Cinema Marketing and The Data-Driven Way to Advertise to Cinema Audiences

July 27, 2022
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Throughout its history, the entire movie industry has been a data-driven business. Popcorn became the most popular snack in cinemas because exhibitors figured out that popcorn was not only a cheap, easy-to-make food offering but also that theaters that sold popcorn and other snacks made far more money than those that did not. Star actors are hired for films based on whether or not producers think they have the drawing power to help make a film a hit. Films become franchises when studios determine a sequel to a successful film will likely be profitable. All of these decisions take data into account to support the action.

There is a lot that cinemas can do with data too to help make decisions to improve their business, especially for marketing purposes. Data-driven advertising can be the key difference between an effective campaign and one that does little to improve a cinema’s ticket sales.

Knowing when and how customers purchase tickets for screenings are incredibly informative data points for cinemas. Luckily, DX has a lot of insight and data about ticket sales. For example, it’s common knowledge that most people go to cinemas on the weekend, and the data supports that assertion—in fact, from January to June 2022, ticket sales on Friday-Sunday represented about half (52.29 percent) of the total weekly ticket sales, according to data from DX customers:

Of course, just because weekends are the busiest time for cinemas doesn’t mean that cinemas shouldn’t still be encouraging ticket sales on the weekends in their advertising. Many people who work full-time simply can’t make it to a movie on a Tuesday afternoon because of their work schedules no matter how much a cinema might try to push them in advertising to come for a weekday matinee showing.

Many cinemas offer young family and senior citizen promotions during weekdays to encourage attendance on off-peak days to those who may have more flexible schedules to go to a cinema. Unsurprisingly, our data shows from January to June 2022 that Tuesday is the day of the week that has the lowest number of tickets sold (11.1 percent) of the total weekly ticket sales. This is likely why so many cinemas offer promotions for older and younger audiences during the early half of the week rather than weekends when they can count on bigger audiences.

DX Platform generated data, January-June 2022

Timing is everything

Most of a cinema’s audience has more free time on the weekends for moviegoing. While that is generally good for cinemas (and is why the entire industry is focused on weekend box office), one negative is that going to a movie is just one of many other entertainment options that a cinema’s target audience can choose to enjoy that weekend. Even the act of consuming content can take up a significant part of a potential moviegoer’s weekend–in 2021, viewers watched 9.6 trillion minutes of content on Netflix and 22.6 trillion minutes of content on TikTok.

Based on that, the effectiveness of advertising is all based on timing—grabbing the interest of potential weekend customers before they make plans for the weekend that don’t involve going to the movies. We can identify the optimal days and timings for pushing paid ads toward the target audience. Cinemas should consider scheduling advertising on Wednesday or Thursday as those are the days when many people begin to think about what their upcoming weekend plans will be. Examples of targeting could be ads that say things like “the weekend is approaching, have you purchased your cinema tickets?” In other words, get them thinking about their weekend—and going to the cinema—to trigger an action in customer behavior before they make other plans.

While some weekend theatergoers might pre-purchase tickets, others won’t—that 52.29 percent number mentioned above represents the percent of tickets sold Fridays-Sundays and is not necessarily the day of the screening (for example, that number doesn’t include ticket buyers who reserve a ticket for a Saturday screening on a Wednesday—that purchase is included in the Wednesday sales number).

Let’s not forget that the pandemic has influenced the way people make plans, with many individuals now less likely to commit to events in advance than they were pre-pandemic. This change of behavior has impacted ticket sales for cinemas as well. Nonetheless, by advertising before the weekend starts cinemas can place the suggestion of going to the cinema on Saturday in the customer’s mind–even if they don’t end up purchasing their tickets until the day of the screening.

In fact, even if most of the audience doesn’t buy their movie tickets until the day of the screening, an increasing number of people are buying their tickets online. Our data shows that the average number of people who buy their movie tickets online versus in-person at the box office has jumped from about 50 percent to 65 percent so far in 2022. This is a trend that has grown dramatically over the last decade—in 2014, only about 20 percent of movie tickets were sold online—and has been accelerated by people becoming more tech-savvy with online ordering during the pandemic.

Those early online sales come with some bonuses for a cinema’s business—a 2019 study showed that online ticket purchasers are more likely to buy concessions, upgrade to premium seating, and pay the higher price for premium screenings like 3D and IMAX. In other words, online ticket purchasers can be extremely valuable customers because of add-on purchases, giving cinemas yet another reason to encourage online ticketing.

Because of the importance of these upsells, it’s incredibly important for cinemas to choose the right platform for online ticket sales in order to give customers the best online shopping experience possible–after all, although companies like Amazon and Uber are not direct competitors with cinemas, consumers will still be comparing their local cinema’s online sales platforms to the seamless platforms of multi-billion dollar companies. It’s no surprise that a Salesforce survey in 2020 found that 80 percent of customers now consider “the experience a company provides to be as important as its products and services.”

Blockbusters and advertising

Unsurprisingly, 2022’s global box office has been dominated by major studio blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverick, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Jurassic World Dominion, The Batman, and Minions: The Rise of Gru, among other audience-favorite franchises. These blockbusters have fueled a huge resurgence of ticket sales at cinemas after two years of pandemic challenges.

Blockbusters often have a higher rate of online presales as audiences don’t want to face sold-out screenings on opening weekends. On the other hand, these movies have taken up so much space in the landscape that smaller films are struggling to get oxygen in the marketplace—so cinemas face the difficult question of taking the risk of booking and advertising smaller films that may struggle versus focusing advertising on ubiquitous blockbusters that already have multi-million dollar marketing campaigns boosting them.

This too presents an interesting marketing opportunity for cinemas and how they communicate with their customers now knowing the majority of moviegoers are now buying tickets online. If a cinema’s movie offerings are similar to the ones at a competitor’s across town, what can a cinema advertise to set it apart from others?

Cinemas need to consider what makes their theatrical experience unique compared to competitors in the region. While many bigger cinemas attempt to set themselves apart with premium experiences like 3D and IMAX, these upgrades are increasingly becoming commonplace and, as a result, less special. This is where building a community for customers becomes so important, and why non-traditional advertising is now so crucial to drawing Generation Z (and whatever generation comes next!) to cinemas.

Cinemas that listen to their audiences by analyzing customer data can make informed decisions on just about every aspect of their business. After all, a cinema would quickly stop stocking a particular candy in the concessions if few customers were buying it! Utilizing data to plan for advertising and marketing for a cinema is essential as the business models of cinema continue to change with technology and audience moviegoing habits.

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