Buick, Cineplex and Other Stray Thoughts

Warren Clements writes:

I continue to be perplexed by television advertising. So often, the person using the product is portrayed as a complete buffoon — either manically in love with the product or driving others crazy with talk about the product. The fellow in a suit of armour who tries to talk a driver into buying his brand of car insurance insinuates himself into the guy’s car, eats his snacks (which the driver has earlier wrenched away from him), and asks for a lift home. It’s amusing, in large part because the actors are good, but who would identify with the guy selling the product? He’s our worst nightmare.

The latest commercial to befuddle me is one for Buick. The point of more than one ad is that Buick’s new car looks nothing like a Buick, so people looking out for a Buick walk right by it or assume it’s not the right car. The message? That even Buick doesn’t like the way most Buicks look. Very strange.

While I’m at it (mini-rant while I take a break from turning Aesop’s fables into verse for a spring release from www.nestlingspress.com), there is yet another story about Cineplex having troubles because not enough people are spending money to see its films. Their story is that the movies just haven’t been up to snuff. Well, maybe, but let me rehearse a different argument: that many of us are staying away from theatres (and waiting for DVDs or Netflix or other online services) because of all the commercials stacked up before the movies. Going to the movies is supposed to be a special experience. There’s nothing special in turning up at the theatre and being treated like someone who has just turned on over-the-air TV at home. Here, they seem to be saying, in return for the money you just paid us we’re going to let a whole bunch of people try to sell you something. Oh, and you can’t watch the movie until we’re through.

I had a long conversation a few months ago with one of the people at Cineplex who deals with the inclusion of ads. She was very generous with her time, and she answered my questions directly and clearly, for which I give her full marks. But the gist of what she said was that they get so much money from the ads that they couldn’t afford to turn back that tide. As for the higher-end options, in which you get a reserved seat in some theatres and the right to annoy the person next to you by ordering food and a drink in-theatre, they have fewer ads than most Cineplex films, but they still have ads. It reminds me of the Monty Python skit about Spam, in which the person ordering a meal insists on having something other than Spam, and is told that there is no Spam-free option. (“It’s not got as MUCH Spam in it,” the server says to mollify him.)

The point is, I’d urge Cineplex to conduct an experiment. Find a couple of theatres in a few of the cities it serves and, for a week or a month, let people know that if they spend another $2 or $5 a ticket — whatever the margin is that would cover the loss of advertising revenue — they will get a special film experience with not a single commercial or static ad. (Coming attractions are fine; that’s part of the movie-house charm.)

Cineplex might resist this because essentially it would be dissing its own advertisers. But if it’s truly interested in luring missing patrons to its theatres — particularly older ones, since the younger ones are often just grateful for a place to take their dates where they can kiss and don’t have to think up conversation — it should give this a try. A thought, anyway. If it works, I won’t ask for royalties.

Back to Aesop’s fables, coming in spring WITHOUT ADS!