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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February 2005, 05:44 GMT
The love and loathing of cinema ads
Stephen Evans
By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

You can be sure that the lantern-jawed stars and the tear-stained starlets, the wannabes and old movie moguls, who attend this weekend's Oscar ceremony will not have to endure the authentic cinema experience.

Honda advert
Cinema adverts are often more entertaining than other ads

They will not be forced to sit through aeons of adverts before the envelopes are ripped open.

In this, the Oscars are unlike the business of going to the cinema in America.

Movie-goers are captive to commercials because no start time for the film is announced, only a start time for the "programme".

And there does seem to be what might be called "ad creep".

According to the Cinema Advertising Council, $356m was spent on cinema ads in 2003, an increase of nearly 40% on the year before and way above the growth rates in the rest of the advertising industry.

Tinseltown rebellion

In truth, cinema-goers are divided on the practice.

There are those of us who see cinema advertising as a delightful hors d'oeuvre to the main feast - and the irritated rest who feel they're being force fed junk when they paid good money for classy cinema.

They came for caviar but they were forced to eat a bag of chips first.

In some American cities, there are even signs of rebellion.

In New York, people have started to shout at the screen.

In Chicago, some irritated movie-goers tried to get a court to rule that the start time of films should be advertised. The judge gave them short shrift.

In Connecticut, a state legislator is trying to get the law changed to make cinema owners give accurate information about start times.

There's been a legal claim against one of the cinema chains for "unannounced and unwarranted advertisements", seeking compensation for up to $75 per moviegoer. It has not got very far.

A pressure group has been set up.

The Captive Motion Picture Audience of America offers special cut-out-and-use signs on its website saying: "RESERVED: this patron is avoiding cinema advertising and will return when the feature begins".

Entertaining adverts

But where there is loathing, there is often also love. Indeed, advertisers love the cinema as a medium.

Singing in the rain

The commercials can be very finely targeted at young or old or different income groups according to the film they accompany. The audience is captive and relatively affluent.

As one of the advertising companies, Entertainment Media, puts it: "The ads are a balance of entertainment and advertising messages to ensure moviegoers' attention. We offer selective demographic targeting.

An advertisement may be placed locally, regionally or nationally. It may be presented to a neighbourhood, city, region, state or the entire country.

On-Screen advertising is an effective and proven means for promoting a business".

And the Entertainment Media pitch continues: "Your advertisement will be viewed by a captive, seated audience that is interested in the On-Screen Entertainment program.

"Moviegoers' full attention will be focused on your advertisement.

"Moviegoers' have 3 Times the Next-Day Recall when compared to "Day-After TV viewer recall!"

Research done by Arbitron, which follows trends in the media, indicates that people view cinema adverts more favourably than they do television advertising.

As the company puts it: "The Arbitron Cinema Study: Appointment Viewing by Young, Affluent, Captive Audiences, reveals that over two-thirds of moviegoers and seven out of every 10 Young Adults, age 12-24, said they did not mind the advertising that plays before the movie begins".

Free nachos?

Which isn't to quite say that people like adverts at the cinema.

But, personally, I do like them. They divert your attention and you can use them to play a quiz game with your friends alongside you.

When each advert starts, the person who correctly shouts out the name of the product being pushed first gets a point.

When the twenty minute advertising session ends, the person with the lowest number of points gets to buy the nachos.

Cinema adverts - love'em or loath'em?

Your comments:

I hate adverts. At home I can 'mute' the adverts, unfortunately at the cinema I don't have this option.
Kerida, Sheffield, UK

I love cinema adverts
Bharathi Ganesh, Chennai India

The main trouble with cinema adverts is that about half the cinema-goers try to avoid them, and miss.

So you always end up with even more people walking in front of you whilst the main feature is running.
Keir Finlow-Bates, UK

Heck, sometimes the adverts are so much more interesting than the main feature.

I enjoy watching these adverts because they are so cutting edge creative.

Sometimes I wonder if they'll compile all the interesting ads, and then charge admission for them. They can throw in the feature as a bonus.
Marc Lim, London, UK

As a sixteen-year-old, the cinema is like a second home to me. I spend a lot of time and money watching movies there.

Trailers for upcoming movies are great, in fact I want more of them, but fifteen minutes before of television adverts are just boring.

We don't even sit and watch them, we're usually buying food or talking to each other.

Why bother when we can see the adverts at home? If the adverts were cool and took full advantage of the large screen and surround sound maybe that would keep our attention, but these ridiculous made-for-TV ones are pointless.
Laura, Falkirk, Scotland

I once sat though 30 minutes of adverts in a cinema. Although I do love advertising, they are rather clever and funny ads to watch, but cinemas really do need to inform the buying public what time the actual film starts.
Matt Smart, London

With the average movie length getting longer and longer, having to watch 20 minutes of adverts before the main feature only makes the movie even more uncomfortable.
Edward, Ayrshire

I work for an ad agency responsible for numerous cinema campaigns over the years. One thing's for sure - if you want to find out if your ad is any good, then go watch it at the cinema. Sit amongst your target audience and look around.

Do they laugh out loud? Are they stunned into silence? Or do they just carry on talking about last night's Desperate Housewives and hoovering up popcorn by the bucket load?

Advertisers and their agencies have a duty to entertain. We should all aim to produce cinema ads like Honda's 'Hate Something' or Guinness 'Surfers' - ads that use the movie screen medium to the very best of its abilities. If we don't, then the 'Tinseltown rebellion' will surely gather pace.
David Clyde, London, UK

I hate cinema adverts!!!! If I wanted to watch commercials, I would have stayed home!
Cindy, Bethel, CT USA

I like adverts. But they have to be entertaining.

Some advertisers get them horribly wrong. The worst adverts are those that have product placement in the film which shows the decent bits before the film has started!!!
S Davies, Cardiff

I have never been a real lover of the "Movie Experience" in general, with overpriced snacks, screaming kids, adults who feel the need to discuss the plot and general aggravation.

The addition of advertisements has made my choice simple. I wait until the film comes out on DVD and simply rent or buy it.

With DVD prices usually below $20 even for top-line films, the purchase is easily covered by the ticket and popcorn costs, and I get to skip all of the garbage before the feature.

Theatres? Who cares? Advertisements will be the death of them.
Al Richer, Chelmsford, Ma. USA

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