For the last couple weeks The Ringer has been publishing a series of posts, including this one, about what its staff has determined to be the “best” movie trailers. What they’ve been publishing is fine, but it all seems to come from the usual perspective that a trailer can and should be judged as an individual piece of art. So the “best” is whichever one is most inspired and well-constructed.
That’s a legitimate point of view. Especially as movie campaigns evolve to become more like what is generally labeled “content marketing,” each element of the campaign does need to rise or fall based on its own merits. Each element is a beat – large or small – that culminates in the release of the movie itself.
Ultimately though the movie trailer is a marketing tool meant to move the audience down the marketing funnel. It’s either generating awareness, interest or action.
By that measure you could say the best trailers, then, are those for the most successful movies. After all, that financial success is the key indicator of whether the trailer – as well as the rest of the campaign – has achieved that goal of shepherding the audience along their journey.
The problem with this standard is that often, especially in the the current industry landscape, it’s hard to quantify what the actual impact of the trailer has been. The blockbusters that can play in IMAX- or Dolby-enhanced rooms and which are based on existing IP are almost always the ones that hit theaters only after a six month campaign involving 15 character posters, three Entertainment Weekly cover stories, massive press tours, sponsored Spotify playlists, 10 co-branded efforts via promotional partner companies and more.
In other words, was it the third trailer that moved someone from interest to action? Was it the series of set visit posts on a movie news site? Was it the tie-in Audi commercial?
The kind of advertising targeting studios (and other industries) are increasingly using has helped to answer at least part of that question. At this point retargeting and other tracking can identify with some accuracy when someone first viewed a trailer, what additional ads were shown over the following weeks and months and at what point the person took action to buy a ticket. Integration with ticketing services like Fandango, MovieTickets.com and even MoviePass mean even if the purchase is made offline it knows the path you took between awareness and purchase.
It’s not a perfect system, of course. Just as with any form of advertising, it’s hard to actually tell at what point the person’s mind was made up. Someone may have decided to buy a Snickers bar at Mile 47 based on their love of Snickers and because they remember laughing at a TV spot they saw during the Super Bowl three years ago, not because of the billboard they saw two miles before the exit for the convenience store. Likewise, they may have decided to buy tickets to a movie two days ago but are now just getting around to it, not because of the three ads they were served after watching the trailer.
Just as is the case with any other consumer product, the elements of a movie’s marketing campaign should be judged on their individual merits because each one represents a different touchpoint with the audience that has the potential to strengthen or weaken the viewer’s connection with the brand. But they also need to be judged on how well they do or don’t adhere to the standards of the rest of the campaign and whether or not that campaign as a whole helped the product – in this case the movie – become a success.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.