Convergence, Transmedia and Participatory Marketing: Trailers Lead the Way

Mashup using Brave dialogue and Game of Thrones footage: A “pleasant family film for all ages.”

After attending the Transmedia conference recently, at which MIT Media Studies Professor and Media Lab stalwar Henry Jenkins was the keynote speaker (regrettably absent due to food poisoning!), I got a used copy of his 2006 book

, which maps the contemporary media landscape through case studies of popular cultural engagement with mass cultural productions including The Matrix, Harry Potter, Star Wars, American Idol and Survivor, among others.

For an academic work, it’s remarkably accessible and includes a 15 page glossary of all the terms you need to know to understand what’s going on, what’s at stake, and where we might be headed.

While reading, I had the same experience as I did during the Transmedia conference: I knew something about the subject already due to my long immersion in the world of a/v movie marketing, a place where convergence and transmedia have been developed under the guise of opening films and engaging audiences in whatever media available and by whatever means possible.

In this post, I argue that trailers (and TV spots) constitute a set of “social and cultural practices,” or “protocols” whose mastery by audiences allows them to interact with, be inspired by, share and compare, research and explore, repurpose and refashion filmed and digital content, across multiple media platforms in pursuit of the entertainment experiences they want. I call such reactions to and engagement with trailers convergence. Moreover, audiences have been interacting with trailers across multiple platforms since before convergence was coined or widely circulated.

Let’s start with a definition:

“By convergence, I mean the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want. Convergence is a word that manages to describe technological, industrial, cultural and social changes depending on who’s speaking and what they think they are talking about.” (Jenkins, pp.2-3)

Jenkins’ develops his understanding in the glossary, noting that convergence “pertains to the circulation of media in our culture,” stipulating that it: a) flow across platforms and/or multiple and intersecting media systems; b) entail cooperation between multiple (media) industries; c) inspire migratory behavior by audiences; d) require no fixed relationships; e) be process oriented; and f) presume collective consumption and collaborative activity (Jenkins: 282)

The two video mashups (fan produced parodies) embedded in this post are inspired by Disney/Pixar‘s latest release, Brave, combining the trailer (visuals and/or dialogue and soundscape) with footage from very different TV and feature film entertainments. A fan-trailer or mashup is the sincerest expression of a “lovemark” for a brand or commercial product. It takes time, resources, effort, skill and passion.

In a mashup, the audience member and fan is inspired in his/her creativity by two (or more) commercial products which in unauthorized, but imaginative collision, produce a different, often hilarious and typically unanticipated meaning. Genres are bent; storylines are re-conceived and redrawn. Whether done for the joy of exploring the collision of films and genres, or as a “calling card” on the industry in which the aspiring trailermaker wishes to work, mash-ups have their own sites, fans and formulae.

Trailers are participatory: whether it’s an audience that cheers or jeers, talks over the on-screen presentation, or walks out to the concession area. And, trailers invite verbal comments and post from audiences at trailer sites and blog. As a reaction, perhaps, to their length, their familiarity, their self-conscious and commercial quality, trailers appear to lower the barrier for critical engagement and opinion. Such gratuitous and often generous audience reactions can be, and often are, sifted by marketers in order to assess the effect and success of their a/v marketing efforts. Intense and sustained negative reactions (in testing and after release) can motivate another pass at the brief and another version available online and in theaters.

As for the capacity of convergence to reshape pop culture, trailers offer a compelling demonstration. As one of the most searched subjects/categories on the web, trailers have become an archived, celebrated, film resource and entertainment over the last 20 years. Prior to that they were ephemeral and disposable. Technology and formal innovation in A/V movie marketing has not only changed feature filmmaking and inspired music videos, quick-cut editing and the dense, multi-layered non-linear story telling common to trailers has inflected video games and (TV) series recaps, bumpers and commercial advertising generally.

As an exemplary transmedia artifact, trailers place new and substantial demands on audiences, students and bloggers who now watch them repeatedly and in slow-motion, searching for information (music cues? cast? quality of feature? cool editing and FX? production values?) which they then share, compare, publish and debate.

Because of the marketing function of trailers and tv spots, their IP protections and status is (and has long been) ill-defined. The studios who pay for them, want them to be downloaded, shared, recirculated and quoted, since all of those actions imply fan investment and de facto promotion. Trailers present ideal opportunities for fan cultural production, appropriating and repurposing the content for their own story telling needs and entertainment desires. Although they don’t explicitly exist in the public domain, fair use of trailers is widely assumed and exploited. As marginalia and film paratexts designed for marketing and publicity purposes, the protection and policing of trailers as IP is relaxed.

The community of spoilers that Jenkins describe in his chapter on SURVIVOR, who sought to ferret out confidential information pertaining to that shows contestants and location and competition, etc., has a corollary in the community of trailer buffs, many of whom in their online reactions to a feature and its marketing materials, will use the term “spoilers” to warn readers of content they may not want to know. For those who write about trailers as a window on the feature, trailer analyses are an opportunity to share inside or specialized information, as well as to judge the quality of the coming attractions and to describe or even to reveal surprises in the film.

Relative to multiple and intersecting media systems and devices, let me list some of the media on which trailers and tv spots are exhibited and consumed: movie screens; tv screens; ipods, ipad, and iphones, Smart phones generally, computer screens, game-boys, game-players. As for the media systems and industries involved, I count: theatrical exhibition, commercial (free) tv; cable, telephony and online. Trailers have been made and distributed on film, in videotape and digitally; they’ve been viewed with Quicktime and Real-player, streamed and downloaded.

Books have trailers; TV shows have trailers; video games and feature films have trailers. Even trailers have trailers. On Youtube or at an official film site, you can see teasers, tv spots, official and fan-trailers. Movie posters will often feature a still image that figures prominently in the trailer, as well as copy shared by both. Studios and production companies host trailers; fans host trailer; academics and industry professionals and educational institutions host and archive movie trailers and related materials. Inquiring fans trawl for content wherever and whenever.

Trailers have become “evidence,” data to analyze, and content to collaboratively consume and collectively experience with other audience members. And for audiences enamored by a particular story, but impatient for the studio marketing department to release the official trailers, Fan trailers are the DIY solution. Lovers of the source material can get out in front of the marketing onslaught, demonstrating their emotional investment and engaging with others who feel similar about a book, a comic, characters and their story(ies).

3-way Mashup of Dead Space and Prometheus with Brave

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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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