And The Winner Is.. Cinema Ads: Brain Research Shows They're More Emotionally Engaging Than TV Spots


If you’re one of the billion-plus people who watched the Oscars last night, you probably already know how emotionally engaging cinema is. Now there’s some scientific proof. In the first research of its kind, cinema advertising network NCM utilized some state-of-the-art technology that measured the unconscious responses of moviegoers to ads shown to them in movie theaters -- and not surprisingly, they were considerably more engaged than the same type of ads shown on other media such as TV or the Internet.

The findings could be a boon for NCM as it heads into an especially cluttered, pre-upfront advertising marketplace, where hundreds of TV, online video and even place-based video networks are all vying for an emotional connection with their intended audiences: advertisers and agencies.



It’s also the latest in a wave of research from the burgeoning field of neuromarketing research, which many believe could grow to rival -- and maybe even supplant -- conventional forms of media and marketing research. Instead of simply asking people, or measuring their behavior, neuromarketing researchers utilize various biometric methods that tap unconscious physiological responses of people and correlate them with science about the brain to reveal not simply what people are thinking about advertising and media content, but what they are feeling.

“The brand engagement was off the scale,” boasts Doug Pulick, senior vice president of strategic insight and analytics at NCM Media Networks, who has been conducting a series of “dog and pony” shows presenting the findings to some big advertisers and agencies prior to this morning’s release of the findings.

Pulick, a long-time TV researcher before joining NCM, said he has presented more than a dozen of the briefings -- and that in most cases the ad execs were in fact emotionally engaged, and even asked to watch and replay videos of the consumers being measured to better understand their responses, which generated disproportionately higher levels of emotional engagement than equivalent TV ads.

Following exposure in cinema, the “lift in brand resonance” -- the unconscious emotional connection to a brand -- was 75% higher on average than the norms generated by an ad watched on television.

Noting that the content of the ads themselves is a factor in making those emotional connections, Pulick said some of the cinema spots generated levels that were 194% higher than television’s.

Pulick acknowledged that there are other important differences in environment between cinema and TV ads that likely influence their impact on consumers, including the fact that even when they were the same ads, the moviegoers were “captive” viewers, who didn’t have the kinds of distractions and other competing content that viewers watching spots at home on their TV sets might have. But he says that is one of the points of NCM’s pitch: That for whatever reasons -- environmental or otherwise -- cinema advertising has more of an emotional effect than TV ads do.

“My answer to that is, that’s exactly the point. There is a difference between seeing an ad on a 40-foot screen vs. a 42-inch screen,” he said.

The research was conducted by Boston-based Innerscope Research, one of the leaders in the field of neuromarketing research, which has even come up with sophisticated models to explain the correlation between content and the environmental factors influencing how people experience them on different platforms. The research, known as the Brand Immersion model, shows that all things being equal, an immersive environment like someone watching a movie -- or even ads in the pre-show reel preceding one -- are more likely to immerse a consumer in the experience than ads shown in a more “flexible” media environment where they can be more easily distracted.

The fact that cinema performs so well vis a vis TV is significant, because TV, by and large, is also deemed a highly immersive environment -- a fact that has been borne out by the so-called “TV In Context” research that Innerscope conducted for Turner Broadcasting.

Pulick acknowledged that the research is new, and more needs to be done to understand the full effects and differences between advertising in theaters vs. other media. He also acknowledges that consumer behavior is evolving along with consumer media technologies, especially the increasing availability of a “second screen” -- their handheld smartphone or other device -- while they are sitting in what previously would have been a one-screen environment.

Pulick said NCM is already thinking about some research to measure that new behavior, but also doesn’t necessarily believe it will be a net negative for movie advertising. In fact, he said NCM is exploring new mobile apps that would enable consumers to interact with ads, and presumably other content, on their handheld screens while they are watching it on the big screen.

“We’ve had this discussion,” Pulick said, adding: “You can either get on this bus or get out of the way, but you can’t stop it.” Pulick said it’s unlikely that theaters will be able to stop consumers from using their handheld devices while in the theater, so it might be better to utilize them than to ignore or try and fight them.

10 comments about "And The Winner Is.. Cinema Ads: Brain Research Shows They're More Emotionally Engaging Than TV Spots".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Tom Francoeur from Communispace, February 27, 2012 at 10:21 a.m.

    Personally, I find ads at the cinema the least engaging and least interesting ads you find anywhere. It's just that I'm a captive there, waiting for the movie to start. The researches acknowledge this aspect a bit. But I really wonder how much is "emotional engagement" versus staring at the screen because there's nothing else to do.

  2. Sunil Soman from NCM Media Networks, February 27, 2012 at 3:13 p.m.

    One of the elements of the test was to compare emotional reactions to persons watching a pre-show prior to a feature film with reactions of persons watching a 30 minute TV loop in the theater - the results showed that emotional engagement levels were much higher during the true 'cinema' experience. When people were in the mindset that they were waiting for a film to start, they were indeed emotionally primed to be much more receptive to advertising.

  3. Gary milner from The Simpler Way, February 27, 2012 at 3:57 p.m.

    Problem is reach -most people arent in the cinema to see ads, unless the movie is a blockbuster. SO even if the engagement is there the volume is not.

  4. Sunil Soman from NCM Media Networks, February 27, 2012 at 4:41 p.m.

    Actually, if you look at total national cinema as if it were a television network, it would rank within the top 10 in any given month in terms of overall reach - NCM alone would be in the top 15. On fridays and saturdays however, cinema would be within the top 3 networks.

  5. Michael Greeson from TDG, February 27, 2012 at 6:43 p.m.

    Are you kidding me? No one questioned the role that screen size has in all this. You can take just about any decent TV ad and blow it up to the size of small building and it will have greater brand recall than a 50" TV.

    When it comes to the same ad displayed on a cinema screen versus a TV--again, assuming the production value and ad script are reasonably enticing--I'd wager the larger screen = better recall.

  6. Viviane Wanderley from MRM/McCann, February 27, 2012 at 6:54 p.m.

    I am not surprised movie goers are, emotionally, more engaged with the ads as there are less distractions at the theater than at home; we are speaking with more of a receptive audience.
    What really intrigues me is to learn about NCM exploring apps that will enable consumers to interact with the ads while they are watching it. That's how we will capture consumers attention moving forward, is to ask them to take action and engage with the ad, while the ad is being played.

  7. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, February 27, 2012 at 9:13 p.m.

    Sounds like classic comparison of apples and oranges. Context is everything. The movie theater experience will stimulate the subconscious tremendously because it's such a powerful display. Does it mean those ads are more effective? No. Because subconscious stimulation is not the ultimate goal of advertising - doing things which cause a business result are. That is, unless you are cynical enough to believe in the brain washing theory of advertising. But heck, who really wanted validly useful information from a group whose job is to sell movie theater ads?

  8. J Scherer from Pinpoint Group LLC, February 28, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.

    Sooo... if the goal was to find a “lift in brand resonance,” perhaps this was a win. Emotional engagement? How does that ink? Granted it is captured audience and besides texting and playing with their phones, most people are staring at the screen. What I'm not sold on is how you can place an real ROI on this. I agree with others here- I find most of the messages an pre-roll stuff pretty annoying.

  9. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, February 29, 2012 at 1:58 p.m.

    Cinema ads about new movies also have another element behind them. Because the length of the marketing campaign is very short, usually 30 days or less, the movie companies will use more sweepstakes and contest than any other industry. After running over 34,000 sweeps, I count on the movie business industry.

  10. Clare-Marie Harris panno from Posterscope USA, February 29, 2012 at 3:24 p.m.

    Very helpful to have some scientific evidence to prove what we have long believed. Think about the fact that when viewing tv, the viewer tends to have neutral engagement to the ads and often the content. With cinema, the engagement can be maximized. We know that at the end of a tv spot the engagement has dropped from the beginning, but this research shows a significant increase. For those who argue that this study does not replicate real world, in the real world, a TV viewer would most likely change the channel /fast forward when below neutral engagement. In Cinema, they are captive. Thanks for sharing this!

Next story loading loading..