the slate is growing the audience. It’s a great position to be in.

“Because our admissions were so positive last year and we had an increasingly large number of brands either returning to cinema or going on to cinema for the first time, it sort of held its own. But agencies were really scrutinising every penny they spent”

How much has the introduction of 3D been driving the return to cinema?

This is where Avatar will play a part because it was such a revolutionary film and one of the first with live action 3D. But before that, 3D was being driven in kids’ films, and the take-up on that was really positive. There are certain audiences that are completely used to it and expect 3D to be everywhere, i.e. children, particularly in animation, but there is still room for growth in other genres that haven’t gone 3D yet – horror being a prime example. I think 3D is a really positive thing for cinema but I don’t think it will replace everything. There are different genres and different appropriate behaviours for the way you consume film. The blockbuster season is definitely driven by 3D and 3D will enhance people’s enjoyment of those films, but actually what we can see from the box office is there are still a large number of people who will go and see a film in 2D even if it is available in 3D.

Earlier you mentioned the importance advertisers were placing on ROI and added value in making their ad spending decisions. In what ways has cinema defined itself there?

We’ve got a study that looks at the impact of cinema above and beyond TV and we’ve also done individual post-campaign analyses looking at how successful brands have been – unfortunately I can’t share any of this as it’s brand-specific, but those are examples of studies we’ve done that we can use to persuade advertisers and their agencies that it’s right to invest in cinema.

Using the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s Touchpoints tool, for example, it’s quite easy to prove that if you move a smidgen of your TV budget over to cinema – depending on your audience – then you will see increased cover and a more effectively targeted campaign.

Looking back at the history of Pearl & Dean, local advertising was once a big part of the business, but now in cinema it’s predominantly big brand campaigns. Given the interest in hyper-local targeting online are we going to see a return of local in cinema advertising?

I think it’ll be a mixture of the two. With cinema there is everything from massive multiplexes where you will be able to target your 15- to 24-year-olds really effectively, down to things like the Screen on the Green in Islington – boutique cinemas that are really good for targeting 35-pluses. With the increase in digital screens there is a chance to target on a local level and be effective with it, but you can also use the whole portfolio of Pearl & Dean or DCM [the other major sales house] combined to get this mass reach. It depends on the objective of the campaign, but certainly with the way technology is developing, there is this opportunity to go back to more local advertising, but I would still stress that the big impact campaigns are the ones that make cinema so effective.

You mentioned a few types of cinemas just now, and which was good for targeting which demographic. Is this the kind of work you do in your role at Pearl & Dean, as in analysing the audiences of each cinema? Also, how do you go about determining the likely audience for each film?

There is a mixture really. Pearl & Dean and DCM make up the Cinema Advertising Association and we work together to commission two pieces of research to look at, first of all, audiences in general – and that can be broken down by circuit type or independent so we can look demographically at certain behaviour. That’s our Fame survey, Film Audience Measurement and Evaluation. It basically looks at cinema behaviour – who you go with and why you go and when you go. Secondly, there is a study called Film Monitor where we profile films as they get released in the cinema and then we sell upcoming films against previous releases. If it’s a sequel, that is relatively easy, but other films will be profiled by genre, actor, director etc.

“Cinema has not taken a hit from people being able to watch a film on an iPhone or streaming it to their living room – it just means that people are watching film more often”

Now we are out of recession, competition is going to be back up there from other media. What else has cinema advertising got to do to maintain its position coming out of the downturn?

Up until now advertisers have thought of cinema as ‘nice to have’. But because of the developments in the way cinemas utilise their space now, selling so much in the foyer, the technology that has developed over the last couple of years means what you can do there interactively is massive. We have interactive floors in 20 of our sites now, so cinemagoers can interact with brands in the foyer. That’s something we can offer and it’s a really unique experience because people choose to be there, they are not having these interactions forced on them. It’s a great position to be in and that is how we will compete against other media. We can’t reach the same number of people as an ITV campaign will reach, but what we are talking about is effectively targeting people you do reach rather than having a lost number.

Does the fact that people choose to be at the cinema, that its a central location – does that help both in terms of ad effectiveness and in the research process, meaning you can more effectively survey cinemagoers?

Just because a brand is in cinema, doesn’t mean its in every cinema with every single film, so when it comes to researching the effectiveness of campaigns for particular brands we have to go into the cinema to recruit, as people are leaving the film. But the way we have always done this is to get the respondent’s details and call them back 24 hours later, and we still get very high levels of recall of the advertising – which, in my opinion, goes to prove that because they choose to be there that is another element that adds to the impact of the advertising. I can’t think of another media you experience where you are sitting in the dark, you’re meant to have your phone turned off, you are facing forwards and you tend not to talk. If you compare that to an average evening watching TV where people are getting up making dinner and cups of tea, ironing – you are much more distracted at home than at the cinema.

It’s as close as you can get to a Clockwork Orange-style forced viewing experience without strapping people in and tethering their heads to a board.

Exactly [laughs].

But is there a balance you have to strike to make sure you are not over-advertising people in the cinema?

Within our contracts with each cinema or chain we have agreements as to how much we can sell with each film. For example, in Vue cinemas we can sell 10 minutes, Apollo I think is 12 and Showcase is just over nine. It also depends on the film. Iron Man 2 for instance, a lot of brands would have wanted to buy in to that film.

What of the future for cinema? We seem to be moving closer to a time when movies will be released in all formats – on screen, DVD and download – on the same date. Will that damage cinema audiences and thus advertising revenues?

I do a lot of work looking at platform viewing and the Fame research also looks at that, and it is my honest opinion that over the past four or five years, with the increase of platforms on which you can watch films, it has only aided cinemagoing and I think that is because it increases awareness of film and appreciation of film. There are times and places where people will consume films in different ways, but cinema has not taken a hit from people being able to watch a film on an iPhone or streaming it to their living room – it just means that people are watching films more often.