Ten years ago, advertising activity in cinema foyers was virtually non-existent. The owners of the cinema chains considered the environments of their picture palaces to be sacrosanct and, in any case, were unconvinced about the possibility of raising significant extra revenues from marketing activity. The only advertising they were interested in was the stuff that appeared on screen before the main feature.
Then, about seven years ago, the cinema chains began to allow on-screen advertisers to indulge in foyer activities - largely sampling exercises where products (usually food or drink) were handed out as the cinema-goers left the auditorium. From those small beginnings, the sector has begun to grow steadily. It is now worth more than £1 million and an increasing range of clients, from car manufacturers to computer games companies, are using the medium.
And you can see why any advertiser targeting a young adult audience would be interested. In 2005, cinemas put 164.7 million bums on seats. The figure was slightly down year on year but the trend continues upwards - admissions, for instance, have trebled since a low point in the mid-80s. And this is a rich demographic for some advertisers. Most cinema-goers are aged between 15 and 34 and, while the national average for the UK is 2.8 visits a year per person, younger people go to the cinema at least once a month.
In its first growth phase, foyer presence was tied to on-screen activity but the environment quickly came to be seen as an attractive sampling opportunity in its own right, with simple sampling developing into sophisticated promotion-based activities.
These often use free-standing display units (typically 6ft high by 4ft wide) and card dispensers on box-office counters. Typical promotional offers include trips to film locations or, perhaps the most obvious and popular choice, Hollywood holidays.
At their most ambitious, foyer promotions have even extended to car showcases - but these are rarely done these days because of the difficulties involved in getting such large lumps of metal into most cinema foyers. However, theatrical stunts remain popular and sometimes the focus can be in the auditorium itself as well as the foyer. Several advertisers have experimented with planting actors in the cinema audience to react to, or interact with, ads running on screen.
But more conventional inventory is also available. The UK's cinema foyers offer a combined total of approximately 1,000 backlit six-sheets. Media owners are quick to point out that the average cinema-goer spends 12 minutes in the foyer - and this is relatively quality time, when people are out of the cold and in a good mood. Rather different, they suggest, to the minutes spent waiting for a bus.
In common with many other sectors, future expectations for cinema advertising are all about digital and mobile technologies. Promotions these days tend to invite entries via mobile-phone texting rather than scratch cards and the next stage will be the use of Bluetooth technology to interact with consumers in increasingly sophisticated ways.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Carlton Screen, Pearl & Dean/Primesight
WHAT'S NEW: Foyer makeovers to transform the space into a branded environment, the use of Bluetooth technology and special-build six-sheet sites. A greater use of existing six-sheet innovations, from lenticulars to audio-visual interactivity
CASE STUDY - Jammie Dodgers
Client: Burton's Foods
Communications planning and buying: Universal McCann
Media owner: Pearl & Dean/Primesight
Brief: Get mothers to buy Jammie Dodgers for their children. Use the
Saturday Morning Kids Gang, a bespoke weekly event, to deliver the
Budget: £1.3 million
Target market: Mothers and their children aged four to eight
Inventory used: Thirty-second cinema ad; specially created sponsorship credits; 6ft Jammie Standees; "Create your own flavour" leaflets at the concession; 1.2 million samples distributed at Vue Point; distribution in Saturday morning snack packs; online invitation on the Vue website; quad posters in foyers.
Other media used: None.
Bigger picture :The company agreed to a year-long commitment to the medium.