If you’re anything like me you’ve been inundated by year-end lists over the last few weeks. Various sites have published what one writer or another feels are the best posters or trailers for the movies that have come out this year. As with anything else, these lists are subjective and open to interpretation and debate.
At the risk of sounding a bit high-minded and snooty, I continue to have minimal interest in creating such a list. I understand the desire to do so, both in order to recap the year that’s passed and as an editorial feature. Before 2017 shuts down entirely I will likely write something like my Adweek post that collected what I felt were the most memorable campaigns of 2016. But calling out individual assets like posters seems off to me for a number of reasons.
Art is Subjective
Even the most horrifically designed posters are a form of artwork and so need to be judged accordingly. That’s true. It’s also true that beautiful art is in the eye of the beholder. An image that draws me in completely and gets me hooked might make you turn your nose up in disgust. That’s good. We can debate that. And best of lists should be debated, but I’m not going to label my taste as being indicative of the “best” of anything.
It’s Commerce As Well As Art
It’s often forgotten that while the film (to varying degrees) may be an artistic statement, the campaign to sell it has more in common with the marketing of consumer electronics or household goods than it does with the art world. Yes, poster design and trailer editing should ideally adhere to art theory and principles but they’re also rooted in audience consumption preferences and habits. If it manages to walk in both worlds, great. And there certainly was a time when they were far more creative than many are now, but the point is to sell something, not create a statement piece.
You Can’t View Tactics in a Vacuum
That’s great that X Movie had what you felt was one of the best posters of the year. But how did that fit into the rest of the campaign? Did it present a message that was consistent with the trailer that came out at the same time or did it seem like it was attached to a completely different movie? How did that key art translate into online or outdoor ads? Could you quickly derive the value proposition of the movie from the copy or images used? It may stand alone as powerful and interesting, but if it was off-brand then it may have worked against the overall goals of the campaign.
Looking back at these points, I’m reminded of why I started writing about movie marketing in the first place, because everyone was saying “Oh what a cool trailer/poster/etc” without viewing the big picture or coming at it from the perspective of how well it actually sells the movie to the audience. That’s not a problem that’s unique to the entertainment press but is common even in the marketing trades, where industry awards will go to campaigns that hit some artistic high but didn’t actually move the needle on any corporate goal or which were out of left field when put in the context of the rest of the company’s advertising.
Again, I have no problem with anyone weighing in with their top 10 lists on whatever they like. It’s just not an exercise I care to engage in because doing so misses vast swaths of the point of why these materials are created and released and what they’re meant to achieve.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.