Big screen, big results: can psychology shed light on the cinema effect?

Big screen, big results: can psychology shed light on the cinema effect?
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Ready to make a big impact? Incorporate cinema advertising into your launch campaign to boost brand perception and leave a lasting impression on your audience.

As the well-worn saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

This is especially relevant when you’re in the business of launching a new product and considering how best to shape that first impression.

Cinema offers an opportunity to boost ad effectiveness at this stage. Can psychology help explain why? Here, we take a look at some evidence.

Do first impressions really matter?

In short, yes — “first impressions count” is a cliché for a reason.

There’s an idea in psychology called the primacy effect. This suggests that not only are we more likely to recall our first encounter with new information, but we’re also inclined to view any subsequent experiences through the lens of this first encounter.

The original study into primacy was by Solomon Asch at Columbia University in 1946. He split people into two groups and showed them lists of personality traits. The words were the same, but the order differed: the first group saw the list starting with positive and ending with negative traits (intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, envious). The second group saw the reverse order (envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious, intelligent).

When asked to describe the people, the first group reported far more positive personalities than the second, despite the words being exactly the same.

Does this apply to brands too? Well, in 2018, I carried out my own primacy experiment.

I told 500 participants about a fictitious brand, “Black Sheep Vodka,” supposedly set to launch in the UK. Half of the participants were told that it was ‘award-winning, refreshing, satisfying, vinegary, and weak.’ The other half were told that it was ‘weak, vinegary, satisfying, refreshing, and award-winning.’ Everyone received the same information — it was just the order that changed.

Those who heard the positive words first rated the vodka 11% higher than those who heard the negative description first.

So, it’s clear that any early signals from your launch campaign are disproportionately important since they act as a filter through which we interpret later information.

Let’s look at how cinema can help you shape that all-important first impression.

You get what the audience thinks you paid for

The simple fact of launching with cinema ads will set you up for success. This is because of an idea in psychology called costly signalling, which suggests that believability and trust in a message are proportionate to the perceived expense of the message.

Some relevant evidence for this comes from a 1989 study by Amna Kirmani at Duke and Peter Wright at Stamford, who tested the extent to which perceived ad spend acts as a signifier of quality.

They gave 214 participants a magazine article describing the launch of a new trainer, which included the total campaign spend (£1.4m, £7m, £14m, or £28m). As context, the article also described the typical launch spend by global athletic brands (e.g., Nike and New Balance) — around £7m.

Participants were asked to rate the quality of the different shoes on a nine-point scale. For the £1.4m spend, they rated the shoe at 5.39. At the £7m spend, perceived quality was higher – 5.67, and it was higher still at a campaign spend of £14m, at 6.16. But interestingly, at the £28m spend, perceived quality dropped back to 5.71.

So, in general, perceived quality increased with ad spend, peaking at +14% for the £14m spend. However, when deemed excessive (£28m), quality ratings were undermined.

Source: Adapted from Kirmani & Wright’s (1989) findings

So by placing that level of confidence in your brand, you’re seen to be putting your money where your mouth is — and you’ll automatically enhance perceived quality. A great start for a new launch.

This is an interesting finding when it comes to cinema. I asked consumers to estimate how much they thought it cost to run an ad on cinema and YouTube. Of course, they didn’t know the actual costs per thousand (CPTs), but they assumed cinema must be more costly. This means it is a better way of tapping into costly signalling.

Mood matters

Consider the feeling you get when you’re settling into your seat for a film to begin on the big screen: the excitement and anticipation, the opportunity to switch off from the outside world, the physical comfort of your reclined seat and the climate-controlled air temp, not to mention the licence to snack to your heart’s content. All of this puts you in a happy, relaxed mood. And that’s another bonus when it comes to selling.

Because there’s evidence that people are more likely to notice messages when they’re in a good mood. Some research to support this comes from Fred Bronner, a professor of advertising at the University of Amsterdam. In his 2007 study, he asked 1,287 participants to read a newspaper and then answer questions about which ads they could recall.

Data was then split by participants’ mood. And the results showed that those who were happy recalled 52% of ads, whereas those who were unhappy remembered just 35%. That’s a 49% improvement in the proportion of ads recalled based on the mood of the reader.

It wasn’t just happiness that mattered; levels of stress were important too. Relaxed participants noticed 54% of ads, whereas those who were stressed remembered a mere 36%.

Results from Bronner’s (2007) experiment

By putting your audience into a happy and relaxed mood, cinema will automatically enhance the memorability of your ads.

So, you can see some of the reasons why cinema may give your campaign a head start by aligning well with what psychology suggests will help to sell.

That’s why you, as a marketer, should throw a dose of big screen action into your media mix — particularly at the crucial launch phase, as you set the tone for everything to follow.

Richard Shotton is an author, consultant, conference speaker, and trainer. His work focuses on applying findings from psychology and behavioural science to marketing. He founded Astroten, a consultancy that applies findings from behavioural science to marketing.

Digital Cinema Media commissioned Shotton to examine how psychology/behavioural science can help explain the impact that cinema can have for brands.

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