2 New Movie Trailers From This Week Show How Hollywood Is Evolving the Format

How to better hook the audience

Headshot of Chris Thilk

There's been a movement in two directions over the past few years in how movie trailers are edited and assembled.

They've adapted to new media platforms and audience tastes to more effectively and efficiently sell movies to audiences, making sure to present a product that has maximum appeal, showing a movie that is absolutely worth … whatever the call to action is. That might be dropping $10 and three hours at the theater, it might be the cost of a VOD rental, it might be the decision to maintain or begin a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription.

Two bits of movie marketing from earlier this week show a couple of ways in which trailers are changing to get people's attention.

First is the trailer for Passengers, the upcoming science-fiction romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. The day before the full trailer was released, a teaser came out letting people know it was on its way.

That tactic has become relatively common and achieves a number of goals. For one, it speaks to the entertainment press to let them know to plan for something big that's coming so they can plan their editorial calendars and publishing schedules. It also works to set audience expectations and give them something to salivate in anticipation of.

Movie studios have figured out that if you take something big—in this case, a trailer starring two of today's biggest stars—and chunk it up a bit, you can get multiple hits off it. The life cycle of a big release trailer these days runs about 72 hours, beginning with the release announcement (for the trailer, not the movie), then the trailer itself and then a day's worth of analysis and GIFing of that trailer.

The second example of a recent trend is the latest trailer for Loving. The movie stars Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in a true story of a mixed-race couple from decades ago whose marriage led to a Supreme Court ruling making interracial marriage legal across the country. The trailer doesn't even officially kick in for 15 seconds. Before that, what we're shown is an encouragement to watch the trailer.

But, you may be wondering, why do we need to be convinced since we've already made the decision to watch it by clicking play or opening the link in a new tab?

The answer comes when you stop thinking about watching it on YouTube and start thinking about it playing as a native video on Facebook or Twitter. It's part of a larger trend in the last year or so to present a shortened version of the trailer with subtitles (to allow for how most social videos, at least for the moment, autoplay with no sound) to get people's attention and encourage viewing of the full video.

Loving's 15-second intro is the longest example of this tactic, with most running just five or six seconds, since that's about as much time as people will give it as they scroll down their feeds. It needs to make a strong case very quickly to hook the audience and achieve the goal of raising awareness.

Both of these are examples not just of the evolution of trailers but also the way studios have adopted some, if not all, principles of content marketing in their efforts. Getting multiple hits off ancillary content is a strong tactic that increases the ROI of the big beats of a campaign. And adapting content to maximize attention on new distribution channels is a core principle of content marketers, who are increasingly shooting vertical video, 4-by-3 photos and so on.

Now, you'll excuse me while I ugly cry over the Loving trailer for like the 17th time. 

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@ChrisThilk chris.thilk@gmail.com Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategy consultant in the Chicago suburbs. You can find him at ChrisThilk.com, where he shares his thoughts on content marketing, media and movie marketing.