Why an Ad for ‘The Kardashians’ Ran Ahead of ‘The Little Mermaid’

Families with young children were in recline inside the suburban New Jersey Cinemark for an opening-weekend matinee screening of Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid” remake. That’s when it rolled: an ad for Hulu reality series “The Kardashians.” Cue the mom groans.

This dad of two, ages 3 and 6, didn’t groan outwardly; I braced for impact. And then it came in the form of a loud whisper: “I like them,” said my 6-year-old, who definitely does not know who Kim Kardashian and the gang are. But of course she would like them — she’s very into Barbie dolls.

The jarring moment was saved by Cinderella’s Castle and not spoken of again. But one of us couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why would an ad for “The Kardashians,” even a pretty innocuous one, run ahead of the animated-movie trailers that ran ahead of the kiddie feature presentation? My first instinct was corporate synergy gone wild, as “The Little Mermaid” and Hulu share a parent company in Disney. But as Mike Rosen, chief revenue officer of National CineMedia told me, that had nothing to do with it.

He would know: NCM books most of the pre-movie advertisements, including this one for “The Kardashians” inside Cinemark locations, in the U.S. At a minimum, humans inside NCM cleared the footage for the “PG” audience; NCM’s proprietary algorithm, with software meant to guarantee X number of ad impressions, did the rest.

“Every commercial gets vetted,” Rosen said. The key question is whether the commercial message is appropriate for the audience. For example, commercials for beer, wine, and spirits can only be rolled if 72 percent of the intended audience is 21 or older. (That’s referred to as “LDA-compliant” — LDA stands for legal drinking age.)

It’s “exactly the same as television standards,” Rosen said. “Obviously, ‘The Kardashians’ is intended for the parents, not necessarily the kids.”

The content was fine. For this parent, who is definitely not the Kardashians demo (but bring on the LDA stuff!), the most memorable moment had Kim asking sister Kourtney to “walk ahead” to ensure the Hulu cameras were getting a “solo shot” of her. Because otherwise we’d be hurting for footage of Kim Kardashian.

Somehow, an ad for “The Kardashians” felt awkward in a place like a matinee showtime of “The Little Mermaid.”Screenshot: AMC

If you don’t know NCM, you may know its pre-movie show, “Noovie.” Hosted by Maria Menounos, “Noovie” runs trivia, A/R gaming, critics picks, and yes, ads, for 20-25 minutes (depending on exhibitor) ahead of what the industry calls “lights down.” That’s when the theater takes over the screen — usually with a beverage spot, an ad for the particular theater-franchise’s loyalty program, and between four and eight trailers. In certain theaters, NCM books another four- or five-minute advertising pod ahead of the Coke or Pepsi advertisement. That’s primetime.

Rosen knows primetime — and the Kardashians (or at least, “The Kardashians”) — quite well. Rosen was an executive VP in NBCUniversal’s ad-sales department for a half-dozen of the 15 years that “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” aired on its E! cable channel. And on TV, much like a “PG” showtime in a movie theater, the general industry consensus is: “Yes, there might be kids in the room,” Rosen said, but while certain ads may not be intended for the littles, standards and practices ensures the commercials are always deemed appropriate for them.

The audience is just more captive in a movie theater, which is why mine even noticed the promo. It’s also why advertising there can be so effective: NCM’s prime real estate, the silver screen, practically sells itself in the business of attention.

We asked NCM for statistics about how many”The Little Mermaid” screenings that weekend had the “Kardashians” spot in their pre-rolls, though we did not receive a response to that query. Chances are, our experience was not the majority’s experience. Perhaps you got LEGO or Nintendo ads; those are two big NCM clients that, on occasion, only want their spots on “G” or “PG” movies. We would have happily taken either.

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