Families with young children lounged inside the suburban New Jersey Cinemark for an Opening Weekend afternoon screening of Disney’s live-action remake “The Little Mermaid.” That’s when it came out: an ad for Hulu’s reality series ‘The Kardashians’. He points to the moaning mother.
This father of two sons, aged 3 and 6, did not moan outwardly; I braced myself for impact. And then he came in the form of a loud whisper: “I like them,” said my 6-year-old, who definitely doesn’t know who Kim Kardashian and the gang are. But of course she would like them – she really likes Barbie dolls.
The jarring moment was saved by Cinderella Castle and never talked about again. But one of us couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why would an ad for “The Kardashians”, even a rather innocuous one, precede the trailers for animated films that preceded the presentation of the children’s film? My first instinct was that corporate synergy was running wild, as ‘The Little Mermaid’ and Hulu share a parent company in Disney. But as National CineMedia chief revenue officer Mike Rosen told me, it has nothing to do with it.
Would have known: NCM books most pre-film commercials, including this one for “The Kardashians” within Cinemark, U.S. locations. At a minimum, the humans within NCM cleared the footage for the public” PG”; NCM’s proprietary algorithm, with software designed to guarantee X number of ad impressions, did the rest.
“Every commercial is vetted,” Rosen said. The key question is whether the commercial message is appropriate for the audience. For example, beer, wine and spirits ads can only be launched if 72% of the intended audience is 21 or older. (This is referred to as “LDA-compliant” — LDA stands for legal drinking age.)
It’s “exactly the same as TV standards,” Rosen said. “Obviously, ‘The Kardashians’ is intended for parents, not necessarily children.”
Content was fine. For this parent, who definitely isn’t the Kardashians demo (but she carries the LDA stuff!), the most memorable moment was when Kim asked sister Kourtney to “go ahead” to make sure the Hulu cameras were filming her alone. Because otherwise we would get hurt for the shooting of Kim Kardashian.
If you’re new to NCM, you might be familiar with its pre-film show, “Noovie.” Hosted by Maria Menounos, “Noovie” posts trivia, A/R plays, critics’ picks, and yes, commercials, for 20-25 minutes (depending on exhibitor) before what the industry calls “lights out.” That’s when theater takes over the screen, usually with a drink commercial, an ad for the theater franchise’s particular loyalty program, and four to eight trailers. In some theaters, NCM books another four or five minute ad pod before the Coca-Cola or Pepsi commercial. It’s early evening.
Rosen knows prime time — and the Kardashians (or at least, “The Kardashians”) — pretty well. Rosen was an executive vice president in advertising sales at NBCUniversal for half a dozen of the 15 years that “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” aired on E! cable channel. He sold a lot of commercial time on that show. With television, the advertising attitude was the same: “Yes, there might be children in the room,” Rosen said. “It’s not meant for them,” but it’s always “appropriate” for them.
True, even if a movie theater is a captive audience (which is why advertising can be so effective). That pretty much sums up NCM’s sales pitch.
We asked NCM for statistics on how many “The Little Mermaid” screenings that weekend had “Kardashian” spot in their pre-rolls, though we didn’t get an answer to that question. It is likely that our experience has not been the experience of the majority. Maybe you have LEGO or Nintendo ads; those are two big NCM clients who, sometimes, just want their spots in “G” or “PG” movies. We would have gladly accepted both.