So, you've just nestled into your cushy seat in a darkened movie theater with your family, after swiping your credit card to buy $50 in tickets and popcorn and soda for the family, when there appears a frightening message seemingly designed to put you in a foul mood.

There, on the big screen, is the logo of the Federal Reserve Bank and a pile of credit cards, along with a stern voice telling you to pay your credit bill on time and not spend more than your credit limit -- or else you'll be hit with higher interest rates and fees.

"Know the date your payment is due and pay on time," says the voice.

Leave it to the policymakers at the central bank to try to put a damper on an American ritual -- the holiday credit-card binge. On Friday, the day tens of millions of Americans swamp stores and malls, the Federal Reserve will begin running 45-second advertisements in theaters warning consumers to "use their credit cards wisely" during the holiday shopping season.

The ads will appear before movie previews in a dozen theaters nationwide, including the cinema at Southdale Center in Edina. A spokeswoman for the Federal Reserve said Wednesday that the central bank chose multiplex cinemas that were "highly attended" and in or near major metropolitan areas. The Southdale cinema fit the bill.

She did not know how much the Federal Reserve is spending on the ads, which will run from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3. A manager of the Southdale cinema declined to comment.

The Federal Reserve has come under attack from congressional leaders and others for not doing enough to protect consumers from fee-gouging by the banks that issue credit cards. The agency is trying to step up its consumer protection, and recently announced new rules that limit overdraft fees. The Obama administration and some lawmakers are pushing legislation that would strip the central bank of consumer protection responsibility and give it to a new federal agency.

It remains to be seen how the Fed's message will play out with theatergoers.

"I predict people will perk up and pay attention, at least initially, because of their anxiety and concern about the economy," says Paul Anton, chief economist at Wilder Research in St. Paul. "But when they hear the content, they'll probably look at each other and say, 'Huh?'"

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308