A wet mist has been sprayed into your face, your seat has been rocked back and forth, and wind swirls around you. Has Audi got your attention?
The auto maker is the first advertiser in Canada to embed such effects into its commercial at Cineplex Inc.'s "4DX" auditorium, which opened at its Yonge-Dundas theatre in Toronto in November.
The ad, which is already running in other formats, suggests that "if artificial intelligence could dream" then that robot imagination would come up with the company's new coupe.
The marketing team worked with Seoul-based CJ 4DPLEX, which created the technology, to overlay effects programming on that ad: When the shot moves through a glowing electronic dream world, the chairs veer and pitch to mimic the action. As the landscape changes, "ocean" and "mountain" scents are piped into the theatre. Audi wanted to work with its engineers to concoct a "new car smell" to add to the commercial, but it proved complex.
"That is quite an endeavour, and is not so easy, so probably we have to do that next time," said Christian Schueller, director of marketing and digital innovation at Audi Canada.
Even Audi's heartbeat-like sound logo at the end of the ad is accompanied by vibrations in the chair.
Since the technology launched in 2010, 4DX screens have been added to theatres in more than 42 countries. In the United States, the screens draw roughly 2.4 times more revenue on average than others, according to CJ 4DPLEX. More than 1.4 million people globally paid to see Jurassic World on a 4DX screen and more than 1.8-million for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The theatres are equipped for more than 20 possible effects, such as falling snow or rain, bubbles, seat vibration and movement, wind ranging from a gentle breeze to a "turbulent storm," warm air, fog, and more.
The 4DX ad represents a tiny sliver of the larger Audi campaign, but reflects a growing appetite among marketers for a media experience where they can command people's undivided attention. Cineplex Media is banking on the relative rarity of its captive audience at a time when other media formats are beset by ad blocking, clutter, and the distraction of people using multiple devices.
"You call it captive, I call it engaging," said John Tsirlis, vice-president of sales at Cineplex Media. "… [In other media] there is so much clutter, so much to cut through."
Cineplex has been building more "experiences" into its lineup of services in order to draw in audiences and shore up its business by charging a premium on tickets. Those tickets now account for roughly 50 per cent of Cineplex's box office revenue; just seven years ago, it was roughly 3 per cent.
"There's more to come," Mr. Tsirlis said.
The biggest draw is 3-D, followed by VIP theatres with cushier chairs and in-seat service, and UltraAVX theatres with bigger screens, enhanced sound systems, and some reserved seating. Cineplex is continuing to roll out D-Box theatres with moving seats, and has not yet announced whether it will ad more 4DX theatres but is considering the option. It has also been investing heavily in gaming, including hosting e-sports competitions at its theatres to draw in a younger crowd.
The overall goal is to make Cineplex less vulnerable to the ups and downs of the movie business – the latest Star Wars vehicle can mean a blockbuster quarter, but if the studios have a lull, so do the theatres that show their movies.
But the expansion of offerings is also a selling point for advertisers. Last year, media sales accounted for just 11.6 per cent of Cineplex's total revenue, a fraction of what the theatres earn from tickets and food service. But it has been growing steadily.
Cineplex sells advertising in packages across its properties, including its website and mobile app, Cineplex Magazine, its digital signage network, merchandising tie-ins such as branded popcorn bags, and on theatre screens during the preshow. There is a 20-minute window of programming before each movie and, when the lights go down, alongside the trailers there are generally two to three ads (the company has an upper limit of five to seven minutes on these.)
Advertisers can also buy opportunities in Timeplay, on-screen games that audience members can play with an app on their phones. Advertising bundles usually include three to four elements. While Cineplex won't specify the premium paid for 4DX, it gives the media team another tool in its arsenal when pitching to advertisers.
"When they watch something, they are not used to that – wind blows in your face or a scent comes out, or other effects," Mr. Schueller said. "That immersion into something is, for me as a marketer, quite powerful. We always look into how we can make [an ad] so immersive that you want to try, now, the real thing."