How Cinema Became Measurable

Movie theater during the screening of an animated movie stock photo

By Manu Singh, SVP Insights, Analytics and Data Sales Strategy –  National CineMedia

Since the beginning of motion pictures, cinema advertising has been part of the moviegoing experience, a brand building medium for marketers to reach audiences where they are (in this case at the movie theater).

Fast forward to today, options for advertisers have grown exponentially and at the same time, consumption has become fragmented with marketers laser focused on ROI.  As the media landscape expanded, the options for marketers seeking new and varied KPI’s multiplied as did the platforms – social, digital, CTV, broadcast/cable and streaming  –  and the ability to measure the impact of media grew.

The evolving media landscape is fraught with challenges. As cord  cutting continues to grow, streaming lacks scale, ad fraud, bots rampant and consumer privacy remains front and center. Meanwhile marketers and agencies are under tremendous pressure to prove out value and increasingly focused on ROI, looking to balance brand building with performance marketing needs.

Just ten years ago, 70% of all marketing dollars were dedicated brand building investments which greatly benefited the cinema advertising rationale. Today, however,  only 30% of ad dollars go to these same type of brand building investments. That remaining 70% is now directed to performance based media buys.

So where did Cinema sit in this ecosystem? While marketers understood the movie audience was lean in, highly engaged and positively predisposed to receiving messages in an unskippable format, the ability to truly identify the audience and measure attribution across categories and KPIs was limited. And as cross platform video options with measurability increasingly became an attractive buy for marketers seeking tangible returns on their investments, cinema advertising remained bucketed as an upper funnel solution and part of the out-of-home landscape rather than part of the premium video marketing ecosystem.

Without being able to fully validate performance and dependent on varied vendor moviegoer data, cinema advertising risked losing significant dollars to other performance mediums. After all, marketers today are increasingly looking at ROI and ROAS tracking while agencies are leaning in on MTA models to help deliver on brand objectives

Pandemic lockdowns, though one of the most difficult periods in cinema’s history, also served as the innovation impetus for strategic investments in data and technology. Made at the beginning of the pandemic, these investments enabled the Big Screen to be repositioned as a premium video platform able to deliver on the performance metrics that advertisers were seeking, while continuing to be that great brand builder for product launches and massive campaigns.

Over the course of the last two years cinema advertising has leap-frogged in its ability to measure and target its young diverse audiences at scale. With over 600 million people visiting theaters each year, cinema continues to deliver massive, culturally connected brand opportunities for advertisers. But now it also has the ability to measure, match and track the spending and behaviors much like CTV and Social Media. Today, cinema advertising has pivoted from a legacy medium to a performance medium powered by data. Marketers are now able to reach, engage and measure the elusive moviegoer audience. With that ability, brands and agencies are returning to the big screen, but this time for both brand and performance based needs.

Being able to deliver on that measurement piece has become a lifeline for the cinema advertising industry. Today, cinema advertising offers all the historical benefits – perhaps even more important to reach the ‘unreachables’ made up of cord cutters – but now with the ability to slice and dice audience data to truly understand who is seeing brand messages, acting on them and coming back for more.

This becomes crucial as brands are making sure every dollar in their marketing budget is working hard to deliver a true return on spend. Especially as young consumers continue to cut the linear TV cord, skip through online ads and always have a second screen to distract them in their pocket. Marketers are challenged to find ways to grab their attention and then encourage action. And what can be more attention-getting than a 40 ft screen with surround sound enveloping them?

Working with a number of measurement and technology partners, NCM can now measure the typical lifts around brand awareness, recall, consideration, purchase intent and more. Add to that, the ability to match datasets in a privacy compliant manner and track customer acquisition, sales, store visits, app downloads among other metrics. All of these data points are now being actively used across brand categories for national campaigns, proving the value of using cinema advertising to reach consumers at scale in meaningful and measurable ways.

A recently executed, multi-pronged national measurement campaign for a major national retailer was able to deliver QR code engagement rates, a brand impact study, and foot traffic attribution for both on screen and digital.

So what’s next for cinema advertising? We are excited about programmatic buys by screen and being able to target audiences in more specific ways as well as new opportunities for first party data across new industries. The cinema advertising transformation is very much still underway. As they say in the ‘biz, the camera is still rolling.

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