Ads That Please Consumers

Last week, a Michigan state senator introduced a bill that would require movie theaters to post and advertise two start times: one indicating when the paid ads begin, the other indicating when the movie actually starts. The senator complained ads preceding today’s movies are basically “infomercials.” She said wants to give people a choice as far as pre-show entertainment is concerned. The senator noted theaters could voluntarily advertise actual start times, in which case legislation wouldn’t be necessary.

Earlier this year, similar bills targeting pre-show entertainment were introduced in Connecticut, Illinois, and New York City. Again, the 10 to 20 minutes of “product-pushing” commercials were in the crosshairs.

That an Arbitron study finds 66 percent of respondents don’t mind pre-movie commercials (the number is even higher among consumers age 12 to 24) is one reason why these bills aren’t likely to be fast-tracked. Still, groups such as Commercial Alert and a handful of private organizations that would prefer movie theater ads disappeared altogether are surely cheering these senators on.

We marketers are likely to take a different stance. Regardless of which types of media we work with, we cringe in situations like this one. Here’s an industry making an honest profit and abiding by tradition (I can’t imagine anyone was particularly affronted by those “Let’s all go to the lobby” cartoons). Now, it faces a backlash.

Advertisers behind pre-show entertainment are being penalized for what’s essentially a well-researched media buy. A study commissioned by cinema advertising company Screenvision shows moviegoers are more likely to remember in-theater ads and the brands they promote than those who see the TV ads. Yet posting and advertising start times that allow consumers to skip these ads is sure to drive marketers to find other alternatives.

Delivering advertising when, where, and how consumers want it has always been a challenge for marketers. One can make every effort to please, but someone will always object, often more to the idea of advertising in general than to a specific placement or message.

This is especially true online, where consumers take particular offense at interruptions. Ironically, this is also the space where ads are most targeted and most easily avoidable. Consumers can opt not to receive email correspondence; they’re invited to close ads on their screens; they can even block many ads altogether. Yet placating potential customers remains a primary campaign objective for Internet marketers and media buyers.

We do so by targeting ads, capping delivery, and offering entertaining, engaging content. In-theater advertisers may not have as much control over these issues as we do, but perhaps this industry can offer some useful advice just the same. We know a thing or two about keeping patrons happy. With any luck, lessons we continue to learn online will help others see all types of advertising in a new light.

Be Exclusive

Much of the problem is rooted in the fact that many of today’s ads aren’t original. We see one ad in several places: on TV, online, in the theater. Rehashing content has been a trend online for years, but lately we’re learning the value of offering something new.

Regardless of where you place ads, use creative consumers haven’t seen elsewhere. You demonstrate respect for those averse to watching and may spur word-of-mouth promotion in loyal customers and brand fans.

Lighten Up

Whether at the movies or online, consumers like to be entertained. Somber messages and public service announcements can quickly ruin their buzz. When placed in association with the appropriate content, light, funny ads are the most warmly received. If it works on the Web, it’s sure to work before a showing of Bewitched.

Keep It Short

Movie trailers can be several minutes long. Online ads can’t afford that luxury. Consumers don’t have the patience for a three-minute ad online, and they aren’t likely to tolerate it elsewhere, either. Instead of seeking placements that allow you to assault a captive audience with a lengthy message, prevent consumers from feeling exploited. Online, we’ve learned this lesson well as publishers push for shorter video spots. Brevity is certain to be rewarded with increased consumer attention.

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