Lights, camera, adverts? Pearl & Dean boss Kathryn Jacob on the Golden Age of cinema advertising

Elliott Haworth
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It has been estimated that the average Londoner sees some 4,000 adverts per day, which, at first, seems an inordinate figure.

But when one considers the hundreds of ads plastered on tube escalators, or the incessant deluge of digital advertising we each inhale, the statistic feels less remarkable.

Both the digital and urban environments are a blur of brand messaging. Whether or not the various touchpoints culminate in anything useful is, of course, debatable. But one medium that has proved its worth since time immemorial is the big screen. Cinema ads are eight times more effective at making brands stand out than TV, according to Hall & Partners’ research. But why?

“Quite simply,” says Kathryn Jacob, chief executive at Pearl & Dean, “it’s about the fact that we have a shorter ad reel and it’s on a really big screen. As a brand, what do you want: people paying rapt attention to your ad, or do you want to be part of the general noise that they see in a day?”

Anyone who has been to the cinema in the last 70 years or so will be familiar with Pearl & Dean – it flashes up at the start of 18 per cent of films screened in UK cinemas, and 100 per cent in Ireland.

It’s arguably the UK’s best-known cinema advertising contractor, and one, to its credit, that punches above its weight – its revenue share is around 23 per cent of the £252m market.

Out of all of the legacy formats – print, radio, and, arguably, television – cinema is going gangbusters, outpacing the lot in growth terms. And the proof is in the err, popcorn. According to the Advertising Association/ WARC’s adspend forecast, cinema advertising is estimated to have grown 9.6 per cent last year, continuing with a further 6.3 per cent in 2018.

Jacob puts this unfaltering expansion down to a combination of factors, primarily that more of us are going to the cinema – 78 per cent of the UK population, according to one estimate.

“The thing about cinema is that we don’t have huge numbers, but we have a massive amount of resonance. When is the last time someone said ‘ooh there was a really interesting banner pop up’? No one does.”

And if you thought that validating cinema tardiness with “it’s okay, we’ll only miss the adverts” was normal – or acceptable – behaviour, then think again. Reader, you are a minority. Some 90 per cent of attendees arrive on time, with only three per cent so irked by advertising that they intentionally arrive late, according to one survey.

“I’ve seen people clap cinema ads if they really like it – really, when you think about it, people have paid to see your ad. And creatives love running 90 second ads – they’re all frustrated film directors,” she chuckles.

One driver of this Golden Age of cinema advertising is the nascent economic diversity of cinema experiences – from the splendour of an Everyman, to smaller independents like south east London stalwart (and my personal favourite) PeckhamPlex.

Also on Pearl & Dean’s books are a plethora of Instagrammable events – those in the so-called experience economy (rooftops, drive-thrus, pop-ups, outdoor events), creating bountiful opportunities for advertisers.

A rooftop cinema on the Bussey Building, Peckham (Source: Pearl & Dean)

“In a world where people have peak stuff, many are instead focusing on experiences, saying: ‘shall we just leave the house then? Shall we actually just go and see something, and talk about it?’ And the sector has reacted to that. You can go to the Bussey Building and watch a classic film, have really great food and a cocktail with your mates, and take photos of the sunset.

Planning where and when brands want to advertise across various screens is the biggest part of Pearl & Dean’s business. Understanding the difference between audiences of Fast and Furious and La La Land requires an extensive knowledge of film in itself.

“What we do is we go to clients, we go to a P&G or an M&S and their agencies, and we say: ‘this film is coming out, it’s really great and let’s talk about what you want to do, and what your plans are for the year’. And some brands come to us and say they want to have a slightly deeper experience. So we broker what we call film partnerships – and that can be all different types of form – so it can be product placement, or working with directors in other ways to allign brands.”

Much discourse across paid media revolves around programmatic solutions to traditional formats, but Jacob suggests that, in the world of cinema, it would be paramount to tilting at windmills. “Obviously we’re looking at programmatic, because everybody is. But the interesting thing about our business is that every year you start fresh. We’re working on films that haven’t even starting filming yet – we could tell you now everything that’s going to run from now until the back end of next year.

“It would be hard for an algorithm to plan around that well. It’s something that still requires human sensitivity.”

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