The perception of in-cinema is of a static, inflexible, easily overlooked vehicle with minimal reach and a niche audience -- but I would argue that it represents a missed opportunity for a highly impactful, easily measured, supportive campaign that integrates digital in an obvious manner. The reality of in-cinema, and reality is not a mirage, is that movie-goers are a highly attentive, captive audience -- and almost all of them have a mobile platform easily accessible with which they will readily respond to the appropriate messaging.
The most recent film my wife and I saw piqued my renewed interest in in-cinema advertising because I witnessed the marriage of many avenues: brand integration, mobile, lead-gen and video. Big brand advertisers were creating short-form content that featured their brands. Other advertisers were asking you to text a special number for more info on upcoming films. Trivia was used to engage the audience and generate interest while acquiring mobile numbers. Video from the Web was brought into the theatre experience as a payoff from an online contest. The advertisers utilizing the space had elements of all of the above and one could argue the level of engagement in the theatre rivaled that of the best of other media.
If you examine the audience measurement statistics for in-cinema, a great story emerges and it's one that complements digital in a very obvious manner. A recent report stated that frequent moviegoers are 44% more likely to pay attention to in-cinema ads than ads on TV. 36% of in-cinema viewers felt they were more interested in the ads -- compared to 29.1% of broadcast viewers and 29.4% of cable viewers. These numbers support the idea that in-cinema provides an opportunity for high engagement with the audience.
Though the numbers don't immediately demonstrate the obvious tie-in to digital, the behaviors of the audience support it. Mobile is an obvious factor, judging by the number of times the ads remind you to "turn off your cell phone." I don't have specific data, but I think it's safe to assume that close to 100% of the audience in attendance has a mobile device of some type and most of these have access to data plans (especially on PG-13 and R-rated films). Based on these assumptions, mobile and even Web access through a mobile platform are obvious ways to drive a reaction. Furthermore, the opportunity to drive to the Web following the movie is high, filtering the audience to the Internet for "payout" of a message that was of interest to them before the film (some refer to this as recall).
The in-cinema audience represents a strong opportunity that can also be easily targeted by the context of the film. In the case of summer movies and larger blockbusters, there is also the opportunity for high reach into a more general audience. Coca-Cola seems to have recognized this and does lots of in-cinema advertising, as do the endemic category advertisers, such as Fandango. I even see a fair number of auto advertisers at the movies, but why not use it as a technology platform or a platform for distributing coupons to middle America, like Cellfire? For years we've seen game trailers online; when will we start to see them at the movies, where they belong? Dependent on the film you can reach a very early-adopter, influential audience or you can reach the mainstream Soccer Moms and Dads!
If you're looking for response rather than pure brand building, the response mechanism for in-cinema is easy, as you can utilize mobile with SMS efforts or even email via the increased proliferation of cell phones with email access. What about MMS, and encouraging the moviegoer to take a picture of the screen and send it in for a coupon or some other reward? Even QR Codes, which are beginning to gain some popularity, can be used in this environment.
The question that always comes up when evaluating cinema is reach, but as we continue to find new and interesting ways to fragment the audience, I'd have to imagine that a blockbuster film represents one of the few mass reach opportunities still available in traditional media. The big summer films will reach an aggregate audience larger than most TV shows -- and definitely more than some Web sites where we spend our money.
It may not be the obvious place to spend your dollars, and it may not be the obvious place to consider when you focus your attention on digital, but even the movies are going digital in the same way that TV is going digital -- so convergence creates the opportunity for integration, and you need to know about them all. As a strong, experienced media planner or buyer, you need to keep your options open and your expertise high, so go to the movies and see what you can do!