The Screen Advertising World Association was founded in 1954. In 2015, just as the cinema world was becoming fully digital, the name was changed to SAWA the Global Cinema Advertising Association. That was the same year the group partnered with the United Nations on its ongoing efforts to end world hunger. SAWA now represents the cinema-advertising medium with more than 60 members in 38 countries. The membership includes cinema advertising companies, research companies that analyze, collect data, and conduct research on behalf of the medium, and technology companies who supply products and services to the business. The pandemic has not been kind to anyone involved in cinema and SAWA members were no exception. Despite that, in my conversation with SAWA CEO Cheryl Wannell, conducted via email, she remained completely upbeat about what the future holds for cinema advertising. We began, however, by talking about the pandemic.
For years SAWA has worked with the United Nations to combat world hunger. How has COVID impacted that effort?
The global cinema medium efforts were centered around trying to make The World Food Program famous, so that not just governments supported the hungry and those dying of starvation, but also businesses and consumers did. We did this by making a unique film each year with the help of Sir John Hegarty and others, which our members then screened in cinemas around the world and by holding a seminar at Cannes Lions in conjunction with the WFP to highlight to the industry this huge issue. Of course, with COVID came the closing of cinemas and the suspension of the festival, so things by necessity were put on hold. The three-year relationship, however, is very close as can be seen by the WFP helping to put this latest #HelloBigScreen – Ad Legends social media campaign together.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives and businesses of virtually everyone in the world. How has it impacted you and your members?
When COVID came, cinemas closed and when cinemas close you cannot screen the advertising, so yes it has impacted our members, and our business. But never forgotten [in all of this are] the many people who work in our business. Inevitably [there were] job losses, downsizing and retrenchments were made: the human impact. The cinema medium is well on its way to recovery. The great slate of movies from Shang Chi, No Time to Die, Venom, Halloween Kills and Dune are all doing well at the box office and are an important part of the October 2021 recovery against 2019 same period.
Have any countries or regions suffered more than others?
You know it comes in waves. In the initial stages all countries were impacted. There would be capacity reductions in cinemas as blockbuster films were held by studios and not released in cinemas, and then of course came lockdowns, which prevented any admissions at all. It really did vary from country to country and the timeframes were never uniform. Throughout this time, we were tracking audiences by country to see how each was fairing, and whilst the reading was sometimes pretty bleak, it gave hope to the members when countries that were in a good COVID wave position saw the numbers attending return to high levels. It clearly illustrated that when they were able to, audiences’ sentiment was to return to the shared experience of the big screen.
How has SAWA been able to support its members these past eighteen months or so?
The global cinema medium was in a unique position because we have a global trade body that enables a global perspective. Not every country needed to make the same mistakes and by sharing information and resources our members were able to see the recovery process in other countries – what worked and what did not work – and adjust accordingly. Most critically, during this period we had a series of webinars and identified the key challenges that we needed to work on post the pandemic, to improve our industry, our performance, and our response to the pandemic.
SAWA set up a global task force that consisted of senior executives in the fields of research, sales, and marketing from prominent cinema ad companies. Different teams were assigned different projects to research and work out solutions to take to market once the cinema world had re-opened. SAWA then held global member webinars to transport this information and built a forum within our website to house this rich bank of information for our membership body to utilize. We had huge take-up in terms of senior management participating and in fact learned a lot from each other, which gave each member the opportunity to put in place plans to improve all aspects of our business going forward. This was a vast undertaking across many time zones over a six-month period, but it worked and created a united-we-stand approach. Then of course we conceived, worked on, and executed, with the help of the industry and leaders of the industry, the Hello Big Screen Campaign – Ad Legends, which was launched on October 25 on all social media platforms.
Are there signs that things are beginning to improve?
The reality is when the audiences return, the cinema medium returns and that is very clearly starting to happen across the globe; some countries are recovering quicker than others and that is down to the pandemic and how vaccination levels are progressing in each country, giving safety for audiences to return to the love of the cinema. Films like No Time to Die and Dune are leading the way, but others will follow – and whilst it will take some time, the fact is our medium is unique for grabbing focus and attention. The industry knows this, so as audiences get better and better so our medium will get stronger and stronger.
What changes, if any, do you foresee in cinema advertising as a result of the pandemic?
I see it only getting stronger. This is after all the second pandemic the cinema industry has survived. Cinema is an unstoppable form of art, a culture that changes, adapts and evolves forever.
How did cinema get the endorsement of these six ad legends to take part in the #HelloBigScreen social media campaign launched on October 25?
SAWA, with the help of the United Nations World Food Program and our South African member Sterkinekor, produced a powerful three-minute video and eleven individual 30-second social media campaigns featuring vignettes from some of the world’s most iconic names in the advertising, film, and humanitarian worlds. It is aimed at raising awareness for the unparalleled power and effectiveness of cinema to reach marketers, moviegoers, and creative and media agencies. The #HelloBigScreen – Ad Legends campaign is a first for SAWA and the global cinema medium. It was created to support the medium that has evidenced its unswerving resilience, over many decades, to be able to adapt and survive seemingly unsurmountable challenges. These six ad legends were delighted to support the cinema medium as marketers and especially [to help] the creative world see cinema as a medium second to none.
SAWA the Global Cinema Advertising Association http://www.sawa.com