Even before the pandemic, it was undeniable that the romantic comedy genre no longer carries the box office punch it had in past decades. Though there are a few notable hit exceptions, like 2017’s The Big Sick, 2018’s Overboard, and especially 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians (which grossed $238.8 million worldwide), the genre’s popularity in theaters has dwindled over the last 25 years. Perhaps there’s no better illustration than the fact that the 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want grossed $374 million worldwide, while its 2019 gender-swapped remake What Men Want grossed just $72 million worldwide.
There have been many arguments put forth as to why romantic comedies had such a steep decline in popularity at cinemas, but one point of view is that audiences believe that romcoms aren’t the type of content one needs to see on a big screen with surround sound. After all, the genre is still popular – it’s just that audiences are watching films like The Kissing Booth on Netflix or Palm Springs on Hulu instead.
The opposite holds for blockbusters, like 2022’s Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World Dominion, and Minions: The Rise of Gru. Most cinemas are highly dependent on these major films because they are almost unequivocal successes at the box office and make up a large part of a cinema’s market share – just these three films were responsible for $3.3 billion of 2022’s total worldwide box office through September.
However, blockbusters can’t be the only content in cinemas. As successful as these films were, the summer of 2022 was noted for having fewer blockbusters mostly because studios didn’t produce as many during the pandemic. And with only a handful of expected blockbusters hitting cinemas in the next several months (for example, Black Adam, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and the long-awaited sequel to Avatar), relying solely on a blockbuster every few weeks to carry a cinema business is not an ideal business model.
So can cinemas fill theaters in between blockbusters today? Could the romantic comedy have another opportunity to sell tickets again?
The (perhaps surprising) answer to both questions is yes.
Why DX is Conducting Case Studies on Cinema Business
The story starts with Lillehammer Kino, a cinema in Lillehammer, Norway that has been a DX customer for nearly 20 years. Beyond our long-term business relationship with Lillehammer Kino, we love partnering with this cinema because its Cinema Director, Clarissa Bergh, has a keen understanding of how to run a cinema business.
In her experience as the Cinema Director, Clarissa has learned that to reach her audience and get them in her cinema, she must lean on marketing more than ever. One of the challenges faced by Clarissa is Lillehammer’s population – there are fewer than 30,000 people in Lillehammer to fill Lillehammer Kino’s five theaters with a total of 517 seats (which represents nearly 2 percent of Lillehammer’s total population!)
At DX, we’re not just designing the cinema cloud technology of the future. We’re also building a global brand by bringing our cinema industry and technology expertise to new markets after 25 years in the Norwegian market. We’re constantly looking to the future of cinema and thinking about how to help our customers ensure a future-proof business. Part of that commitment is running case studies and market tests with our customers like Lillehammer Kino and using what we learn to benefit the entire industry.
To conduct such a case study, Clarissa and Jenny Sidorova, Head of Marketing at DX, brainstormed several ideas. However, an opportunity arose for what they felt could be a golden opportunity to show how cinemas could revive romcoms in the era of blockbusters (or lack thereof!)
United International Pictures, a distributor in Norway, reached out to Clarissa to ask if she could help promote the romantic comedy Ticket to Paradise, a romcom starring two longtime stars of the genre, Julia Roberts and George Clooney.
Clarissa decided that Lillehammer Kino needed to sell this film with a different approach since it isn’t the type of content that audiences feel compelled to see on a big screen anymore. Instead of just promoting a film, Lillehammer Kino could promote it as an event – not just a product, but an experience.
How Lillehammer Kino Used Event Cinema to Drive Audiences for a Romantic Comedy Release
Lillehammer Kino planned to reserve up to three theaters for a Ladies’ Night Event for the premiere of Ticket to Paradise on September 16: its 146-seat Dolby Atmos theater, its 34-seat LUX theater connected to the cinema bar, and a third theater as a possible option to add if sales were strong enough. They also planned to block these theaters off from the rest of the cinema to provide additional space for people to mingle with their drinks from the cinema bar and take photos in a branded photo booth before and after the screening to elevate the experience.
Supporting this endeavor is the hard work that Lillehammer Kino has undergone to maintain active social channels on Instagram and Facebook. It is also one of the few cinemas to have a successful presence on TikTok. Scrolling through their feeds demonstrates that Lillehammer Kino does not rely on simply reposting advertising content from distributors. In fact, Clarissa hires staff members that are not only good at customer service and concession sales, but also ones who can create content and manage the cinema’s social media accounts. While she feels at ease with Instagram and Facebook, she’s savvy enough to know that when it comes to TikTok, it’s best to let Generation Z be the ones creating the content. Lillehammer Kino also has an app through Filmgrail and a Mailchimp mailing list to service its most loyal customers.
Content creation by cinemas is important because cinemas can’t only rely on distributor content for marketing upcoming films. Distributor content is intended to appeal to a mass audience – often the same trailer or poster you see at every cinema. A significant challenge for distributors is understanding local markets – one distributor might be creating marketing for an entire country even or several countries. Most cinemas rely completely on distributor content for their marketing efforts, but the distributor can’t possibly know the tastes of every local cinema audience. But cinemas like Lillehammer Kino, which have developed strong connections with the surrounding community, can significantly boost ticket sales by catering to what appeals to the local audience.
How Any Cinema Can Replicate Lillehammer Kino's Success
Let's take a step by step look into the marketing strategy that Lillehammer Kino utilized to promote this successful cinema event and why it can be easily replicated by other cinemas.
The release of Ticket to Paradise seemed like a perfect opportunity to test Lillehammer Kino’s marketing channels for promoting a cinema event. A member of Clarissa’s team made outreach to companies that create ladies-oriented products. As a result, all attendees of the event would receive Lillehammer Kino-branded gift bags filled with a ladies’ magazine, skincare products, and other products that appeal to a female audience.
On August 16, one month before the event, Lillehammer Kino posted this announcement on its Facebook page describing the upcoming cinema event in detail:
The post received 61 comments and, more importantly, over 70 tickets sold within a few hours of the announcement. In fact, 50 percent of the first theater was sold one month before the screening – the first time this ever happened for a non-blockbuster and a romantic comedy in Lillehammer Kino’s history!
Of course, the marketing efforts did not stop there. An Instagram Story and Facebook event posted on August 20 resulted in another 35 tickets sold in a few hours. Additional posts on its social media platforms followed, and by August 30, 12 of the 34 seats in the LUX theater had already sold.
While the social media posts use marketing materials from UIP, they are personalized enough with Lillehammer Kino branding that they don’t look like a generic ad in one’s social media feed.
Based on this early success, Lillehammer Kino opened up the third theater for ticket sales, now offering ticket buyers three options on where to view the film based on price. The social media posts used an event-specific hashtag – #LillehammerGoesToParadise, used on all the cinema’s social media channels – to encourage mentions and user-generated content on social media and allow audiences to engage with one another and promote the event for the cinema.
Most importantly, Lillehammer Kino localized all of the promotional content to include its branding and to promote the event. Here is an example of the same content personalized to the event and the cinema. Before and after:
On August 26, Clarissa posted that only six seats were left in one of the theaters – and simply used a screenshot of the room’s nearly-full seating chart as an incentive for people to buy their tickets before it was too late:
As a late-hour incentive to push tickets, Lillehammer Kino also announced a contest 48 hours before the event via email and all social channels to give away a “Ladies Night Out” event in December, with the contest requiring entrants to post #LillehammerGoesToParadise and tag @lillehammerkino on Instagram.
The Success of the Ticket to Paradise Event
The Ticket to Paradise Ladies Night event promotion was an obvious success for Lillehammer Kino. With 220 total tickets sold, all three theaters sold out, and 28 tickets sold for screenings of the movie earlier that day likely because of all of the cinema’s promotion of the film and event. Lillehammer Kino ranked as one of the top 10 cinemas in ticket sales in all of Norway that night (the cinema typically ranks in the top 20). Lillehammer Kino also experienced a significant boost in bar and concession sales because of the Ladies Night promotion, earning the cinema additional revenue for the event.
Along with overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees, at the event Lillehammer Kino promoted its next Ladies Night event for the following month and even managed to sell out half of one of the theaters just from showing the QR code at the Ticket to Paradise event.
Lillehammer Kino has continued to “post-promote” the event on social media to highlight how good of a time the guests had, which serves as a natural promotion for the theater’s next event. The cinema has now created an opportunity for an ongoing promotional event that could help group Lillehammer Kino’s loyal audience.
Marketing Cinema Events for a Local Audience
As previously noted, Clarissa is very aware of her audience in Lillehammer and has built up Lillehammer Kino’s social media followings and marketing strategies over time. Not every cinema has those advantages, and many cinemas are short-staffed and would have difficulty taking part in elaborate marketing initiatives.
Yet taking a closer look at what Lillehammer Kino accomplished with its Ladies Night Event reveals that the event did not require much effort beyond the cinema’s normal operations. The social media content was created quickly because it was based on the marketing materials provided by UIP with added cinema branding. It easily turned generic content into localized content for the relevant audience. To promote the cinema, Clarissa uses the cinema's logo whenever she can – like on the personalized gift bags for the event. It's little effort on the cinema's part but goes a long way from a branding erspective.
For cinemas, successful marketing needs to be a balance between content that appeals to a wide audience (often supplied by distributors) and content that will appeal to the local audience – especially during a time when there are no blockbuster films. The next Marvel blockbuster might not need much local marketing help to sell tickets, but smaller films often need all the marketing help they can get to succeed.
Lillehammer Kino pulled off an incredibly successful event for a film that might have otherwise struggled to sell tickets in today’s market – and the promotion of the one-night event helped build awareness of both the film and future event screenings at the cinema. And yet Clarissa and her staff approached the local marketing from a smart angle that didn’t create an excessive amount of additional work to execute.
It’s easy to see why Lillehammer Kino is one of the most popular theaters in the region. By setting itself apart by appealing to the local community, the cinema can build repeat business for future films that won’t have the box office might of a blockbuster behind them.