Discuss: Can a Movie Be Successfully Marketed Without Any Trailers?
by Alex Billington
April 21, 2015
Can it be done? Can (and will) a movie studio successfully market a major movie without any trailers or clips or actual footage from the movie? (And I don't mean a tiny indie that becomes a big hit.) That's the question bouncing around my head this week, augmented by all the marketing madness occurring at the CinemaCon convention (where movie studios go all out showing movie theater owners their slate for the upcoming year). With the release of the latest Tomorrowland trailer this week, the discussion has restarted on Twitter about not watching any trailers at all any more, a growing movement among dedicated movie lovers. So, that makes me wonder: is marketing a movie successfully without spoiling any footage possible?
The knee-jerk instant answer most people, including most executives in Hollywood, would give is a flat out: no. Not even "well, maybe" or any other interesting considerations, but – it's just not possible. However, I like to think outside the box. I like to wonder if there's other intelligent, creative, innovative ways to engage fans and moviegoers through marketing without doing the same exact thing they've been doing for decades. Posters, trailers, clips, TV spots, press junkets, rinse & repeat. That's the same old stale startegy. I am a huge fan of viral marketing, and even though it has been extremely impactful (e.g. The Dark Knight) it has been rejected by Hollywood in recent years, in favor of social media, ads and other online marketing tactics.
I decided to open up this question to the public via Twitter, for thoughts and ideas from other moviegoers. Two of my friends, Jeff Cannata and Brandon Tenney, both replied with some excellent thoughts. They said:
@firstshowing I am convinced Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Terminator would all do the same $ with or without prerelease trailers.
— Jeff Cannata (@jeffcannata) April 21, 2015
— Brandon Lee Tenney (@brandonltenney) April 21, 2015
— Brandon Lee Tenney (@brandonltenney) April 21, 2015
There's a few major things to consider regarding marketing a movie without trailers/footage. First, there are certain franchises and brands that have such strong selling power already that fans will go no matter what, as long as it doesn't seem like it's a disaster. Star Wars is a great example of this. As long as they make good choices regarding the filmmaking team, the cast, and so on, the film will sell itself. We don't need to see any footage. I'll be there on opening day no matter what. Another thing to consider is that some movies, on the other hand, remain unknown unless some footage from them impresses audiences in some way. How would we know what the world of Oblivion (or Tomorrowland) looks like if they didn't show some footage?
One good answer to that question is what Brandon mentioned in his tweet: "make the marketing essential to building the world." The first/best example of this that comes to mind is the excellent 2023 TED Talk video made to promote Ridley Scott's Prometheus. Your opinion on the actual movie aside, this video remains one of the most effective, innovative, brilliant marketing ideas in the last decade. It didn't spoil anything from the movie, it set up the world perfectly, it was a video that we could watch (in place of a two minute trailer), and it totally sold me. This video is also rare because it was produced entirely separately from the film, meaning they had to pay Guy Pearce and build that set and so on. But the ROI was worth it.
(This reminds me of one of my favorite trailers ever made - for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where it's only footage of them filming the movie instead of any real finished shots. More of these trailers, please.)
The conventional Hollywood marketing mentality is this: celebrities still sell movies, the general public isn't fully connected with other people (e.g. the director, or writer) and thus to truly reach multiple demographics you must use any/everything possible (involving actors) to sell movies. Clips, footage, photos, featurettes, red carpet. Marketing 101 will teach anyone that flooding a market with material is indeed a viable form of marketing, but it's such a rudimentary form of marketing that it's starting to lose its effectiveness (and can sometimes backfire in the case of Disney's John Carter). So, looking towards the future, and with a growing movement of fans saving the full experience for the cinema, how can Hollywood marketing be innovated?
Another interesting consideration is that Hollywood is already trying to market things differently because they often just keep throwing money at any interesting marketing ideas until one sticks. Paramount hosted big events and concerts around the world for World War Z to take people's attention away from the negative buzz based on the trailers, and back onto the idea of it being an epic global zombie movie adapted from a bestselling book. There are plenty of websites and viral marketing games out there designed to help fans get more into the world without revealing any footage. But at the end of the day, it always seems to come down to the trailer. They'll say it's all about the biggest crowds possible seeing footage that wows them. That's all.
I honestly don't know if it's possible to market a movie without trailers and it will still end up a (box office) success. But it is an interesting idea to think about. And I wish Hollywood would challenge themselves with these kind of questions and conundrums. I wish they would be more innovative, I wish they would think outside the box, and I wish they would recognize truly brilliant marketing when it works (e.g. Joker viral for The Dark Knight, TED Talk for Prometheus). Maybe as audiences continue to evolve, so will Hollywood; they will be forced to figure out how to do things different. I just hope they think of something new, instead of rehashing the same strategies they've used forever. That's what I'm getting tired of. What about you?