Beyond the Screen: Amplifying the Cinema Experience

November 22, 2023
Jenny Sidorova
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A version of this text together with even more practical cinema marketing ideas gathered from cinema operators and professionals during the marketing workshop I facilitated will appear in the upcoming edition of Cinema Technology magazine.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending UNIC’s Cinema Days in Brussels. But I have to be honest, the highlight of the two days was the UNIC Women’s Cinema Leadership Programme session. I’m one of the lucky few people who got to participate in the program this year as a mentor. It’s been a humbling and rewarding experience, especially this late in my career. Yes, late. I’ll be turning 40 in January, which means I’ve been in the workforce for close to 15 years and this is my first official opportunity to be part of a program that emphasizes supporting other women. It’s quite ironic as neither the cinema industry nor the technology industry are particularly advanced when it comes to gender equality in terms of representation, yet here I am, new to both the cinema and technology industries, and it’s been an experience of many firsts, including the ability to officially support other women. I can’t be grateful enough to Laure Galtier and the entire UNIC team for giving me the opportunity. 

The two days in Brussels were kicked off with an extended in-person meeting as part of this incredible program, and it really set the tone for the next two days. The inspiring Edna Epelbaum who was the special guest for the Women’s Cinema Leadership meeting said “revenue generation and amplification of culture, that’s the cinema industry.” I frantically wrote that down and knew I would quote her many times as it’s just that. 

If we take a double click out of the cinema industry and ask ourselves (and me as a marketer) what drives revenue generation and amplification of culture today, in 2023? The answer seems all but too obvious: experience!

Let’s take it back to the cinema industry though. 

Experience and that which cinemas can provide their audiences indeed generate revenue for cities, municipalities, communities. Those experiences have the power to amplify culture in ways few industries can: through messages, emotions, political viewpoints, a collective experience that is shared. 

We all know the power of a story and the message behind it as we’ve seen with some of the world’s greatest films. And we all know the power of experiencing strong emotion with a room full of strangers or sitting next to our closest family or friends. So if experiences can generate revenue and amplify culture today, then cinema is perfectly positioned to ride the wave of that trend. 

And many cinemas have already caught on. 

Some of my favorite examples during the UNIC Cinema Day’s panels and presentations included Laura Fumagalli from Arcadia Cinema sharing their Cinema & Science series that was launched a little over 6 months before the release of Oppenheimer. I love this personalized example that shows that cinemas have the power to amplify studio marketing through their own creative and more experiential initiatives. This series became so popular that it even started touring scientific festivals in Italy, demonstrating perfectly how cinema and other industries can seamlessly fit together when executed with intelligence, relevance, and a target audience in mind. 

Laura also shared the fantastic example of the Ministry of Culture of Italy jumping in to support cinema operators due to Italy’s cinema market being down 50% compared to pre-pandemic years. The Ministry of Culture invested €20 Million to bring audiences back to the cinema and fight the summer “apathy”. This included investment for promotional tactics, but also partially funding a cinema ticket. 

The coordinates of the campaign: “June 16-September 16, admits for Italian and European films will be reduced by about half to €3.50 ($3.85). The difference will be covered by the ministry.” Cinetel data on first results: “In the first six months of 2023 admissions were 31 million and 600 thousand (+56.4% in the first six months of 2022). In terms of the number of admissions, we are 16 weeks ahead of 2022: achieved already in the penultimate week of June what had been achieved from January to the beginning of October 2022 (source: MIA Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo, Italy). 

Laura recapped that this meant 32% growth. It’s interesting to see how marketing and special offers can reduce summer “apathy”. A national campaign can be the perfect context to experiment with cinema marketing tactics & learn from data on both national and individual level for cinema operators. At DX, this gives us great food for thought for our data dashboards. It would be most convenient for cinemas to be able to filter out in their cinema operations tool which initiatives are cinema-led versus national-led (and why not versus distributor-funded). I think we can agree that Italy took experiential cinema to the next level with both initiatives described above. 

Part of what I found really unique during the 2 days in Brussels was that half of the conference was top-down, with presenters and panellists on stage talking to the audience. But half was also bottom-up with workshops and brainstorming sessions that were communicated from the audience working together. 

I had the privilege of leading one of the several marketing workshops and to introduce my session, I presented a few marketing trends in my presentation From AI to Fandoms, Navigating the Future of Cinema Marketing Through Trends and Insights

One of the trends I focused on was how immersive experiences can create multiple touch points for customers. 

AND can be translated to promote almost any film. It doesn’t have to be big-scale or complex. It’s about thinking of ways the audience can become more involved in their cinema visit, to share their enjoyment of the film so that they experience it on a bigger scale. 

A few easy ideas to implement include:

  • a movie-themed photo wall or booth (think Barbie), 
  • themed menu for those serving food, 
  • costume-screening with prizes for best dressed, 
  • Spotify playlists of movie music created by the cinema staff that audiences can enjoy at home, 
  • a quiz night related to a movie

They don’t have to be big budget but require thinking ahead about how you can offer your audience an experience they can take with them beyond the film, and of course, share on social media. 

Symra Kino in Norway, for instance, created a Spy Quiz Game to celebrate the release of the Norwegian film Nabospionen, a kids animated movie. Children could collect a printed sheet with clues to complete to win free tickets to the film. The same cinema also had staff dress up as Mario and Luigi for families to pose with for the release of the Super Mario Brothers film. 

Lillehammer Kino in Norway, on the other hand, did a staff troll dance as part of their personalised promotion of the Trolls Band Together movie. 

These are just a few of the great examples shared during two buzzing days that go to show if we partner as an industry, nothing can stop us from making cinema truly experiential.

If you want to explore more trends and insights shared during the session, you can access my presentation here.

Also, keep an eye out for Cinema Technology magazine - coming out in December.

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