Creative Focus: Coming Attractions

As Advertisers Gravitate To The Big Screen, Creatives Revel In New Opportunities
It’s a creative’s dream. Your commercial is projected onto a 40-foot screen in front of a captive audience, the audio booming in surround sound.
In fact, more and more ad pros are seeing their work showcased at the movies. Although cinema advertising generates a modest $65 million annually, it’s been growing at the rate of 25 percent a year for the last three years, says Dennis Fogarty, president and CEO of Screenvision Cinema Promotions, a New York-based cinema advertising vendor.
Brands as diverse as Motorola, BMW, Noxema and Ray-Ban have taken their messages to the movies, since these product categories are well-suited to the theater environment. Their high-production values and soft-sell brand messages neatly blend with a pre-film atmosphere. Even the U.S. Navy has gotten into the mix, advertising at the movies this summer with ads directed by Spike Lee.
There’s just one catch: Some viewers may resent ads at the theater. It’s what Gary Topolewski, chief creative officer at Bozell, Detroit, refers to as the “piss-off factor.”
One way to avoid that “is to do something more cultural, something associated with a cinematic idea,” advises Chuck McBride of Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., creative director for Nike’s “Asteroid,” a spot that generated applause at theaters in the Northwest this summer.
The black-and-white ad, directed by Traktor and shot in the style of a 1950s sci-fi disaster flick, shows the chaos that ensues when an asteroid threatens to destroy Earth. That is, until Ken Griffey Jr. hits the menacing rock out of the atmosphere.
Aware of the potential to alienate moviegoers, McBride didn’t want to reveal the message of the spot too soon. “You have to lead the audience. Let them follow you a little bit, just like a movie does,” he says. Only when the Swoosh appears at the end is the ad revealed to be from Nike.
Of course, the benefits of movie ads outweigh the risks. For Lee Jeans, whose latest Buddy Lee spots began running in cinemas in July, this venue is a perfect way to connect with young adults when they are most engaged and involved, an opportunity you don’t get from network TV, says Michelle Fitzgerald, media supervisor for Lee at Fallon McElligott in Minneapolis. “It was a way to separate ourselves from a highly cluttered, competitive environment,” she says.
Fitzgerald adds that when she started looking at cinema advertising five years ago, there was a greater concern about consumer backlash. “[It isn’t] as controversial as it used to be. Especially with young adults. They can’t even remember when there wasn’t cinema advertising.”
Targeting one of the most desirable demos, the lucrative 12-18-year-olds, SonyPlayStation hopes to take full advantage of this less-restrictive medium next month with an ad by TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., that features “adult content.”
Most ads that appear in cinemas, however, also air on TV. Andrew Christou, creative director at Berlin, Cameron & Partners, New York, says a General Motors spot called “Deconstruction,” highlighting the company’s support of Olympic athletes, was originally slated for broadcast. “The shots were so tasty–Carl Lewis soaring through the air with nothing but space and little raindrops behind him–that we decided it would translate well on the big screen,” he says.
Directed by Jeff Darling of, the ad shows Lewis long-jumping in an arena. As a voiceover asks, “When is the best time to support Olympic athletes?” the crowd disappears and Lewis is transformed into a young jumper practicing in a rainy field. To take full advantage of the medium, Christou and the creative team remixed the spot’s sound, including Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” which the band rerecorded specifically for the ad.
“You have to be careful what you recommend for cinema,” cautions Christou. “You can’t confuse production value with entertainment value.”
Topolewski, who served as creative director for Jeep’s “Treacherous Terrain,” says the ad was well-suited for the movies because of its engaging story line. It shows a herd of zebra moving in a perfect line parallel to the vehicle, which hides them from a lion on the other side. The cinematic cut of the spot, which launched the new Jeep Grand Cherokee last year on TV, included additional footage to enhance the visual effects but left out voiceovers detailing the car’s features.
“Cinema advertising is brand building at its best,” Topolewski explains. “It contributes to the next time they think about our product. That’s all we can ask for in that situation.”
Given advertisers’ support, the number of movie exhibitors making screens available for ads has almost doubled in the last five years, spurred in part by the costly construction of multiplexes, says Fogarty.
Laura Adler, vp of marketing for the National Cinema Network, a Kansas City, Mo.-based vendor, says viewers will soon see a greater range of ads in theaters. “We’ve seen a huge increase in the type of marketers calling us,” she says. “Dot coms are the up-and-comers.”
McBride would love to see more cinema ads, if only to improve the perception of ad professionals.
“I’d be proud if people would go a little early to see the advertising, because people see our careers as right up there with lawyers and used-car salesman,” McBride says. “We all deserve better.”

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