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Future of TV Health & Pharma Cinema

Embracing ‘cinema-therapy’ could help movie theaters find new purpose


By Camilla Yates, Strategy director

March 25, 2024 | 5 min read

Could a brand pay for your therapy? Not quite, but it could support a nourishing trip to the cinema. Elvis’ Camilla Yates talks us through the new evidence.

Cinema is a wellbeing driver

The UK is in the midst of a mental health crisis, with services in England receiving a record 4.6 million referrals during 2022 (up 22% from 2019). This is outpacing the ability to support them. And there are over four times as many children and young people in contact with mental health services as there were seven years ago. Amid this strain, ‘self-care’ has gone from a buzzword on Instagram to a viable option for the nation’s mental health maintenance. However, the mainstream idea of what constitutes self-care can be broadened significantly.

While recent research on the ‘behavioral pillars of wellbeing’ from ITV focus on nature, food, exercise and medicine, an accessible and enriching option for mental health maintenance is going overlooked: cinema. In the context of the current crisis, and with cinema attendance yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, there is a compelling opportunity for cinema to position itself as a medium for mental well-being to advertisers.

According to Fancourt, Steptoe, and Cadar, “When we engage in cultural activities such as the cinema, our brains are presented with complex, intense, emotional and novel experiences to process, which puts demands on our emotional-cognitive functioning. Not only can this impact mental health, with studies suggesting cultural experiences can reduce depression and loneliness, but it can also help in boosting creativity, memory and slowing overall cognitive decline.”

Cinema’s social aspect also has significant benefits. UCL’s research found that cinema audiences experience synchronized physiological effects when watching a film together. “One of the antidotes to our isolation is a shared big screen experience when we all go through the same emotional journey together. It has the power to bond us together in a way that solitary screen scrolling can never do,” writes Tanya Goodin, founder of Time to Log Off and author of ‘Off.'

While the UK is relatively unaware of cinema as a method of self-care, its wellbeing effects have been well-researched further afield. The field of cinema-therapy leverages the therapeutic effect of movies in the context of anxiety, depression and other psychiatric illnesses. MediCinema found that its service reduces isolation, anxiety and stress and helps patients feel better. UCL found mental and physical effects due to the cultural element, shared group setting and focused environment of a shared big screen experience.

And with cinemas struggling to achieve pre-pandemic levels of attendance, they should be leveraging this meaningful and significant benefit when engaging with both guests and advertisers. As a media channel, cinema has been found to have a more emotive effect than any other touchpoint – positioning it as an effective and entertaining part of the public’s self-care routine will further increase engagement, creating knock-on benefits for advertisers. What’s more, with big brands like Odeon Cinema Group being present in over 290 communities across Europe, this creates an opportunity to make a positive impact on a huge number of people’s mental health.

Can advertisers help with cinema-therapy?

For advertisers, there are a whole raft of opportunities to take advantage of. If audiences realize that a trip to the cinema isn’t merely an inconsequential entertainment experience, they’re more likely to engage more fully with the content they see as part of the occasion, which is likely to boost the creative effectiveness of ads they are exposed to.

As awareness of cinema’s wellbeing effects become more explicit and more embedded within consumer consciousness, positive associations are likely to start to halo to advertised brands. Just like people’s views of products they see advertised in a spa are likely to be positively influenced by the spa environment, in the future, brands with a wellbeing focused narrative are likely to enjoy positive reinforcement from the cinema environment.

And advertisers can play a role in highlighting or deepening the cinema’s wellbeing effect by leveraging pre-show ad spots to communicate relevant messaging, curating content series that explore therapeutic themes or simply giving away cinema tickets.

With cinema’s existing reputation as an immersive, premium and high-engagement media experience, leveraging the big screen to improve the public’s mental well-being is a win-win for media owners, advertisers and consumers alike.

This ran as part of The Drum’s latest Focus Week, where we are focusing on the ever-evolving entertainment industry.

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