NCA's creative chief on seeing his ads big and loud
A view from Ian Heartfield

An ode to cinema advertising

After English movie theatres closed as part of lockdown 2.0, New Commercial Arts' CCO reflects on the power of cinema advertising.

Why do I love cinema advertising? The obvious answer is that I love it because I get to see work I have made, played very big and very loud. But there is another, less obvious reason why I love cinema advertising. The cinema is a place where you have a personal and a collective experience at the same time, it’s where you and the people you’re meant to be talking to are together in the same room at the same time. In the cinema, shit gets real. 

In the cinema, your work competes with Dave’s mission to find a toffee Revel at the bottom of the share bag. It has to override Emma’s futile quest to extract the last remnant of flavour from her bucket of Slushy. It has to fight for the attention of Rahim who’s doing his last-minute, slightly panicky scroll through Insta before an animated rabbit tells him to turn his phone off. Yes, it’s technically a captive audience, but that doesn’t mean it’s an audience that’s going to pay a blind bit of attention to the thing you just spent what felt like half your life working on. 

So here it comes, then, your ad. Now a whole range of things can happen, or not happen. Dave might not even look up from his bag of sweets at all, not even a flicker of interest, in which case you’re crestfallen within five seconds. Worse than that is when Emma starts watching and right at the good bit she turns to her flatmate and says, "Did you feed the cat?" (no it wasn’t an ad for cat food), and you realise Emma wasn’t actually watching your ad at all, it just happened to be something that was playing in front of her eyeballs. And then there’s the ultimate insult. When Rahim watches it and says to his girlfriend, "Now that’s a crap ad" before going back to looking at his phone, illegally. Although getting a reaction, even one that cuts you to the bone, is better than no reaction at all. 

But that’s if you got it wrong (and let’s face it, it wasn’t you that got it wrong anyway, it was the wrong strategy, research ruined it, the editor screwed it up, etc, etc). What happens if you’ve got it right? What if Dave stops searching for the toffee one and watches your ad from start to finish? Maybe Emma laughs out loud at your funny bit of dialogue – she’s laughing – at your joke! What if Rahim has to fight back the tears (and yes he was meant to, it’s a charity ad).

What if these things happen and you are right there, sat behind them, witnessing the success of your craft skills first hand? There is simply no better feeling in my opinion. You can keep your "ad of the day" and your "congrats mate" from adland Twitter pals, this is why we got into advertising. To make work that moves people, real people. To make them feel something. To make them laugh, cry, get angry, to entertain them, just for a minute. And that’s why I love cinema advertising, because when you get it right, you see people being moved with your very own eyes.

That, and the fact that I see my ad very big and very loud.

Ian Heartfield is the chief creative officer at New Commercial Arts.