Undercover ads hit the big screen.

Undercover ads hit the big screen.

Dwindling attention as well as a rise in competition for eyeballs have meant that the impact of traditional advertising is on the decline. There are signs that the movie theatre is becoming the next robbers’ den as adverts spill over from the trailers to become the feature film itself.

Taking in a captive audience

Incognito advertising is nothing new, the recent debate and uplift in native advertising may have highlighted a lack of transparency, but product placement and subliminal messaging are just as common. The desire to get a reaction from the target audience either through behavioural economics, neuro linguistic programming or conditioning have been evolving as media is transforming, however the temptation to take advantage of a captive audience seems too good to pass up.

Supporting act vs centre stage

Films are a premium option for communication, not only for the captive audience, but also for their length – 90 minutes or more to get a message across. Films have, for some time, used product placement as a way to reduce costs and extend marketing reach, but also to allow audiences to make a connection with characters and events. We’ve seen the obvious Wayne’s World product roll, Ray Ban and Tom Cruise (Risky Business, Top Gun, Days of Thunder) and James Bond fans cried ‘sacrilege’ in Skyfall when 007 swapped his signature martini for a … Heineken. Placing brands in films is a way of making a human connection with the audience for good and for worse. Whilst not ideal, product placement, when done well, can enhance the story or credibility of characters, but when the products become the film, then we are all in big trouble.

Branded content stealing more than the spotlight

In 2004, Baz Lurhmann directed a 180-second short film (No. 5 The Film) to promote Chanel No. 5 (it entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive ad on television). However 11 years later and the ads are the movies. A 180-second advert styled like a movie is one thing, but now the ads themselves are morphing into blockbuster films. This approach has been further enhanced by social networks and digital platforms which have given rise to branded content disguised as entertainment. The result: brands are changing something really special, all in the name of a sale.

For a natural story-telling brand, such as Lego, a movie makes sense. Entitled The Lego Movie, viewers knew what they were paying to see. However, for movies such as The Internship (2013) and The Chef(2014), which were essentially feature-length ads for Google and Twitter, this felt more disingenuous. Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold highlights a growing lack of respect for audiences by brands who can and do get away with charging audiences to watch their ads.

Is it a movie or a market?

Is there no escape for consumerism? Is total disruption the only way out?! New products such as The Takeallow users to track products showcased during a film, save them to a shopping cart and then purchase when the film is done. However, this calls into question, the sustainability of the new age of film if the focus is more on commercialism than on the experience of watching a movie. New avenues for film distribution allow audiences access to a wider choice of film but also to experience it in new ways. If mainstream cinemas and ‘blockbuster’ films become sell-outs to the ads, then it is only a matter of time before the cinema becomes the next industry to face serious disruption, just like the music industry before them.