Close-Up: Where are all the great cinema ads?

A shadow of its former self, cinema advertising needs a creative renaissance, John Tylee writes.

Jon Tipple has no praise too high for The King's Speech, having just watched the much-lauded movie at his local multiplex - and no words too damning to describe the "20 minutes of shit" that preceded it.

Tipple, the head of planning at McCann London, remembers a time when cinema ads were so good, people would be in their seats well before the start of the main feature just to see the commercials.

Today, that elongated commercial break - now crammed with adapted 30-second TV spots rather than the specially made jaw-droppers of yesteryear - is more likely to play to rows of empty seats.

Most are agreed that cinema advertising is a shadow of its former self. It's eight years since BMW drove cinema advertising into new territory by investing $10 million through Fallon Minneapolis to create its own mini-films, directed by leading movie-makers such as Tony Scott and starring the likes of Gary Oldman and the soul singer James Brown.

Tipple believes advertisers that once saw cinema as an integral part of their media plans have now largely handed over the medium to charities, such as the anti-aviation campaigner Plane Stupid, which has used it to get maximum impact with an ad featuring dead polar bears dropping from the skies.

"Cinema is a massive missed opportunity," Tipple contends. "And it's all down to a lack of imagination rather than a lack of money."

The relentless rise of online is a major reason why cinema has slipped down the pecking order with advertisers.

"Cinema used to be the way of tightly targeting your audiences," Damon Collins, the executive creative director at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, explains. "Today, TV commercials can be turned into virals, adapted for mobiles or put on a Facebook page. This is often free and the results are quantifiable."

Matt McDowell, Toshiba's marketing director for Northern Europe, says: "We've never used cinema in any significant way and I don't see that changing. The cost of producing a cinema campaign can be considerable and we're all watching our budgets."

Ian Armstrong, Honda's European communications manager, agrees. "Cinema advertising has become a succession of TV spots bought in bulk deals," he moans. "It's ironic that as films get better technically, brands don't have the money to invest in cinema."

At the same time, some advertisers are thought to be concerned about cinema's ability to deliver audiences on a sustained basis. Although around 171 million cinema tickets were sold in the UK last year (the second highest total since 1971), attendances in general are flat. And there is concern that cash-strapped consumers are being put off by the cost of seats. "The prices are a bloody rip-off," a former senior cinema sales executive complains. "Taking your wife and two kids to the cinema has become an expensive night out."

Nevertheless, reports of cinema advertising's death may be exaggerated. Clients including Haribo, BMW, the BBC, Sky, Total and Renault are starting to produce cinema ads in 3D. And while most 3D movies are aimed at children, blockbusters such as Avatar suggest that won't be the case for long.

"Our film industry has never been better celebrated," Paul Brazier, the executive creative director of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, says. "And if audiences continue to hold up, advertisers will still be interested in them."

PLANNER - Jon Tipple, head of planning, McCann London

"Cinema advertising struggles because the work that stands out tends to be charityand cause-related, where impact is important.

"Also, the rise of digital has seen a lot of edgy ideas that might have made cinema ads end up as virals because they are cheaper and they don't run the risk of being banned by the Cinema Advertising Association after they've been made.

"Yet there's lots of evidence that people react best when they can see each other react. We should be creating rich brand experiences that become social currency in their own right."

MEDIA BUYER - Simon Willis, head of Group M Cinema, MEC

"Good cinema advertising still exists. Just look at how well Orange's Gold Spot sponsorship really engages audiences.

"But if creative work hasn't been of the best in recent years, the development of 3D will change all that and will move more into the adult field.

"The turning point will come when cinema is fully into the digital area and you can buy it in the same way you buy TV.

"That's when advertisers will be able to match their cinema campaign with their TV strategy. And that's when cinema will really come into its own."

CREATIVE - Paul Brazier, executive creative director, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

"Not many new ads are made for cinema because the market is too small. We and our clients have been much busier exploring new media where the trend is towards film-making that's more handmade and raw.

"Having said that, I sense that the power of the TV commercial is starting to be understood again. We may see some big TV campaigns coming up that will also be relevant for the cinema.

"There will still be good cinema ads. They may not necessarily have high production values but they will still be entertaining and humorous."

CLIENT - Richard Hudson, UK marketing director, BMW

"It's all about what's the most important environment for our brand. If we think that we have the right creative work and that the audience is right, then we will use cinema.

"In fact, we've done so over the past 12 months, both for our BMW and Mini brands.

"But if you're using the medium, you've got to be entertaining and have a campaign that's cinematic enough to make you stand out from the cliched clutter.

"However, I don't believe that all cinema advertising is bad. Some brands such as Orange have been good at using cinema to develop an idea."

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