Engaging the audience: Cinema keeps moviegoers in sync with advertising


Interactive, integrated, social, mobile and engaging. These key words have all been used to describe the next big thing in cinema advertising and pre-show entertainment. Already, cinema audiences are getting “Glue” and checking in for their movie night out. They are creating a “Scene” these days, syncing their mobile phones with what’s on the screen and in the lobby for even more stuff to see and do. Moviegoers are raising their arms to make the picture move and—we can always hope—they are turning all of that activity off when the trailers start.

Following up on the state of the ad business, Film Journal International takes an exclusive look at some of the exciting new initiatives that cinema-advertising agencies have launched in partnership with their affiliated theatre operators, technology providers and major brands.

“We want to make the moviegoing experience even more fun for the first half-hour when the pre-show runs,” Screenvision’s chief revenue officer Mark Mitchell states, confirming that a new pre-show is in the works at the company. “It will be more than just a redesign,” he assures. “We are living in a socially connected world, as you know. So we are trying to increase audience involvement and drive more participation than we were able to do with text-to-screen and digital trivia slides in the past. Through the use of their handsets, [audiences will be able to] more fully engage with the messaging and brand advertising that is on the screen.”

Mitchell also envisions them sharing information about movie reviews, trailers and long-form branded entertainment. “While that type of content usually ends up on YouTube, we’ve got a great place for it in theatres where you have a guaranteed audience. We will invite and encourage the audience to share that content via links and downloads with their friends.”

Just how far and wide information can spread became evident during last summer’s “Ticket Takedown,” when Sprint and Screenvision launched a pricing promotion built around the telecom provider’s tagline of “All Together Now.” Prices would drop depending on how many people registered online or by texting. With 12 hours to promotion deadline, hip2save.com, one of the many deal sites that picked up on what it called “this awesome opportunity to snatch up movie tickets for only $4!”, noted that over 95,000 people had registered for 100,000 available tickets. As each promo code awarded on redemption day, August 15, entitled the winner to two movie tickets at that price, many fans must have left empty-handed.

Full attention to the screen and acting together as a group were required to fill up a theatre-sized Dove Beauty Bar. While Unilever ran traditional commercials promoting the creaminess of its soap nationwide, motion-detection technology and special software were brought into additional play at select auditoriums in key markets of the Screenvision network. The goal was to line up the position of the Dove Bar with wherever the beauty cream was flowing down from the top of the screen, Mitchell explains. “The audience controlled where the bar was on the screen. Trying to fill it, they put up their arms, moving them left to right and right to left to make the bar slide.”

Last December, NCM Media Networks and Audience Entertainment Group took this very idea of “human joysticks” into a 90-second videogame for Disney Cruise Lines. After many successful applications at cinemas and live events, indoors and outside in over 40 cities in nine countries, American moviegoers were finally able to “experience the future of cinema advertising” by joining Donald Duck in “the interactive, big-screen version of a wild water ride.” Again, the audience had to move their arms in unison to retrieve objects while going down the slide. Even their final score was posted in real time at the end.

“Agencies and marketers are viewing AudienceGames as a good way to extend their integrated online and mobile marketing efforts,” Cliff Marks, National CineMedia’s president of sales and marketing, noted at the time. After all, he opined, “playing a game with a theatre full of people is about as social as media can get!”

Announcing the partnership for Canada between TimePlay, a world leader in the multi-player interactive industry, and Cineplex Entertainment, the circuit’s VP, communications and investor relations, Pat Marshall agreed. “Moviegoers are engaged audiences who seek entertainment and escapism. TimePlay’s new technology will deliver a new dimension in interactive entertainment making advertisements even more compelling while enhancing the moviegoing experience for our guests.”

Shortly thereafter, the Ford Motor Company of Canada and Canon Canada became the first brands to use TimePlay with their own “customized big-screen experiences” as part of a holiday pilot program in the Greater Toronto area. “This is a first for the Canadian industry and this concept will provide a unique way for advertisers to market their products and services in our theatres,” Marshall said at the time. Instead of waving their arms, moviegoers deployed TimePlay’s patented social platform app on their mobile phones to manipulate the outcome of the spot. Ford’s agency had created two short films with parallel storylines, Marshall explains. Audiences chose to follow the story—with a male or female character leading—that interested them the most. With four chances to interact and change the course of the proceedings, the experience was different every time.

“The creative that is being developed by the advertising agency is really only confined by the agency’s imagination,” Marshall observes. “There are all kinds of uses that could be played and games that they could create.” In the case of Canon, participants were asked to enhance a photo that had been taken in low light. By collectively using their phones to throw virtual light balls at the screen that, in turn, brightened the image, TimePlay simulated “how the photo would have looked if taken using Canon’s PowerShot HS System.” Brand message was delivered as the audience was instantly rewarded with coupons sent to their mobile devices.

“The retention on these ads was significantly higher…because the consumer is so focused on the screen,” Marshall can confirm. If moviegoers opt in, invitations to test-drive one of the Ford vehicles, for instance, can extend the cinema experience to outside the theatre environment as well. “These are two great examples of untold thousands that obviously exist,” Marshall declares.

Cliff Marks believes that all of these initiatives are marking more integrated media deals in the cinema space. NCM launched a new division, he says, specifically to devise such platforms. “Our vice president of entertainment marketing, Rebecca Eldrige, is working with studios and television networks to bring fully integrated marketing and promotion plans to brands and products.” By allowing them to leverage high-quality intellectual property, such as X-Men: First Class to the U.S. Army, Red Tails with the Air Force and Cowboys & Aliens in a Sprint-sponsored sweepstakes and exclusive behind-the-scenes look, NCM enables “mutually beneficial marketing opportunities.” In the case of Lucasfilm, the 30-second U.S. Air Force spot was followed by 15 seconds about Red Tails that encouraged moviegoers to visit AirForce.com to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, who are the focus of the film.

“It’s not just about selling spots for the big screen,” Marks continues. “It’s about creating marketing ideas that reach consumers at various touch points in their consideration process of what movies they want to see. Not only do these initiatives extend the properties by tying them to a brand, they are also built to have multiple touch points for the consumer—big screen, lobby, online and mobile.”

In addition to the MovieGoer app that we profiled in our March edition, Regal Cinemas’ new mobile app (see sidebar below) and NCM’s MovieNightOut are other good examples of how to engage audiences. Launched in September 2010, MovieNightOut has been downloaded over 1.1 million times. The app allows its users to view movie information, theatres and showtimes and to find nearby restaurants (“Plan a Night”). They can check in to a movie/theatre, rate and review films as well as create a “Scene” with a “Movie Buddy List” drawn right from contacts on the phone and/or their Facebook friends. The most recent version now features the option to “CinemaSync,” which means automatically connecting users “with ads and content within our FirstLook pre-show, as well as virtually any promotional item in the theatre lobbies.”

Marks explains, “We just took the first step in our strategy to directly connect our core cinema advertising business to the online and mobile worlds.” The app itself then invites users to “unlock all media” by syncing with movie posters, displays, standees and concessions, to get extended content—new trailers, poster downloads, ticket purchases and special deals—“right on your phone.” Moving into the auditorium “early” and “for second-screen interactivity with the FirstLook pre-show,” CinemaSync seeks to complement “what you are seeing on the big screen with synced deals and content right on the small screen in your hand.”

Interactive, integrated, social and mobile—they certainly all apply. The most engaging feature? “When the FirstLook ends, just put your phone into movie mode and enjoy the show!”

Regal Entertainment On the Go
“Regal is excited to offer our moviegoers a tremendous new way to find films, plan their trip to the movies, invite friends and purchase tickets in a quick and convenient way,” said Greg Dunn, president and chief operating officer of Regal Entertainment Group, during the early March launch of the circuit’s dedicated iPhone and Android apps.

While some of the basics like finding showtimes and mobile ticketing are to be expected, the world’s largest exhibitor added some social functionality as well. Guests can share showtimes and purchases via text, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. They can receive coupons, sweepstakes invitations and promotions from Regal Crown Club. Members in the loyalty program have the ability to manage their accounts and balances as well.