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Consumers Give Movie Ads a Thumbs Up

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Studies show consumers are more receptive to cinema spots than other media

When U.S. advertising went to the movies a decade or so ago, some consumers winced, while others complained loudly. Recent lawsuits have targeted the uptick in cinema ads. The reality, however, is that in- theater ads may be more acceptable than those in other media, including the Internet and television, according to two new studies by Arbitron.

The Arbitron Cinema Study, released last week, found that more than two-thirds of adults and 7 out of 10 teens did not mind ads that play before a movie begins. The study comprised four national telephone surveys of 1,000 to 2,500 consumers from July 2002 through April.

The second study, to be released this week, found that moviegoers who see digital ads when leaving a theater showed higher ad recall of as much as 60 percent or more and increased purchase intent by as much as 20 percent or more. The study, conducted by Arbitron on behalf of digital-video display provider CoolSign Theater Network, was based on phone surveys of 2,600 consumers in October and December 2002.

One result that the Cinema Study deemed "startling" is that younger moviegoers consider movie ads more interesting than TV spots. Sixty-two percent of 18- to 24-year-old respondents preferred cinema ads, as did 58 percent of respondents aged 25-34. The percentage drops steadily by age, however: Only 39 percent of those aged 45-54 feel that way.

Movie ads fared even better compared with Internet ads. Sixty-six percent of respondents said cinema ads were acceptable, versus 49 percent who said online ads were acceptable.

Although only about $300 million is spent on cinema ads in the U.S. each year, and ads do not run on about 6,000 of the 30,000-plus screens nationwide, "these studies suggest ads in cinema [could be] a sleeping giant," said Pierre Bouvard, president of Arbitron New Ventures in New York. "And we're starting to see companies come into the space with digital-distribution technology."

The CoolSign network has more than 200 digital plasma screens in 45 theaters, displaying messages from clients that include Coca-Cola, Sony, Hotels.com and Walt Disney Studios, among others.

Technology is driving the medium, agreed Susan Nathan, svp, director of media knowledge at Universal McCann in New York, whose Coca-Cola client is one of the largest in-theater players. Nathan cited "The Twenty," a pre-movie package that appears in Regal Entertainment theaters around the country and features ads as well as videos and news clips of entertainers.

"I assume Arbitron is hoping that ultimately their portable people meter [ratings] method can be used to measure cinema advertising ... [Still,] as an advertiser, having a captive audience is very appealing," Nathan said.