Imagine you’re reading through your favourite movie review website (ahem), check out their review for the latest big budget blockbuster. You click on the link, and there it is:
“Starring your favorite actor….. the role was so perfectly suited that it seems almost shocking that… some of the biggest set-pieces you can imagine, however they still… All in all though, there’s really only one way to describe this movie… Full review tomorrow!”
WHAT THE HELL?! That’s nothing! It’s just wannabe click-bait harbouring as product! And, unfortunately, that’s exactly the ouroboros of movie marketing that we’ve somehow been caught up in lately.
Trailers for movies have always been a highlight for cinema fans, even if of late you’d be hard pressed to head to your local cinema with less than half an hour of adverts and junk in front of the main event. Things seemed to reach fever pitch back in December 1998, with the release of giant gorilla Disney-dud Mighty Joe Young; an unloved and mostly forgotten Charlize Theron starring family movie, that just happened to be the first movie to show the trailer for Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace. Paying customers were coming in to watch the trailer, and then leaving before the movie even began. Prior to the advent of wide-spread high-speed internet access, this was pretty much the only way to see movie trailers in the late 20th Century, and back then the gap between the December ‘98 trailer premiere and the May ‘99 movie premiere was almost unheard of, as nobody had set their stalls out that early before.
One and a half decades later, and we’ve got Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the horizon. Teaser trailer one was released fifteen months before the movie’s release, while teaser trailer two was the lynchpin of a weekend long Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California. Fans around the world piled into their local cinemas to enjoy the live satellite link of director JJ Abrams answering inane, details-free questions about a movie nobody has seen yet, actors old and new came out to reveal information most people had already guessed, and the entire event culminated with 100 seconds of new teasing footage for a film that still isn’t out for another eight months.
Of course, Star Wars wasn’t alone lately in the long-lead promotional materials, as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice proved to be even more inventively annoying. Director Zack Snyder took to his Instagram account to show a twenty second teaser for his new movie, simultaneously announcing that a few days later customers could buy tickets to an IMAX screening of the full teaser trailer in their local cinemas. Almost graciously, some sneaky pirate recorded and uploaded a pretty decent version of the teaser before then, forcing Warner Brothers’ hand to stick the full HD version up online a few days early.
We’re sure that whichever Hollywood executive came up with the idea of ‘Teaser Trailers For Teaser Trailers’ was promptly promoted and hailed the new king or queen of movie marketing; for audiences with access to Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or any number of mobile app, they’ve turned a previously beloved aspect of fandom into an absolute chore. Leading up to the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, anyone near a cinema or television were bombarded with multiple different full-length trailers and TV spots, which resulted in many of us feeling like we’d already seen most of the movie. In fact, so ingrained is the idea of being pummelled by relentless advertising, that the relatively light campaign behind Fantastic Four – not a single frame, poster, teaser or trailer was released until January, a “meagre” seven months prior to its August release – that instead of finding it refreshing, we quicker assume that Fox has a dud on their hands and can’t fully commit to supporting it properly.
This overload of new media advertising is already showing signs of fatigue, as Terminator: Genisys had fans tweet #TerminatorUnlock to get a new trailer launched, and when enough people tweeted the hashtag, Paramount would stick it up online. Fifteen hours passed before the required number was reached, betraying a lack of immediacy or interest, especially considering the all-consuming, virus-like nature that usually goes hand in hand with this kind of Twitter marketing stunt. Whether this was down to people just not wanting to see the new trailer (probably for the best, considering the MASSIVE SPOILERS it contained), or the finished film itself, but either way, the signs aren’t great.
It’s not all bad, as the Ant-Man teaser trailer – shown in teeny tiny Ant-Size – was actually a cute spin on the idea, while the first trailers for Mad Max: Fury Road, Tomorrowland, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Spectre were all impressive enough to warrant a Facebook share and a retweet, but even then some of them were clouded by the pompous fanfare of their arrival. The new Mission movie trailer was preceded by a ‘teaser for a teaser’ just one day earlier, while Spectre had a massive press conference to announce the cast and title, then a plain poster with just the logo, then another poster with nothing more than Bond in a turtleneck, then countless behind the scene photos and stunt videos, and then we got the teaser.
As a general rule of thumb lately, big budget blockbusters spend up to half of the production budget on promotional materials. So for the likes of Furious 7, which cost $250 million to make, it’ll cost an additional $125 million to promote. While that gamble has paid off handsomely in this case, and Hollywood does seem to be of the opinion that you gotta spend money to make money, it usually results in a movie that’s already been so stuffed down the audience’s throat prior to release that interest in the finished product has already waned months before it hits cinemas. We’ve not even hit the summer season properly yet, and already Jupiter Ascending (estimated loss: $90 million), Seventh Son (estimated loss: $75 million), Blackhat (estimated loss: $80 million), Mortdecai (estimated loss: $60 million) not only proving to be massively in the red, but they’re some of the biggest flops of the decade to date, with Child 44 (estimated production & publicity budget: $75 million, current worldwide box office: $3 million) surely set to join them soon enough.
So after all that, think back and answer us this: When was the last time you seen a properly fantastic trailer? When was the last time the general public was as enthralled as a marketing campaign as, say, The Blair Witch Project’s fake ‘missing person’ website, or Cloverfield’s teasing virals which had us completely clueless as to what the movie’s genre was, never mind the exact nature of the plot? Right now Hollywood marketing is the drunk girl or guy at the party, showing their boobs or butt to anyone who’ll look, dying for attention and hoping to leave an impression. What they need to remember is that subtlety is sexy; make your audience work for it, leave us wanting more, and we’ll arrive in droves.