Discuss: Can a Movie Be Successfully Marketed Without Any Trailers?

April 21, 2015

Movie Trailers

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:

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?

Find more posts: CinemaCon, Discuss, Editorial



I really like what you said Prometheus and the dark knight marketing are strategies to be reckoned with I think you wrote about something diferent and important for Hollywood to think: innovation. In a near future, they will have to think about other marketing strategies. About the big blockbusters Being successfull anyways, with or without the trailer: the problem with that is the fact that although fans will see the movie anyway, what really males a movie sucessfull is its capability of reaching normal people, who, without seeing trailers, or TV spots, or hearing Someone hyped up about the movie who saw the trailer or whatever.... So, taking that the quality of the star wars movie will be the same in the two cases, without trailer, posters , TV spots the movie would make around 500m. But with all of this the movie makes more than 1 billion ... Its just an example, of course... And we're taking in consideration an already famous movie, because if it was , i dont know, age of adaline, opening this weekend, with promotion 50m worldwide , without 5m or less worldwide! Films Mike age of adaline wouldnt create any interest or hype at all. Congratulations for bringing on this topic!

Rhenan Figueiredo on Apr 21, 2015


as someone that works as an editor in the trailer industry I am inclined to say we absolutely need trailers. That being said, some studios seem to have little to no regard to story spoilers.

Ryan on Apr 21, 2015


but then again, spoilers have been happening in trailers for years and years (see terminator 2 trailer). Personally I believe trailers should start to pivot more towards teasers that only show off bits and pieces, and are instead mostly used to establish a tone. I loved the Batman V. Superman teaser that came out last week because it handled what I'm talking about perfectly. some other teasers of note The guest -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQBMCyDQgQU Tomorrowland teaser -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k59gXTWf-A only god forgives -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiSq-7QQDQg Mad Max -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akX3Is3qBpw

Ryan on Apr 21, 2015


They might still make the same gross, but I think as much as they are making these for promotion of their respective films, they are making them for fans to drool over.

DAVIDPD on Apr 21, 2015


I adore trailers, literally look forward to new trailers, so I'd rather not lose out on seeing them.

Xerxexx on Apr 21, 2015


When there are no trailers there will less big bucks at opening weekends but at the end it will end up with the same money because it will stay in the cinema for months if it's good. No trailer can beat positive word of mouth by audiences. I only remember one trailer that had a huge impact on me and that was the John woo trailer with Tom Cruise for mission impossible when he climbed a rock. I thought that was made by a genius! And If I remember it well I was impressed by the original trailer of tron in the cinema (yes I am that old haha), but more because we saw something completely new... Please tell me if there are more interesting trailers so I can watch them, thanks!

ari smulders on Apr 21, 2015


I need trailers because I want to see how movies will look and feel like before seeing them. In other words, I need trailers to judge if I'll go see films.

Tuomas Lassila on Apr 22, 2015


Although I completely agree, I cannot tell U the # of films which had great trailers but ended up being a huge turd

Tester on Apr 22, 2015



Tuomas Lassila on Apr 22, 2015


Keep it simple: Yes, you need trailers to observe a movie, but 3 trailers of one movie are enough.

Etienne Martin on Apr 22, 2015


I can live without trailers. I avoid them these days to avoid anything resembling a spoiler. The new Batman/Superman trailer... haven't seen it. Same for the trailers for Star Wars, The Avengers, the anything. Some of the best trailers I recall seeing, ones that absolutely drove me to go to the theaters, were for films that turned out to be godawful piles of dung. That Godzilla movie with Ferris Bueller in it, Independence Day, Transformers, The Island... pretty much any blockbustery type movie directed by Michael Bay and his ilk. I finally was able to break the cycle of abuse with that last Transformer film, which will go unwatched by me.

kevjohn on Apr 22, 2015


As much I understand the need for a trailer, I certainly don't need 3 of them plus 2 teasers and several (hundred) photos! Sometimes I just feel like it is too much of marketing stuff for the films that don't need much of it anyway. I have been only recently introduced to the idea of NOT watching the trailers at all (honestly never thought of that before) and it seem just brilliant to me, because as much as I may be excited about the film, I definitely don't want to see the best scenes and jokes before the actual screening (Avengers) and spoil the experience for myself. And how many times anyway I thought the film is going to be good judging by the trailer and it turned out complete rubbish! Therefore from now on I won't watch any trailers for upcoming blockbusters (which I am going to see in any case) and the rest of the films I honestly just need to know the cast & crew and a short synopsis to decide whether it's worth it or not. And I'll leave the actual opinion 'till afterwards.

mawria on Apr 22, 2015


good idea and it's indeed enough..

ari smulders on Apr 22, 2015


I also agree that films with big names like Star Wars do not need full trailers running nearly three minutes (and multiple three minute trailers) to be successful. I mean it's Star Wars. You just need to announce its release and give us a poster. We will go. We all will go.

Jacob Crim on Apr 22, 2015


Often if I'm about to watch a film I know nothing about I'll check the trailer just to see the quality level. Often the posters and stills can look quite good, but then when you start to watch the movie it looks like a school project. Hollywood assumes people are stupid, they make the mini-movie trailers that show you everything, that's just misery. I used to watch most of the trailers on here, but when it comes to the 3rd version, I tend not to watch it, unless it's something I doubt I'll ever see. Going to the cinema, watching trailers was one of my favourite parts of the experience, but it's quite different now with all the digital noise.

Carpola on Apr 22, 2015


Yes I think so, because big Hollywood releases are based on franchise names and established properties with an existing fan base. With something like Star Wars all you need is the title, maybe the occasional behind the scenes photo from the cast and crew on twitter and you're still going to break records. I've always loved trailers, and music videos. I appreciate the editing and often times discover new songs in them. I like the trend now with someone like Eminem who has a snippet of a new, unreleased song in a trailer like in Southpaw. I don't have a problem with them generally. The only issue I have is when I'm in the theatre watching the movie and I'm anticipating a bunch of scenes because I remember them from the trailer, and I know that it would've been more effective if I didn't know those scenes were coming. It rarely happens but I never saw a single trailer or tv spot for Apocalypto and found the movie very effective when I saw it. I figure there should be an emphasize on less is more. Maybe a good string of teasers that barely show anything, like the first teaser for Cloverfield or The Shining, or Alien is a good compromise.

NathanDewey on Apr 22, 2015


I saw Apocalypto the other night, without watching the trailer, it was pretty epic, can't believe there wasn't any aliens though, the History Channel is lying to me. 😉

Carpola on Apr 22, 2015


The Hunger Games did an excellent job in marketing the second two movies with its Capitol Couture series, and a bunch of other content released by the "Capitol" that revealed aspects of various characters, built intrigue but revealed next to nothing about the plot of the up coming movies. I could have easily avoided watching the trailer thanks to their creative campaigns. So thats at least one example of how it can be done right: http://capitolcouture.pn/

Alicia on Apr 22, 2015


no way.. I need in the very least announcement for the poster for the teaser announcement for the teaser to the teaser teaser announcement for the trailer another teaser announcement for the second poster trailer poster second trailer final trailer

Tester on Apr 22, 2015


Yeah... I could do without trailers. I try and avoid them for my most anticipated movies and beloved franchises (& comedies actually). Ep. VII for instance, have watched the teasers - and sadly, they may have already inadvertently spoiled a major plot point (due to my vast knowledge of the subject matter.) Will do my best to avoid further trailers and advertising for that one (ha!).

avconsumer2 on Apr 22, 2015


I've been waiting for someone to write about this. Especially with the force feeding trailers from Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron. I agree that Hollywood needs to rethink marketing via trailers and the fact that we have such a higher volume of tentpole films each year than we did 10-15 years ago, only makes me more exhausted when digesting so many trailers that have the same formula. This past week was brutal. In 7 or 8 days we got new trailers for Terminator: Genisys, Star Wars, Bats v Supes, Jurassic World, Tomorrowland... I agree that world building teasers are exactly what we need revitalized in today's film marketing. Sprinkle the bread crumbs that lead us into a movie auditorium. If we are fed dessert before the main dish then we're not going to care what is served for dinner. T2: Judgement Day had the perfect example of a teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgV7-MJwUBw District 9 has one of the best trailers I've seen. This was the only trailer I ever saw for it and I was sold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyLUwOcR5pk Tomorrowland's teaser is perfect too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k59gXTWf-A But to answer the question posed in this article's title, yes a movie can be successfully marketed without any trailers. I've seen an example of that this year in 2015. Buzz for It Follows had begun sometime during this past winter. I heard the title and small positive comments for it on podcasts, Twitter and film sites like these and it eventually snowballed to the point where I just had to go see what everyone was talking about. I never saw a trailer or a poster. Just one still image that revealed the cast. It's very rare for me to go into a movie, blind. And I enjoyed the hell out of it and so far it looks like the movie has been a financial and critical success, domestically.

Alec on Apr 22, 2015


I do remember not really knowing much about it (other than the obvious title hint) before seeing it in it's big screen glory. Blown away. One of my all time favorites. (course, was 9, & what 9 year old wouldn't be blown away in '84 by THAT!? The ones that didn't see it sir. The ones that didn't see it.) ;P

avconsumer2 on Apr 23, 2015


Hey Ryan thanks alot for posting a couple of my trailers here. Only God and The Guest. Glad you liked them. Do you work for a trailer house aswell?

james on Apr 24, 2015


wow, I am a huge fan of both of these!! i watch them all the time. yes I work for a small house in Santa Monica, I've only finished TV stuff so nothing as spectacular as yours

Ryan on Apr 24, 2015


Answer: No.

Mark Brackney on Apr 25, 2015


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macintospl on May 5, 2015

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