Stay Traditional or Go Digital? Discussing the Future of Movie Trailers

With the advent of advanced technologies, movie marketing has become much more challenging and hostile than it ever was. It now takes a studio a lot of efforts, creativity, and of course, money to get us, the audience, to pay $7.50+tax (at Providence Place’s IMAX, for example) for a movie ticket, and ideally, to purchase their franchised products, DVDs, etc of that movie in the long run. In Marketing to Moviegoers: A handbook of strategies and tactics, Robert Marich offers a richly detailed and informative perspective on the complexity of this practice as well as a complete and extensive guide on different components of movie marketing from market research, to media advertising, to product placement and distribution. As you have observed from my other posts, I have an ardent interest in anything digital. Thus naturally, the chapter that speaks to me the most is chapter 4, which, as described in Marich’s introduction is “brand new” (1). These words might appear to be very trivial, but to me, it describes perfectly the constantly changing and evolving digital world we live in right now, and how it is impacting so many aspects of life.  Just as Marich has to add a “brand new” chapter on digital marketing, movie marketing in the digital age is equally, always brand new.

When I was growing up, going to the movie theatre was absolutely ceremonial. I would don my most special outfits, from lace tutu skirts to sequin shirts, and arrive at the theatre even one hour before the film started. We used to have assigned seats on the ticket, so buying tickets in advance to get those exclusive backseats was another task that brought so much expectation. Arriving at the theatre early means I would watch all the trailers shown before the actual movie was played. Over the years, now that watching movies on a big screen is a common practice, that you have multiple screens offering a wide array of possible screening hours, it’s just not the same anymore. If the ticket says the movie starts at 4pm, I would still be finishing those hot wings and get to the movie at 4.30pm, knowing that that extra half an hour is just for showing trailers and that those trailers can be easily found on Youtube. Trailers is now, in fact, one of the categories for movies on Youtube. Watching trailers in the theatre is now an optional, not an enjoyable experience anymore.

Just like my friend Charlie, I like trailers a lot. However, I eventually realize I don’t treat them the same way like I used to do anymore. Thus I wonder: Are trailers still an effective approach to guarantee the success of a movie? Should trailer still be the right place to start a marketing campaign in this digital age? How has technology changed the way the audience see a trailer? Is it better or worse when the audience knows that they could easily get access to those trailers on their smart devices and neglect the “real” ones shown at theatres that studios invest thousands of dollars into? Are big-screen trailers now a waste? Should we just go completely digital?

Online trailers, as part of a viral marketing campaign to create cyberspace buzz can work effectively for millions dollar blockbusters like The Avengers or The Hobbit. It is also a charm for independent films, and even really low quality, low budget productions. Last year not only Los Angeles but the Internet was attacked by a tornado of sharks.  Sharknado, the poorly made-for-television disaster horror B movie about hurricaine that brings sharks out of the ocean and attacks the citizens of Los Angeles now has almost 7 million views for its Youtube trailer. Which means, the $250,000 budget film receives almost the same number of views as Thor 2 (7,173,365 views as of February 25th 2014), a $170 million blockbuster; and 7 times more than Where the Wild Things Are, whose trailer is voted as one of the best trailers of all time by Wired Magazine.

Evidently, content and quality are not the key to success for Sharknado. What they offer, however, is exactly what audience is looking for as websites are “aching for unique entertainment content”. The movie was completely stupid, and geared with a smart marketing campaign that tended to create cyberspace buzz, it worked. The film capitalized on early buzz by posing the question “Too violent for TV?” for its official Youtube trailer. Then, it relied on the power of Twitter and gave the role of marketers to its audience. They flooded Twitters with retweets about the film, thus creating a viral buzz and making  Sharknado that “unique entertainment” which stood out. The amount of views for the film’s trailer on Youtube is way higher than the actual number of viewers for the film, but on a  marketing standpoint, Sharknado is a great example of how trailers could still capture audience and with the help of viral cyberspace buzz and word-of-mouth, it could become a (even short-term) phenomenon.

As Marich discusses:

New media could also be called “complicated media” for movie marketers because new media are multifaceted and fast evolving, unlike traditional analog media. (113)

I would argue that new media are multifaceted not because they are different from traditional analog media, but because they offer the platform to integrate traditional analog media as part of the new, thus creating a platform for the old and the new to complement each other. This infographic illustrates the Internet buzz after movie trailers were shown during the Super Bowl. Trailers on television is a traditional marketing method, but thanks to the power of the Internet, the mix between these two medium bring out great results. The volume of overall buzz significantly increased for all trailers, especially Tranformers: Age of Extinction and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and so did the intent to view those films in theatres. Thus, employing this transmedia marketing strategy, offering traditional marketing elements while facilitating online buzz, word-of-mouth, and communications among moviegoers, and between moviegoers and the movie’s producers, would be an effective approach to the success of not only the marketing campaign, but the film itself.

Another thing that digital technology brings us is availability. Now that our past, present, and future exist on the same platform, which is new media, it is much more difficult to win the audience’s attention. Just by a mouse click, we can easily access trailers and movies from decades before in different online archives. This makes me think of a discussion we had a few weeks before when talking about Alisa Perren’s Indie, Inc of highbrow and lowbrow films. Interestingly enough, when I tried to look for a list of the best trailers of all time complied by different publications, most of the lists share one thing in common: there are a lot older films from other decades. USA Today only votes four movies from the 21st century in their list: Cloverfield (2008), Little Children (2006), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and Spider-Man (2002). Wired Magazine, as I mentioned earlier, votes for Where the Wild Things Are (2009) and Little Children (2006). Noting that the USA Today list was published early this year, I can’t help but wonder: what happened to those millions of dollars major studios have invested into their trailers these years? All those special effects, all that meticulous CGI cannot get any of the films in the past 3 years into the list. Even though I know that the results of these lists are highly subjective, I wonder if, because of the availability and easy access to trailers and films of other decades, we have developed a tendency towards old films as art and highbrow, and million-dollar trailers nowadays are just commercial debris? Has marketing, in fact, damaged the reputation and appreciation of a film itself?

Work cited:
Marich, Robert. Marketing to Moviegoers: A Handbook of Strategies and Tactics. Carbondale: Southern Illinois U.P., 2013. PDF.

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