Will the re-opening of big screens bring advertisers back to the cinemas?

With the official opening of the events industry, and cinemas permitted to operate post October 15 in most states, we evaluate the future of cinema advertising and brand activations

e4m by Eularie Saldanha
Updated: Oct 9, 2020 3:29 PM

Every outdoor lover and movie buff has had their share of grief, ever since the lockdown. However, with the events industry officially opening up in India, the ray of hope is no longer just a metaphor for a movie-crazy country starved of this experience for six months. Cinemas in certain states have been permitted to begin operations from October 15, along with the events industry that has officially opened up in India, which also opens gates for on-ground brand activations. However, how soon this big change is set to happen is an amalgamation of a variety of factors.

Explaining the present situation, Pramod Arora, Chief Growth & Strategy Officer, PVR Limited, says, “Amongst the 28 states and 8 union territories, 11 have given us a go ahead to begin operations from 15th of October, whereas some are still seeking permission to operate. There are 7 states which have taken a call to stay closed until 31st of October, and probably come out with a new date sometime.”

Although people are excited to come back to cinemas and watch the magic of their visual senses unfold on the big screen, there is still a huge mind-block to go out and be surrounded by so many people at a time when social distancing seems to be the holy grail. Perhaps this is the reason why cinema players are not expecting a very positive response right at the start.

"In the beginning days, we are not expecting anything. It is only our humble effort to demonstrate to people that this is a safe environment and that everything is taken care of. We have to take for granted that the first three months is not really about money, but to make sure that everything gets back on track,” said PV Sunil, Carnival Cinemas, who revealed that a survey conducted by them showed that consumers were indeed excited to experience the leisure of the big screen again.

Cinemas, however, would see normalcy being restored more towards the festive season, when apprehensions would settle and movie releases would get back on track. Even then, nothing stops players from being positive about tables turning after all these months. “Festivities will kick in and the overall sentiment would make a turnaround. We know for sure that we are barely a couple of blockbusters away from reaching our pre-Covid levels,” said Anand Vishal, Chief Sales & Revenue Officer, INOX Leisure Ltd.

There’s no surprise that a change in mind-set is the biggest factor in bringing people back to the theatres, which will in turn draw brands towards advertising on the big screen like they did before, although a few players have already started being approached by brands with enquires and other information. “There are a lot of inquiries coming in from all brand facets and from people looking forward to advertise with us. That has not gone down or anything, but the only factor is the trust and confidence of consumers coming back. So give and take, 10 to 15 days will be a slow to steady rise. By the time we hit the festive season, closer to Diwali, we would be see a growth,” said Arora of PVR.

Carnival Cinemas on the other hand has not heard from any new brands as of yet. Speaking more about it, PV Sunil, Managing Director, Carnival Cinemas, said, “We have our regular clients who are continuing to advertise since there were contracts and assignments that were existing pre-lockdown.” He added that the dialogues have just started, since there was uncertainty about the opening day. However, he is positive that there are new types of services or clients related to safety features who wish to advertise, as cinemas would be the space to help these brands really capture the audience.

Inox too has been in constant touch with its advertiser brands throughout the lockdown period and believes that the unique strengths and attributes of in-cinema advertising are always going to keep advertisers interested in this format. “I can proudly say that we have witnessed the similar level of anticipation and keenness for in-cinema advertising as it was prevalent in the pre-Covid times. We are looking forward to co-strategizing their campaigns with them and ensure that they get high returns on their cinema advertising expenditure,” added Anand Vishal of INOX.

When asked what cinema players are doing to welcome their audiences back, they indeed have myriads of precautionary measures lined up to make sure that the transition of consumer mind-set happens smoothly. Carnival Cinemas is working internally to repair some of the equipment and return on functioning with all precautionary measures. “We need to prepare all our cinemas in such a way that it is brought back to the original condition, since nothing has been used in the cinema for the last six months’, added Sunil of Carnival Cinemas.

“Safety is the place where we’re not leaving any stone unturned and trying to implement the best global practices wherever possible. In addition, discounts and promotions will be a regional exercise and the strategy would differ from one market to another, with a 360-degree approach towards marketing.” said Arora of PVR cinemas

Inox has taken this safety concern to a different level with an innovative approach which will programme shows in such a manner that there are no simultaneous entries, intermissions and exits, with a focus on the digital way of life. Elaborating on the same, Vishal of INOX said, “We will completely rely on e-tickets instead of paper tickets. Each guest will receive an SMS, which would have four different links, one which allows you to check in with your QR code, second, which shows the auditorium’s seat chart and the location of your seat on the seat chart, so that you don’t have to enquire with anyone. The third link provides you access to the F&B menu to place your order and the fourth link allows you to download your complete e-ticket with all the details.”

The cinema is also looking forward to host private screenings, where families or smaller groups of guests can book the entire auditorium and enjoy the content of their choice. 

However, with all the alpha’s kept in mind and implemented, the future of cinema advertising still shines bright. Cinema advertising has always taken up a minor percentage of the whole media spends and thus has a lot of leverage to go up further.

“There’s a huge difference from media to cinema and my advertisements too have to pick up in a big way. We are also gearing up for that in various ways by contacting agencies,” said Sunil of Carnival, adding that they’ve also seen a good response from overseas companies, since there have been lot of movements from overseas to India.

BFSI brands have always been heavy spenders and believers of cinema advertising, since it is possibly the only medium where the entire family watches the advertisement together and lets the brand connect with influencers in the family. When asked about how soon they would invest in cinema, IIFL Finance confirmed that they are not exploring any cinema ads, since the volume and captive audience would now be lesser. However, the brand is considering this month as a litmus test for cinema advertising. “We wouldn’t have to wait long before taking a call. Quite a few big releases from Hindi, Tamil and Telugu film industries are lined up for release in October. We will be continually observing the footfalls and preparations of cinema halls, and will take a decision accordingly. IIFL has been effectively using cinema advertising, and it will always be part of our campaign planning,” said Vipul Oberoi, CMO, IIFL Finance.

Some cinema players would now also want to get into brand activations, since nothing beats the touch and feel of a product. While cinema can have the crowd pull, activations can bring people to experience what it would feel like to own the brand. “We have been in discussion with some of the automobile companies to display their vehicles, since there are new brands being launched. There has hardly been any platform for anyone in the country in the lockdown period and hence it is a new excitement for these brands. Being a mix of cinema and entertainment, there have been talks and I’m sure it will materialize when they display their products during the launch,” PV Sunil of Carnival added.

Malls have been the biggest hosts of brand activations and similarly have suffered a great loss, owing the pandemic. Even then, the entire offering of malls is now getting activated. Although brands are not yet into the activation mood as far as malls are concerned, they’re waiting for business levels to pick up before they start venturing into it. “At the moment, we are mostly getting queries either from diverse sectors such as credit cards to travel and the luggage brands. We’ve also started getting queries from automobiles now for kiosks or displays in the mall’s spaces, said Manoj K Agarwal, CEO, Viviana Mall who also anticipates that paid advertising spaces like cinemas or on-ground activations might only start to pick up around the upcoming festive season.

The media has been talking of a slight control on the curve and should this downward trend continue along with all the precautionary measures, chances are that malls would still see a blip for around 12 to 18 months, starting from April of this year.

From rocky terrains, hilltops, to malls, the one brand that has gone very heavy on activations and wowed its viewers through its innovations is Jeep, which took the lockdown as an opportunity to chalk about a detailed plan to engage with its community members as well as its potential customers. The brand is eager to restart its activations, although it will continue to engage with its audiences through exciting digital content, until it is sure it can continue to deliver its signature customer experiential activities. “We are just not used to being this constrained. Brand activations however, are beyond digital and depend on the archetype of the brand, its purpose and brand core pillars. While we will reach our customers and engage them digitally, we will adapt and find ways to explore the outdoors as we have been doing for nearly 80 years now,” said Rahul Pansare, Head, Marketing & PR, FCA India.

However, it is no surprise that brands have been investing in activations right throughout the pandemic, although the nature of activations have changed due to the challenges the pandemic has thrown up. Even then, brands will continue to remain cautious as the activation focus will remain strategic and aimed at building confidence within the eco-system. “Activations and engagements will have to be reimagined keeping in mind our new reality. We will certainly see a positive response and participation if people are convinced that the necessary health and safety protocols are being followed,” said Ranjit Raina, CEO, Geometry Encompass who says that the company has been managing brand activations throughout the pandemic, although not on-ground. “For brands like Cipla and P&G, we have managed physical brand activations during this period. Gillette reached out to barbers and with Tide, we reached out to health care workers. For Cipla, we also reached out to COVID warriors,” he added.

When all’s said and done, the festival of lights and what follows seems to be the biggest respite for the cinema and activations industry. “It will take some more time for brands to get back to cinema advertising and activations. While there is a lot of interest and discussion, brands are showing ‘cautious optimism’, given the rising COVID numbers. Having said that, I do see some activations in limited scale happening during the festive period,” said Mohit Joshi, MD, India, Havas Media Group, while commenting on the same.

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