Cliff Marks Pioneers the Future of Theater Advertising

By Published on .

Who: Cliff Marks, president of sales and chief marketing officer at National CineMedia.

Why you need to know him: Mr. Marks heads up the newly formed advertising and promotional division of Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters which, earlier this week, added exhibitor Cinemark USA as a partner. The group now sells ads and promotions across 13,000 theater screens.
Cliff Marks heads up the advertising division of National CineMedia, which sells ads across 13,000 theater screens.

Credentials: Before National CineMedia, Mr. Marks spent 14 years at ESPN/ABC Sports, where he was part of the team that merged the two operations into a single sports sales and marketing group. As senior vice president of national sales, he headed several major ESPN and ABC partnerships with marketers including Nike, Anheuser Busch, Toyota Motor Sales USA, Circuit City, Visa International and Verizon Wireless. He also had stints at cable channel TNN (now Spike), as well as at ad agencies Y&R and BBDO in the network media groups. He joined Regal CineMedia in 2002 to build a sales and marketing group to help the nation’s largest motion picture exhibitor, Regal Entertainment Group, develop a supplemental revenue stream to their primary business of showing feature films and selling concessions. He spearheaded the creation of the pre-feature entertainment program The 2wenty and established content partnerships with NBC, Sony, Turner and Universal. This past May, Regal CineMedia became National CineMedia.

Cinema advertising has been increasing by double digits over the last several years -- 23% from 2003 to 2004, from $356 million to $438 million. To what do you attribute the jump? “The first is that, due to fragmentation, traditional mass media is not delivering the large audiences it once did -- so many marketers are looking for new, compelling ways to reach consumers. Then there is the technology factor -- what I like to call MIGA [make it go away] devices. With advances like TiVo and pop-up blockers, consumers are able to easily avoid commercials across media. But there is no MIGA device in cinema, so ads are seen by the intended audience. This is a double-edged sword, however, placing more pressure on us to create entertaining, engaging and fun content for the movie theater environment. Cinema ads have actually been a 'sight, sound and motion' marketing staple around the world for many years, and while the U.S. market has grown tremendously over the past three years, the cinema still only represents 0.3% of the total media spend. If you look at Europe or Australia, marketers spend approximately 5% of their media dollars in the cinema with brilliant results. I believe there is still a lot of opportunity to grow as more brands and agencies try the medium and experience success.”

What types of advertisers do you target? “We target advertisers with brand image campaigns who seek demos ranging from [ages] 6 to 12 or 18 to 49. The 40-foot screen provides an exceptional showcase for strong brand image/product demonstration advertising, and we are big believers that if marketers create entertaining and engaging ads, the audience will not only enjoy the ad, but that marketer could benefit from recall as high as 60%.”

Who’s in this environment, and who wants to get in? “The cinema is no longer just for soda and candy companies or the armed services. Virtually all marketers seeking a 12- to 49-year-old audience either currently buy cinema ads or are beginning to consider them. Cinema’s leading categories include automotive, video games, apparel, entertainment companies, credit cards, soda/beverage, confectionary, cosmetics, armed services. In 2004, we saw the emergence of several new categories including packaged foods, satellite radio, wireless, retail and electronics.

How do you decide who to bring in and who to leave out? “Due to the nature of the medium, we do not seek out marketers who need to reach older audiences, or who don’t have creative that belongs on a big screen. There are better media options for direct response or ‘call to action’ advertising than cinema.”

What’s the saturation point? How much advertising will you put in the theater environment? “I do believe that consumers will accept ads in the cinema as long as we are responsible and respect their time. We, along with our owners at Regal, AMC and Cinemark, are ardent believers that commercials should end on or around a designated show time -- meaning that when you go to one of our theaters for an 8 p.m. movie, the preshow will conclude on or about 8 p.m., followed by the studio’s coming attraction trailers and the feature film."

The 2wenty, Regal’s current preshow, features a combination of 'promotainment' and commercials beginning about 20 minutes prior to advertised show times. On an average, there tends to be five to six minutes of national commercials throughout the 20-minute program. Our research indicates that most people enjoy the preshow and are accepting of the current commercial layout. As far as a saturation point, there is an inherent limit on the preshow’s time due to the number of movies scheduled each day. Only time will tell what the saturation point is for in-cinema ads, but we are keenly sensitive to the fact that we must respect our patrons and not abuse our unique environmental relationship with them.”

Some consumer groups have criticized in-theater advertising as another intrusion on our leisure time. How do you answer those complaints? “This is an example of a very vocal minority. Our research shows that the majority of our patrons like The 2wenty, but unfortunately people don’t ever write a letter to the editor of a newspaper to say something doesn’t bother them. What bothers me most is when these pundits target the cinema industry as a whole, rather than recognizing and applauding those of us who are really trying to enhance the experience and respect the customer. Unlike some other theater chains, Regal, AMC and Cinemark have always gone to great lengths to respect our patrons by designing our preshows to end on or before advertised movie show time. Cinema advertising in our theaters does not infringe upon the consumer’s time, and in fact we believe that the content in The 2wenty adds entertainment value by giving people something enjoyable to watch while they are sitting in their seats waiting for the movie to start. Cinema advertising has been around for quite a while. The main difference is that now we have the digital technology to move beyond slide shows and word jumbles to create something more engaging.”

Regal CineMedia merged with AMC Entertainment’s ad division this spring and added Cinemark theaters’ 2,300 screens to its network this week. Why was that done, and what impact has it had on marketers? “The recent joint venture with AMC incorporating their ad division, previously known as National Cinema Network to formulate National CineMedia, will eventually be seen as one of the main strategic and critical moves that brought cinema advertising into the big leagues. Regal, AMC and Cinemark are three of the most prominent theater operators in America, controlling almost 42% of the U.S. box office, and the venture created an extremely powerful cinema network in the top 50 markets. Some of America’s finest and top revenue-generating theaters are part of this powerful partnership. But the single most important element of this new venture is the $100 million capital investment on behalf of our owners to outfit the majority of screens in National CineMedia’s network with digital satellite technology, enabling marketers to target audiences with creative flexibility and virtually no production expenses. And as owner-operators -- not a rep firm -- we have direct and immediate control of the theaters and program execution. Marketer response to the new venture has been phenomenal, as most clients recognize the power of working with America’s top theater exhibitors and the excellent audiences we can deliver.”

What kinds of in-theater programs are you putting together for marketers? “The programs that have the most impact tend to utilize the integrated aspects of the cinema environment. Beyond the big screen, many marketers have had a lot of success with our Lobby Entertainment Network, danglers, standees, box office handouts and in-theater signage. Several programs come to mind, like a promotional program Regal did with [the Toyota] Scion, giving away free movie tickets with a test drive. AMC and Best Buy have a very powerful idea in a program called 'Silence Is Golden,' where Best Buy creates a mock movie trailer that reminds people to silence their cell phones in the cinema. Cingular has a similar program in Regal theaters that also includes lobby signage as well as integration into the policy trailer reminding people that movie theaters are not an acceptable place to use cell phones. We are currently in conversations with several marketers about creating long-form content which would be part of the preshow and/or lobby entertainment experience.”

What have you found works best? “We have found that brand image [and/or] brand demonstration advertising works best in the cinema. We also have learned that consumers prefer to see original ads and content in the cinema. We always suggest to our marketing partners that they either create unique content for the theater or create ads that premiere in the cinema and then migrate to TV if they desire to amortize the production of a single commercial for both environments. We find many of our partners create a :60 or :90 [second ad] for the cinema, premiere it on the big screen and then cut it down to :30 or :15 for television. I think that is a very smart way to get two distinct uses out of one commercial and a single production budget.”

What kind of guidelines or help do you give marketers as they navigate the in-theater space? “We have spent a lot of time nurturing and teaching marketers and agencies on how to best utilize cinema as a marketing medium. We have also opened our doors to brands to test recall, intent to purchase or even the likeability of their creative. Our in-house creative director has worked directly with several major agencies to educate them about how to best create and produce cinema ads for digital display on a 40-foot screen. The best example I can think of is our partnership with Nike and Weiden & Kennedy. We have spent countless hours with their creative and production teams to discover how to best use the cinema environment to achieve the kind of creative excellence Nike demands.”

How do you envision this area evolving over time? What will in-theater advertising look like in say, five years? “I envision the cinema becoming a mainstream marketing element for those seeking to use ‘sight, sound and motion’ advertising. As consumers continue to have more choice and fragment into smaller, harder to reach audiences and have greater control over commercial avoidance technology, the engaged audience in the cinema will be critical. I believe that many of today’s early adopters of cinema advertising and marketing will reap the benefits for years to come. I also strongly believe that while some may perceive cinema advertising as a 'luxury' in 2005, it will be a staple of most sight, sound and motion media plans in 2010. It is also my opinion that most theater exhibitors will have a preshow to entertain consumers. By then, The 2wenty will be ancient history, but it will forever be remembered as the show that created and defined movie exhibition pre-feature entertainment.”

What have been your favorite movies this summer? “So far, my favorites are Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Fantastic Four and Cinderella Man.”

What do you do with your downtime? “I like to hang out with my family, weight train and bike ride. I’m also a big music fan, so I love listening to music.”
Most Popular