Trailers & Expectations

I want to issue you a challenge: Watch more movies without having seen the trailer, in a state of pure, blissful ignorance. You’ll love it, I promise.

I issue this challenge after noticing a pattern in my moviegoing experiences. Those movies that I’m genuinely excited for -that I watch every trailer, discuss every possibility with friends, and show up on opening night to see – they don’t often live up to my expectations as much as the ones I’ve only just stumbled across on Netflix or have agreed to see on a whim.

This is a matter of managing your expectations, and the easiest way to do that is to avoid those spoilers-in-disguise: trailers.

Trailers are a necessary evil. They are an advertisement after all, and like all advertisements the purpose is to get you to buy the product. Trailer editors focus on the unique selling propositions – the biggest explosions and funniest scenes- and market them. But what movie producers often fail to consider is the added value of a surprise in your moviegoing experience. After all, if you go in with high expectations after seeing the trailer, only to leave disappointed because the movie didn’t contain anything you hadn’t already seen, are you likely to recommend it to a friend? That word of mouth marketing can have a significant impact on gross revenue for a film, extending it well past the initial theatrical release. So I also issue this challenge to filmmakers, producers, and editors alike: stop giving it all away in the trailer.

My most recent example of this is my experience with the Disney Pixar’s summer release Inside Out. I left the theatre absolutely elated, and I think I owe that feeling, at least in part, to the (completely accidental) management of my expectations and to the film’s excellent use of trailers.

My only prior exposure to the film was this teaser and this trailer. If you take a moment to watch them, or if you have already seen them, you’ll note that the teaser does nothing but introduce the characters and the general premise of the storyline. It piques your interest and gets you excited.

The trailer is one (strategically selected) scene from the film. I consider it strategically selected for one really important reason: it gives practically nothing away. It reintroduces the characters, but doesn’t disclose the plot. You get a couple laughs, a slightly deeper understanding of the premise, but you don’t know what the storyline of the full film actually is. All you have at the end of that trailer are more questions. Who’s the protagonist? Where does this all take place? What part of the movie was that scene even from? Is the whole movie just about these little people in the control panel of our brains interpreting our everyday life? It prompts the question that lies in the foundation of every great story: “What happens next?”

Now I do have to dock Pixar some marks here because they did release a second trailer that proceeds to give everything away. I was never exposed to this trailer prior to seeing the film, and when comparing notes with those who were, I think this was a tipping point on the enjoyment scale.

So the next time you hear about a film, or read a brief synopsis on Netflix, resist the urge to jump on YouTube and check out the trailer. Just dive in and watch it blindly, I promise it’s a lot more rewarding that way.

Agree? Disagree? Do you have examples of movies you think did an exceptional job with their marketing, or those that gave it all away and ruined it? Let me know in the comments or on twitter @jamesdmusic!