Enhancing the Cinema Experience for Gen Z: 8 Experts Share Key Marketing Insights

February 28, 2023
The DX Team
Read in Swedish
Sweden Icon

Gen Z (individuals born from 1995 to 2009) now makes up 40% of global consumers and holds earnings of about $7 trillion. By 2031, their income will reach $33 trillion (27% of the world’s income), surpassing Millennials, shows an Ad Age analysis from October 2022.

They’re also the generation that believes “viewing film on SVoD platforms is complementary to seeing films in the cinema” as this 2021 BFI Audience Report shows.

With these insights in mind, it’s clear that the cinema marketing strategies need a refresh. But where do you start?

We’ve talked to 8 women in the cinema industry, from marketing experts to a cinema operator, to find out more about reaching an audience that is more digitally-connected and values-driven than ever before.

Let’s explore what they had to say on:

  • Key areas to look into to provide a 360 experience for Gen Z audiences that goes well beyond film
  • Smart marketing initiatives to attract Gen Z audiences, even with limited resources

Read until the end to uncover our key findings.

Laura Rabben (Filmgrail) on fresh, inventive and cost-effective approaches for cinema marketing 

Gen Zs are experience chasers who demand unique and interactive experiences. They are also values-driven and put strong emphasis on authenticity, inclusivity and diversity, says Laura Rabben, Filmgrail’s Head of Marketing.

With limited resources, it can be a daunting task for Cinema Managers to devise smart marketing initiatives to cater to the demand for this audience group. That being said, there are still many fresh, inventive and cost-effective approaches that cinemas can engage with Gen Z audiences. Here are a few initiatives that cinemas can implement to attract the next generation of moviegoers:

  • Collaborating with Influencers: Gen Z is more likely to trust recommendations from their favorite social media influencer than traditional advertising. Cinemas can identify and partner with local micro-influencers that have a strong following among young people and invite them to watch a movie or organize a meet-and-greet with their fans in return for creating sponsored content that showcases the cinema and the unique experience it offers. Leveraging influencer relationships can help provide additional exposure for the cinema and attract younger groups.
  • Crafting Interactive Experiences: Cinemas can explore ways to create more interactive experiences in order to differentiate themselves and cater to younger audiences’ needs for unique, interactive and immersive experiences. For instance, creating virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences that immerse audiences in the movie or hosting live experiences, games or scavenger hunts that mirror the movie's theme can help to create a more engaging and memorable movie-going experience. In addition, leveraging interactive installations that are related to the movie’s theme or using special effects such as fog machines and lighting can help elevate the overall experience of movies from a specific genre. Hosting live performances or Q&A sessions are also ways to provide an opportunity for younger audiences to engage with the movie on a deeper level.
  • Embracing Diversity and Inclusivity: Gen Z audiences are one of the most inclusive generations who place strong emphasis on representation and inclusivity in entertainment and business. Offering a diverse range of programming that includes movies from different genres, cultures and languages, as well as stories that reflect the experiences of underrepresented or marginalized communities can help attract a wider and younger audience whilst demonstrating a commitment to diversity and inclusivity. Ensuring that the cinema is accessible to all moviegoers is another way to create a safe space for audiences regardless of their ability. For instance, creating sensory-friendly screenings for people with sensory disabilities, offering closed-captioned or audio description screenings for the hearing-impaired and ensuring wheelchair accessibility can be some of the ways in which cinemas can showcase a commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive experience for all.

Mandy Kean (Mustard Studio) on nostalgia, value-based offers, and personalization

The GWI trend report reveals that Gen Z is feeling the effects of the pandemic and cost of living crisis, causing them to prioritise other issues rather than the climate crisis, Mandy Kean, Founder & CEO at Mustard Studio highlights.

However, the Broadway Nottingham cinema saw record engagement when they implemented a meat-free month at the cinema, demonstrating that Gen Zs are more likely to support plant-based diets than older generations. To appeal to this age demographic, cinemas should expand their F&B offerings to include more plant-based items. 

Gen Z is money-driven and value-conscious, so cinemas should consider offering a low ticket price all day, every day and discounts for special events. Offering rewards programmes for frequent visits helps to build loyalty, and cinemas could also provide extras such as a refreshment with a ticket or talent Q&As, as well as partnering with festivals or brands with the opportunity of talent presence or putting on live performances and gaming events. 

Through the audience research we have conducted at Mustard, we can see that the Gen Z audience has a group of directors and actors they trust. They are more likely to be aware of these titles early on, which gives cinemas an excellent opportunity to seed information almost from when a film appears at a festival and create a buzz.

The GWO report indicates that Gen Z feels a strong sense of nostalgia, particularly for the 90s when life seemed more enjoyable and less stressful than today! Hosting anniversary screenings from the golden age of the 90s and presenting "classic" films not often seen in cinemas are great ways to tap into this sentiment. We should remember there is always a new audience who didn’t see those films on the big screen when they were first released.

Benedikte Schuitema (Fram Kino) on involving Gen Z into the everyday-cinema-life 

Providing a cinema experience that goes beyond film, you have to focus on:

  • Appreciate your audience
  • Appreciate their money and their time
  • Target them with smart marketing: touch their feelings
  • Focus on whats important to most people: quality-time, how to take care of people
  • that’s important to you. Let us help you do this in the easiest way possible.
  • Make it convenient, easy and accessible.

That’s what Benedikte Schuitema, Marketing & Events / Operations and Kiosk Manager, at Fram Kino in Bodø advises. She continues:

My take on Gen Z is that they want comfort, convenience and something extra. They also want to be involved. So we see that this generation wants more than just the movie&popcorn experience. But they don't necessarily want too much. 

I think it's totally doable. It could be small goodiebags, free/discounted popcorn, a decorated cinema - inspired by the topic of the movie. It doesn’t have to be expensive either; but it takes time, and it takes creativity. And these small acts of good service are a way for us to show that we appreciate them spending their free time at the cinema.

We need to appreciate the time that we have them in our cinemas as well! Know that this will make an impact - and make it a good one so that they leave wanting more. This could be: good deals in the candy store, some kind of value-packages for friends/couples/families, good advertising for upcoming events, maybe a chance to win tickets or win your next purchase. All this is also totally doable through our phones — which is where we reach this generation. We want to use this for both our and their benefits.

My experience is that behind-the-scenes-stuff is always interesting to people: give them a chance to participate in the everyday-cinema-life. Ask for their thoughts, help them help us create content - or make them a part of our content.

Emma Jamieson (Consultant) on the immersive assets of gaming / VR experience into cinemas

Cineworld in the UK has tapped into this, offering cinema screens for private hire so friends can game together on a big screen with food and beverage packages as an upsell, which is a great first step, however still more targeted to a slightly older audience, says Emma Jamieson, owner of Emma J. Marketing.

Having gaming spaces or VR rooms within movie theaters - for example boothed tables with in-built consoles for friends to sit and game together socially, hosting e-sports tournaments on screen with a tiered pricing system based on age or including a student discount or value-added loyalty card, offering cinemas up as venues for games launches with exclusive access to under 25s are all ways cinemas can look to drive footfall, awareness and build a new fan base.

Plus, I'd love to see cinema groups develop mutually beneficial PR packages with game-fluencers which could be the cinema equivalent of the Nando's famous black card: free cinema tickets, exclusive space hire for their big ticket e-games or tournaments where they can invite their friends in exchange for social media content, competitions, meet and greets, etc. 

Michelle Stevens (Powster) on the authentic and shared cinema experience

Gen Z audiences are inclined to shun anything that feels inauthentic, and are much more likely to listen to their own networks so give them the digital tools, opportunities or backdrop to create their own content, says Michelle Stevens, Commercial Director at Powster.

This will enable them to become digital ambassadors for your venues and content amongst their own communities.  We are privileged in our industry to be promoting a passion point and content that ignites emotions, so don’t forget to consider the opportunities to capture their anticipation, excitement and reaction, pre, during and post their in cinema movie going experience.

Helen Budge (Celluloid Junkie/Cinema Tech Magazine) on eventizing the cinema experience

From the conversations I've had across the industry, turning an evening at the cinema into more of an "experience" (for any age) requires some creative thinking but doesn't always have to cost the earth. People - particularly Gen Z - want this fuller experience, rather than just a simple film & popcorn combination, due to all the many platforms, apps, games, videos vying for their attention, points out Helen Budge, Managing Editor, Celluloid Junkie and Cinema Technology Magazine.

Genesis Cinema, east London, is one of the most oft-quoted for its events and additional touches they bring to their film nights. Special cocktails and food items are designed to accompany a specific film, as well as a live band playing in the bar area. They're also known for their themed costume parties and celebrity Q&As that they put on. Take all of this and aim it at Gen Z, so an Instagram booth, a VR stand, QR codes that take you to social media content / activities or freebies, a fully decked-out foyer and dressed up members of staff as video game characters, favourite pop stars or popular TV show characters. Themed F&B linked to whatever the film is that they want to come and see. Have fun with it!

Hollie Bradley (Sauce) on the local community-tailored experience

The cinema experience is changing, so a number of my clients are focused on delivering an experience that is tailored to individual local communities, says Hollie Bradley, Sauce founder.

For the younger audiences, this can be about creating a club or event that is focused on their needs - holding a regular weekly event where they can use the venue to meet friends, play games and get a great discount on food & drink. Creating a safe place to spend time after school builds affinity and loyalty with the cinema. 

For venues that don’t have the space to hold regular events, it’s important to make sure that the F&B offer and overall experience not only caters to, but also doesn’t alienate the younger audience. Programming event cinema content that appeals to Gen Zs (e.g. live music, gaming, influencer content) is another great way to reach new audiences and offer something different to the regular cinema experience.

Also, with Gen Z it’s key to be where they spend most of their time. If budgets and resources are limited, a great approach is to jump on current trends - you only have to look at the recent success of TikTok activations around GentleMinions and M3gan to see that Gen Z audiences are creating their own cinema-related content. So, being part of the conversation - in an authentic way - is an easy option to build engagement.

Jenny Sidorova (DX) on the power of user-generated content (UGC)

Jenny Sidorova, our Head of Marketing, explores how cinemas leveraging user-generated content will stay ahead of the curve:

UGC to be part of a local trend. 

This is a trend that cinemas have barely tapped into. We saw with 2022’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, the opportunity that a well crafted global marketing strategy can have on local businesses: people showed up to local screenings dressed and ready to share on social channels. Some cinemas saw this as a threat and banned the gatherings, while others leaned in and joined the trend. What is still missing for me in the industry is cinemas not only leaning in but leveraging UGC as a form of brand elevation. 

UGC to showcase others’ experiences at your cinema. What could this look like? Cinemas using digital signage to actually show a feed via #hashtag of what’s happening on channels like TikTok and Instagram around their audience’s experience with premiers, event cinema, and other. 

UGC-friendly space: make me want to create content! In order to get user-generated content, you also have to craft it and provide a space that encourages content capture. This is something studios anticipate for big license and IP launches, but it can truly be done for any film.

Web3 will also undoubtedly have a big impact on content creation, as fans will have more opportunities than ever to participate in creative projects from conception to release. Imagine the future of films in web3 allowing a select few NFT holders to contribute to the ideation of a film ending. That process could turn into those select-few sharing their experience on social. Cinemas could lean in and engage in that conversation, sharing their local fan experience to even generate some FOMO, or they could ignore the conversation. Which do you think would get Gen Z talking?

Key Findings

Although it seems daunting at first, as we’ve seen from the 8 women sharing their cinema marketing strategies, it doesn’t have to be:

  • Embrace social media and be where your Gen Z audience is (TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.) — share behind-the-scenes content from the everyday life of a cinema or let them create content around your cinema
  • Create value-conscious offers and personalized packages. Think loyalty offers, themed food and beverages, family discounts, etc.
  • Dial up the immersive and interactive: what is the easiest way to gamify the experience? From smart hashtags to a scavenger hunt and Instagram booths to the use of VR and AR technologies, the possibilities are endless.
  • Create special, live events and themed days. How about a Marvel cosplay or a 90s film night? Or a Q&A session for a film launch?
  • Think digital-first: link the cinema experience to your social channels, website, and marketing campaigns. Once again, don’t forget to include the Gen Z audience as co-creators.

If you want to learn more, read our deep-dive into cinema marketing and branding as part of our all things cinema marketing series.

Share This Article

Stay ahead! Monthly industry insights straight into your inbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Stay Ahead Blog
Read in Swedish
Sweden Icon