Why Cinema is Leading the Way in Experiential Marketing

Everybody loves an experience, so make cinema promotions your next go-to marketing activity and become a part of the action. 


No one likes a know-it-all, do they? But when it comes to marketing your next brand promotion, you’ll forgive us for suggesting that cinema is where it’s at. 

According to Sodexo’s ‘The Reel Deal’ report into film promotions and brand marketing, there has never been a better time for brands to be involved with cinema.

When it comes to finding a dazzling way to attract customers and build a promotional campaign that’s relevant and truly memorable, experiential marketing can deliver blockbusting results. And more and more brands are seeking out this direct connection to engage consumers. 

Just add a captive cinema audience, and you’ve got the ideal experiential marketing mix.

Here’s how cinema is ushering in a new era in brand promotion brilliance…


Like movie audiences, social media marketing planners know the power of an experience – it’s the perfect content provider and can help brand campaigns to gain all-important word of mouth momentum.

And as traditional advertising becomes increasingly harder to gain returns by, it seems experiential marketing is giving marketers and consumers what they really want.

Freeman CMO, Chris Cavanaugh says, “There’s a consensus among marketers that brand experience builds loyalty.” He adds, “We found that almost 60 per cent of CMOs said they valued brand experience for its ability to create ongoing relationships with key audiences.”

Brand experiences create people engagement and will attract customers, increasing customer loyalty in a way that cannot be underestimated. Similarly, it’s this love of a real-life experience that is boosting cinema audiences year-on-year and has led to the creation of Secret Cinema as well as a growth in cinema site numbers.

The front row line is, cinema is moving in big, bold directions.


As Sodexo’s research tells us, according to the Mintel report, cinema numbers are on the rise. To prove it, cinema site numbers continued to increase in 2016, growing by 17 to reach 788.

The number of screens per site remained stable at an average of 5.3, but the proportion of sites with multiplexes (five screens or more) crept up – from 40.3% in 2011 to 46.2% in 2016.

What’s more, they’re getting swankier and more impressive.

In October 2017, Odeon opened its first luxury cinema in Glasgow, with fully reclining leather seats, 4k projection and Dolby Atmos sound (3D surround sound to you and me). It may have been the first, but it won’t be the last.

Our taste for film is moving in new directions too.

Everyman, the independent cinema chain, operates 20 venues across the UK and is planning to open 25 new cinemas across the country over the next four years. The company reported a 45% rise in box office takings in 2017, with revenues reaching almost £30m, a rise of more than £9m on the previous year.

Brands are sitting up and taking note, using these independent chains to exert their own creative freedom over the cinematic experience. And consumers are loving it.


Some of the best examples we’ve heard of marketers building promotional brand partnerships with cinemas are those where there is a natural alignment between the film and the brand itself. 

There’s definitely a sense that cinema is a creative medium where innovation and clever ideas will be well received.

For example, The Electric in Birmingham hosted special wine-tasting evenings in conjunction with the film Sideways. They even paused the movie to serve the same wine that characters were drinking in a particular scene. Not Merlot!

The experience was that the audience were able to get inebriated at the same rate as the characters on screen. We’ll drink to that.

The cinema house has also dreamt up similar marketing ideas for foodies, with the audience sampling the same chocolate treats as the characters in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Let’s hope no one turned blue in the process.

What we’re finding is, brand partnerships can operate on a larger scale to boost customer loyalty and drive conversations online.

As the official Champagne for ‘Sex and the City 2’, Moet & Chandon featured in ‘Champagne and Cinema’ advance film screenings. They also held ‘Lucky Bubble’ sweepstakes, where every order of a glass of Moet gave consumers the chance to win a free ticket to see the film or win other prizes.

Of course, food and drink pairings make perfect sense to enhance the theatrical experience. But they don’t have to be the only types of companies getting in on the act. Mini, Time Out, EDF Energy, Playstation, Compare the Market and others are all finding ways to join in the big screen experience.

New call-to-action

In fact, according to Time Out, “When you watch a movie at the theatre, you're sharing it with everyone around you. There's nothing quite like a room full of people laughing, crying or gasping at the same moments as they journey through a story together.”

Cinema has become an event itself. But add your own plot twist to that and what have you got?

Well, it’s very possible, you’re heading into Secret Cinema land. 


Secret cinema launched in 2007 as the alternative film club. It affords brands a certain creative freedom when it comes to capitalising on film. These are experimental, immersive events aimed at film lovers looking to enhance their cinema experience and take it to the next level. 

Sometimes audiences are invited to dress in character, music is played and audience participation is encouraged. In fact, in 2014, a staging of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ was so popular it propelled the film to the top of the UK box office.

Consumers sign up to the website to receive news of the next big film promotion. They buy tickets and then turn up at a location to be disclosed. Needless to say, it’s usually not an actual movie theatre either.

For example, Shawshank Redemption was brought to life in an old school yard in East London. Prisoners were invited to put on their prison uniforms, take exercise in the yard in the form of press ups and experience live action as other inmates were punished by the screws. Yes, people paid to be shouted at.

It’s this kind of kooky and imaginative thinking that has led to independent cinemas growing in popularity. But the beauty of Secret Cinema is that it offers an entirely bespoke branding opportunity for marketers.

Their website states, “Our brand partners work with our team of talented producers to ensure that messaging is seamlessly worked into the fabric of the show. Partners enjoy access to our engaged audiences using our social media channels. Exclusive offers are available to our customers to further engage with your product.”

Brand partners on the list include Bacardi, TimeOut, Evening Standard, Diaego, The Old Vic, Moet & Chandon, Moleskin, Virgin Media, The Royal Academy of Arts, Mini, RedBull, Absolut Vodka and lots more.

It’s an area that will continue to cast new opportunities for brands brave enough to dive a little deeper when it comes to targeting certain distinctive audiences. Get it right and you’ll capture the minds you’re looking for, long after the film credits are rolling. 


It seems cinema is an experience we just can’t get enough of. As our love of the big screen grows, it seems natural that the format has moved into events, helping to boost viewing figures even more.

According to Mintel, event cinema is projected to grow to £1bn by 2019. Viewers around the country are lapping up screenings of live events like opera, ballet, theatre, music and sport.

Marketers can use this to their advantage to target everyone from Jon Bon Jovi fans to Shakespeare aficionados and beyond. Just think of the opportunities that could offer you.

As Sodexo’s study tells us, in 2014, ‘Billy Elliot the Musical – Live’ became the first ever event cinema production to top the UK and Ireland box office, outperforming every other film screened in cinemas over a seven-day period.

From pop-up screenings to outdoor event cinema, brands are leaping on ways to inspire movie fans and start conversations.

Premium beer brand Leffe hosted an evening of film and beer with Picturehouse Cinemas and Digital Cinema Media, rolling out branded deck chairs and blankets for the audience to relax on. Their audience lapped it up – and just think, yours could too.


As you’ll see, the options for creating an immersive brand experience don’t just start and end with advertising. By getting in front of these highly targeted, captive audiences, you can breathe life into your marketing mix and boldly go where others daren’t.

From discounted cinema tickets to ticket giveaways, licensed merchandise competitions, or even use of film assets - brands can use the ever-enchanting power of cinema to talk to consumers in a way that just can’t be replicated. If you need a little nudging in the right direction, a good engagement solutions expert should be able to help.

Finally, we’ll just leave you with this clever little stunt by Smart Energy.

They partnered with a cinema to surprise and delight customers, using 3D technology and pyrotechnics at London’s Picturehouse Central to stage a ‘power cut’. Their viewing was interrupted by characters running amok in the screen. It was a brilliant use of the cinema experience to create content that social media ran away with. You could call it a lightbulb moment.

Now, if that doesn’t inspire you, we’ll eat our hot dogs without mustard. And nobody wants that to happen… 

Click me