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Trailers for Trailers: Brilliant or Unnecessary?

Christened by upcoming fare including The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2, Total Recall, Prometheus and The Avengers (and amped up by the Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis-starrer Looper) a pre-trailer announcement is becoming an increasingly popular way to raise awareness for a promotional debut.

FilmDistrict and TriStar have unleashed a series of three 50-second tastes of Looper, the upcoming sci-fi action flick from director Rian Johnson and starring Gordon-Levitt. The first features those two chatting about the film, unveiling a few scenes in a fleeting manor and prepping us for the inevitable trailer debut. We have that full trailer (and the three peeks) right here, but first let’s pause and see if this recent fad has any merit when it comes to good movie marketing.

A slow viral rollout has proven to be a powerful advertising weapon, especially for tentpole blockbusters battling for that ever-important huge first weekend gross. As a tech-savvy generation, we fire around links, pictures and tidbits across our social media outlets, all on our own accord. Ten years ago, save the hugest movie star on the planet joining a project, how often did news outlets cover step-by-step casting phases? We never saw set photos and we certainly weren’t treated to year-in-advance peeks at upcoming action scenes (see: The Dark Knight Rises). I mean, just look at the recent production footage from The Avengers.

Things begin months in advance of release with “first look” photos and promotion images, teaser posters and cleverly constructed tertiary websites, which then evolve into teaser trailers, full-length looks, featurettes, TV ads and finally to festival screenings, early reviews and full-chunks of the actual movie. Film marketing for all intents and purposes has become an intricate art – expensive, expensive art.

The question in all this isn’t so much why studios are rolling out these snippets (ever since the online boom marketers from all sectors have been looking for the next viral marketing powerhouse), but rather if it works. Although marketing pushes in cinema have become more aggressive over the decade (not to mention more important) considering the feverous competition each week, is there a level of oversaturation – a tipping point – at which promo material has an adverse effect?

The format that existed up until just recently was that of the standard formal dinner. Some photos and a teaser would be the hors d'oeuvres, the full-length trailers that followed the appetizer and the film itself the main course – the quintessential way to whet an appetite. These “pre-trailers,” “trailer trailers,” “trailer teasers” (or whatever you want to call them) now serve as the pre-meal drinks – bound to get you drunk long before the meat and potatoes lands in your stomach.

For the studios, overhyping their product seems to have the adverse side-effect of them believing their own shtick. Remember Snakes on a Plane? The 2006 fanboy-fed powerhouse that made New Line believe they had a massive hit, and in turn dumped more money into advertising. Those mother****ing snakes barely took number one that weekend.

So that brings me to the question I posed: does this technique have any tangible, significant benefit? If you will allow me to be initially aloof, yes and no. For a trailer representing a previous unknown property (like Looper) that may debut mid week, far from its pre-feature attachment at the theater, it certainly can’t hurt. For something like The Avengers it just seems like excessiveness for insecurity’s sake. Having the director and star address the audience directly is a nice move, bringing the ad down to a more personal level as if you say, “hey, you, want to hear about my new movie with Bruce Willis?”

Essentially, movie studios and distributors have enough clout and wealth behind them that these little vignettes are perfunctory in the greater scheme of things. They may raise awareness, but it's hard to see them starting a fire that will have millions hunkered over their laptop waiting for iTunes to be refreshed. Trailers are always a fun precursor to the film you paid 10 bucks to see and that’s where the real impact has and always will stem.


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