Moviegoers at 12 U.K. cinemas on Saturday became human joysticks.
They were shown an ad for the Volvo XC70 before the movie Ratatouille, and were asked to put their hands in the air and wave them left or right — as a group. A single camera at the front of the theater translated the audience's collective leanings, and the onscreen animated car drove in that direction.
That participatory commercial represents a growing trend in movie theater advertising, with on-screen ads and lobby displays becoming more interactive, more entertainment-oriented and frequently offbeat — such as a tongue-in-cheek promotion where an oral-care company stuck dental picks to the popcorn bags.
The idea is that more fun makes advertising go down better with a theater's captive audience.
"If you are going to use cinema advertising, the bar is higher in terms of the engagement and the entertainment that you have to bring to the table," says Jay Waters, chief strategy officer at marketing agency Luckie and Co. "Consumers think, 'I get free programming at home in exchange for watching advertising, but I paid to come in here, so why should I have to watch an ad?' "
The innovations come as marketers continue to ramp up spending on movie theater promotions.
On Monday, the Cinema Advertising Council will report that spending in 2006 hit $456 million — a 15% rise over the prior year. That total includes revenue from on-screen commercials — ads that run before the movie previews — as well as off-screen promotions, such as lobby displays, sample handouts and ads on popcorn bags. CAC members represent about 81% of the movie screens in the USA.
As cinema ads become a regular part of the movie-going experience, marketers continue to try new techniques to test their potential for amusing, rather than alienating, the paying customers.
"If you let people have fun, they don't feel like they've been intruded upon," says David Polinchock, chief experience officer at Brand Experience Lab, which was responsible for the interactive technology behind the Volvo ad. "They don't walk away upset."
Matthew Kearney, CEO of Screenvision, which sells ads for theater chains such as National Amusements and Carmike Cinemas, says the company aims for "entertainment" in on-screen ads before previews that "are designed to help the time pass."
Those ads are welcome new revenue for theater owners grappling with lack of growth in U.S. ticket sales.
From 2002 to 2004, box-office revenue remained relatively flat, hovering around $9.5 billion, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. In 2005, it dipped to $8.4 billion, before reviving to $9.6 billion last year.
Yet, some ad critics still sit there seething and anti-ad groups have organized via the Internet, such as the Captive Motion Picture Audience of America. At captiveaudience.org, consumers are urged to "say 'NO' to TV commercials before feature films at movie theaters."
Theater owners, however, continue to say, "Yes." A look at what's been showing up at theaters:
•Long-form videos. This month, Geico launched a two-minute music video featuring its ad cavemen singing about romantic troubles in their lives. Set in a chic apartment, the video ends with a plug for the Geico website CavemansCrib.com.
"People would much rather see this than a still ad for a dentist," says Phil Ovuka, Geico media director.
The ad is being shown on 4,062 screens at 341 theaters nationwide, says Geico's Joe Talbott, who wrote and directed the video.
•Offbeat lobby displays. This summer, to promote The Simpsons Movie, about 1,000 U.S. and Canadian theaters had life-size lobby displays of Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa and Maggie on their signature sofa. It had a seat open for moviegoers to plop down next to the characters — and snap cellphone photos.
•Interactive on-screen ads. An Army National Guard ad in about 1,100 theaters in December urged patrons to use their cellphones to text their age to get information about Guard fitness requirements. Those that did got a text reply listing sit-ups, push-ups and running distance needed. They also received subsequent messages about enlistment benefits, such as tuition assistance.
•Corny add-ons. Last fall, DenTek Oral Care attached individually wrapped dental floss picks to 570,000 popcorn bags in 100 markets nationwide. "Floss sticks are really handy if you're eating popcorn and you get a kernel stuck," says A.J. Holt, a marketing specialist for the company.
The bag ad said, "Don't you just hate it when popcorn gets stuck in your teeth?" It included a coupon for $1 off any package of DenTek Floss Picks.
Screenvision's Kearney says consumers will see more creative advertising in the future at the concession stand: "There's plenty of mileage left in the good old-fashioned popcorn bag."
NEW & NOTABLE
Scare those cavities away.
For parents whose biggest Halloween fear is fat dental bills, here's a marketing twist: Coax your kid to sell his or her holiday loot to the dentist.
In a move spearheaded by Middleton, Wis., dentist Chris Kammer, some 150 tooth docs nationwide will pay $1 for every pound of wrapped, "fun size" Halloween candy turned in on Nov. 1. Their goal: collect 1 million pieces of candy — about 33,300 pounds.
The treats won't be trashed — they'll be shipped to armed forces members in Iraq. What about the soldiers' dental health? "These troops are getting shot at, and their lives are on the line every day," says Kammer. "If a little piece of candy can give them a moment of joy, I'm all for it."
Mickey D grows green.
McDonald's ad agency Leo Burnett USA sprouted a novel idea to promote the fast-feeder's salad line: a giant billboard with live, growing lettuce. The 10-foot-by-30-foot sign, across from Chicago's Wrigley Field, has 16 types of sprouting lettuce — from romaine to radicchio — positioned to spell out the words "Fresh Salads."
"The lettuce has come in nicely," says Laurie Gustafson, a senior producer at the ad agency.
Too bad the Chicago Cubs didn't flourish in a similar manner so more crowds would see the billboard. They were swept out of Major League Baseball's post-season playoffs by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
New York City, already known for its varied ethnic fare, will have an even bigger assortment on display next month. Cultural Food New York, a two-day international food trade show for retail buyers, will showcase a belly-busting combo of Asian, kosher and Hispanic nibbles.
The Nov. 11-12 event at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is a combination of three ethnic food shows: All Asia Food, Kosherfest and the Expo Comida Latina. About 2,000 exhibitors are expected to draw upwards of 45,000 retail food buyers from all over the world. And they can top it off with a slice of signature New York City pizza.
New take on the fountain of youth.
Pepsi has licensed its Aquafina water brand name for a line of skin-care products. The Aquafina Advanced Hydration Rx line, from manufacturer Added Extras, has 10 products for thirsty skin, including a foaming cleanser, daytime moisturizer and under-eye cream. The products are made with "pure water" — though not actually from bottles of Aquafina.
While the Ad Team is all for any products that might diminish our worry lines, we wonder about whether there is a mixed message with this cross-branding. A marketer would not want to leave the impression that a product is watered down.
Nielsen reverses ratings rule.
Last week, Nielsen did away with a policy that had allowed networks to combine the audiences of multiple broadcasts of the same show in a single, larger report if both airings had the same content — and the same lineup of national commercials.
NBC legitimately took advantage of the rule and consolidated the viewers for two Heroes airings into a single show rating. Other networks and media buyers griped that this practice distorted ratings. Nielsen eliminated the rule, saying it "received a significant amount of feedback from its clients in which concern was expressed."
Super Bowl ad watch:
Online auto-shopping site Cars.com will make its Super Bowl debut during the Feb. 3 game on Fox. The company, in which USA TODAY parent Gannett has a stake, will run ads in the first and third quarters, spokesman Steve Nolan says.
Frito-Lay also will be back in the Big Game with 60 seconds of ad time (more than $5 million worth). The chip king is running an online contest for consumers to submit clips of original songs to snackstrongproductions.com. A panel of five judges, including Frito-Lay executives, will pick 10 semifinalists. Online voting will pick a winner, which will be made into a music video to air in the ad time.
By Laura Petrecca, Bruce Horovitz, Theresa Howard
ASK THE AD TEAM
Q: Who is the voice in the Honda Mr. Opportunity ad campaign?
A: The animated Mr. Opportunity has been making opportunity knock in Honda's summer clearance ads since July 2004. The voice behind him is Rob Paulsen, 51, a veteran voice actor with a long list of film, TV and commercial credits.
The actor has voiced characters in dozens of animated TV shows, including Pinky in the animated show Pinky and the Brain, a Steven Spielberg production on the former WB Network in which two lab mice (insane Pinky and genetically enhanced Brain) plan to take over the world.
His upcoming animated voice work includes The Little Mermaid III and Tinker Bell, both due next year.
Q: This season, the CBS show The Unit has a new song for the opening segment. There is no longer the more military chant — it is now a more soap opera-like song with the guys walking toward the camera in suits. Was this a marketing decision to try to not be as military?
A: Bingo. The original theme, created by series composer Robert Duncan, incorporated a Marine running cadence called Fired Up, Feels Good and sounded more military than the new music. Duncan also wrote the new song, called Walk the Fire.
The cadence was "well-liked" but "projected an overt military feel, which may have been misleading to those not familiar with the show," says Shari Rosenblum, a spokeswoman for Twentieth Century Fox, which produces the CBS show. "The hope is that the new opening music and title visuals will give the perception that The Unit is not just a military show, but that we are an … adventure drama. The use of a broader-appeal rock song may give a different message."