Cinema advertising in the UK first began with simple announcements scratched onto slides and projected onto the screen but many people are amazed to learn when the first cinema commercial was produced.
As a guess, most people would suggest the 1930’s but, remarkably, the date is actually 1899 when a commercial for Dewars Whisky appeared on UK screens.
Even more surprisingly, a copy of this still exists (though on safety stock now rather than the rather explosive nitrate!) and when screened a few years back in Edinburgh it drew hoots of laughter - not so much for its creative quality, but for the fact that the “Scottish” piper had his kilt on back to front!
During the first and second world wars, cinema advertising became a vital propaganda tool for a nation who only had the radio and press as a news source and during this latter period the COI produced some memorable campaigns e.g. “Careless Sneezes Spread Diseases “, “Careless Talk Costs Lives"
Up until then, cinema commercials had been long-winded films for a diverse range of government campaigns, cigarette manufacturers and other leading brands of the day such as Ovaltine etc.
As post war Britain picked itself back up in the 1950’s, cinema advertising was about to undergo a remarkable transformation.
Pearl & Dean
The names of Pearl & Dean are synonymous with cinema advertising and its origins go right back to the 1930’s when Messrs Pearl and Dean first began selling simple slide advertising and commercials in Cardiff. However the company truly took off in 1953 when Ernie & Charles Pearl joined Jack Dean in setting up Pearl & Dean on 15th January representing the ABC circuit as its main exhibitor.
Just six weeks after their launch, 15” and 30” commercials, especially produced by them for Unilever and Beechams, appeared and this new creative style also just happened to suit the sudden arrival and rapid growth of ITV during that decade.
With their subsequent acquisition of Younger’s, the company soon became the UK’s leading cinema-advertising contractor holding some 65% of the cinema market. However, by the early 1970’s Messrs Pearl & Dean were no longer involved and the cinema industry in general was in sharp decline. Mills & Allen now owned Pearl & Dean the poster contractor and their market share declined rapidly as Rank Screen Advertising gained the upper hand.
In 1993, with a market share at 12% a group of French media interests purchased the company for a peppercorn sum (10Francs!) and successfully re-launched Pearl & Dean under entirely new management.
In 1999, STV bought the company that by now had regained a significant market share boosted by the launch of new landmark multiplex sites.
Image Ltd now owns Pearl & Dean, and controls numerous UK cinema sites including leading multiplex operators such as Empire, Showcase, Apollo and AMC and we're also the leading sales house for Independent Cinemas in the UK.
Who Needs Cinema Advertising?
Cinema advertising is an important element in the economics of the UK cinema industry. In fact, during the tough trading downturn in the 1980’s it was advertising revenue that kept many screens (both circuit and independent) afloat.
Indeed, when the big US multiplex operators first arrived here they thought that no commercials (as per the US) would be an attraction. But they changed their view and commercials were soon shown and this very contribution of advertising revenue became the difference between profit and loss for at least one major multiplex exhibitor in those early years.
The exhibitor of course knows the direct benefit of this valuable revenue stream but few patrons probably appreciate the fact that this indirectly helps keep their ticket price lower. Pearl & Dean have also played a pivotal role in securing major sponsorship deals and other alternative revenue streams such as in- foyer posters.
Thankfully, the quality of cinema commercials today makes them an entertaining part of the movie package and indeed many of these commercial directors go on to become major Hollywood directors eg Alan Parker, Ridley Scott etc who all learned their craft shooting commercials first.
One of the most vital contributions made by the cinema advertising business is the provision of virtually all the key marketing data available today. For example, the FAME research (Film Audience Measurement and Evaluation) provides the largest data bank of cinema going profiles by movie with thousands catalogued since the 1980’s.
This enables marketing campaigns by all sections of the industry at large to be highly targeted to maximize marketing efforts and investment for everyone’s benefit. Cinema advertising is indeed an integral and commercially vital part of this industry.