Commentary

Ford Goes To The Movies

A new cinema ad campaign from Ford is testimony to some important trends in marketing and media during a recession, including the continued need for advertising, the relative vigor of the movie industry, and the sustained growth of digital out-of-home video. Indeed, while Ford may be in trouble, DOOH seems to be doing rather nicely, all things considered.

The Ford campaign is running this month on roughly 17,300 movie screens belonging to affiliates of National CineMedia, according to Mediaweek, which first reported the news. Though no dollar figure was disclosed, there's got to be a substantial amount of money invested at a time when American carmakers, and the economy in general, are a shambles. And that's the whole point: pounded by months of negative headlines trumpeting Ford's inefficiency and dire financial condition, the company is using the cinema ad campaign to try to reverse the spin by focusing on Ford's good deeds and common touch. Rather than selling cars, the two-minute spot before G and PG movies details Ford employees' volunteer efforts, its funding of education, and its charitable contributions to groups like Habitat for Humanity.

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Whether Ford can reach consumers benumbed by economic woe remains to be seen, but its choice of platform bespeaks certain advantages of cinema advertising. For one thing, the audience is likely to be more attentive at the movies than while watching TV at home, for the simple fact that the audiovisuals are more commanding; this engagement is indicated by the decision to pay for the experience and show up early. Further, they may be more receptive to emotional messages in movie theaters -- immersive entertainment venues that encourage the suspension of disbelief and sympathy with people on-screen. Just contrast the placement of an emotional appeal before "Hannah Montana: The Movie" with placement during, say, local news or a reality TV show.

The escapist appeal of movies may very well trump the spiraling cost of tickets during a recession, as families and young adults cut back on even more expensive recreation like travel. During the first two months of 2009 movie attendance increased 21% and box office receipts climbed 23%, according to researcher Media By the Numbers, thanks to inspirational movies like "Slumdog Millionaire" and light-hearted fare like "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience."

Since the immersive experience begins in the lobby, cinema advertisers are expanding their digital video offerings there as well. Screenvision, National CineMedia's main competitor, announced last week that it is rolling out digital ad platforms in movie theater lobbies in partnership with Cinema Scene Marketing, which has already installed digital poster outlets in 100 locations -- a number that Screenvision expects to increase to 230 by the end of this year. Cinema Scene's digital displays include 3-D LCD screens and billboards, as well as interactive kiosks.

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