BOARDWALK EMPIRE TV SPOTS: Multi-Sensory, Experiential & Somatic

In a recent, soon to be published paper, Dr. Enrica Picarelli (a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Luneburg, Germany) “investigates the multisensory appeal of digital television aesthetics, taking HBO’s promotion of Boardwalk Empire as an example of hyperaesthetics marketing.”

While I don’t want to steal her well-deserved thunder and reveal the dazzling argument she makes and the impressive evidence she marshals, I did want to meditate on the ramifications of her paper, to me as a trailermaker and scholar, as well as a member of the audience.

But first, to contextualize the subject of today’s post, I cite Picarelli’s succinct and compelling description of the trailers, one of which I’ve embedded above:

“The trailers are little more than sixty seconds and present the show in a non-linear fashion, recurring to graphic elements and title cards to introduce the cast and productive team, employing musical cues to lend rhythm to a discontinuous editing. The shot length is brief, getting more compressed as the clips approach the ending. The promos reveal little about the actual plot, but some characters and generic elements are foregrounded, most notably those associated with the gangster lifestyle of the characters played by Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt. Their prominence implies that they will be crucial to the development of the narrative, while the recurring appearance of other actors (such as Paz de la Huerta, Vincent Piazza and Michael Kenneth Williams) and locations (the boardwalk and a supper club) suggest the presence of a large ensemble cast and the period-piece nature of the spectacle. Interspersed among shots of characters going about illegal businesses, are flashes representing scenes of murder, excess and dissolution that set the stage for Boardwalk Empire’s dive into the underworld of liquor smuggling in 1920s Atlantic City.
The trailers rely on appealing visuals and sound to capture the attention of prospective viewers. An amalgam of inputs, ranging from the energetic feeling communicated by the rapid cutting pace of the promos and a blues guitar vamp and solo (from an original song by The Brian Jonestown Massacre band), to nostalgia associated with the sepia tones of selected shots, create a sensorially enticing interface.”

In Picarelli’s study of the show’s first season trailers, its titles sequence and character posters, she finds that “chromatic enhancement achieved through colour grading,” produces a haptic (or tactile) response in audiences, which, not only “confers a distinctive identity” on the program, but reaches viewers where they live, that is, somatically, in their bodies.

Her paper then considers HBO’s partnership with Canadian Club Whisky in order to examine and the “multisensory appeal of the marketing/promotional campaign” and the way it brands the sow “as an emotional, lifestyle event.”

Readers, movie marketers are, as I hope this blog makes clear, energetically engaged in communicating with audiences by every means possible. They’re appealing to your left brain, your right brain, your reason, your emotion, your body and your soul. Happily, a new generation of media scholars (supported by ever more probing studies of reception by psychologists and neuro-scientists) have taken on the task of analyzing their multi-pronged, multi-sensory “appeals” in order to describe the physiological and psychological ways in which audiences are engaged by increasingly interactive, immersive and experiential advertising campaigns.

Audio-visual entertainment and its marketing marketing has always been a realm of sensation, yet advertising theory—most memorably expressed in Ogilvy—has typically characterized the provision of news and information as the key communicational strategy. And while trailer (including tv spots too) analysis, as explained and practiced in my course and on this blog, has focused on the formal components of previews, their various appeals to audiences and the informational content presented, Picarelli alerts us to the revolution taking place in (televisual) media advertising: As Charlie Mawer, executive creative director at Red Bee Media sees it, “’experience’ has now supplanted description as the primary mode of address in television branding” (quoted in TV Promotion and Broadcast Design: An Interview with Charlie Mawer, Ree Bee Media.” Ephemeral Media: Transitory Screen Culture from Television to YouTube. Ed. Paul Grainge. London: British Film Institute, 2011. 87-101).

To elaborate, I defer again to Picarelli:
“Designers are asked to “personify” channels and reach out to viewers, “starting to take the channel out to people, rather than just getting people into the channel.” Among the many strategies that are employed to mobilise the attention of distracted viewers, Mawer stresses the importance of creating seductive interfaces able to “break the physical boundary of the TV screen” and “embody feeling” onto a channel and/or individuals shows. (Grainge, 98)”

We’ve come a long way from the days of “subliminal advertising,” a practice that is legally prohibited in Australia and Britain and subject to FCC regulation in the US. (A broadcasters license can be revoked upon proof of the practice.) But subliminal advertising is addressed at the subconscious mind; not the body and its sensory apparatus (apart from the eyes, which are the conduits for the receipt of such messaging), which now, apparently constitute a new and extraordinarily promising terrain on which the battle for audiences and advertising revenues has been pitched.

It’s a brave new world, as yet unregulated, because so little known or comprehended. For graphic designers, production designers, color technicians et. al. in the industry, days of full, challenging and remunerative employment beckon.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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One Response to BOARDWALK EMPIRE TV SPOTS: Multi-Sensory, Experiential & Somatic

  1. Pingback: At Reviews of Previews they have been talking about my research! « spaceofattraction

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