DIGITAL MARKETING: The Movie Trailer's New Medium


Bugeyes126: Viral videographer: Par of Men in Black 3’s digital campaign

I visited my colleague John Weller’s classroom last night at UCLA, to sample the conversation in his Digital Marketing course, the Spring Quarter installation of the Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Marketing Series within the Department of Theater, Film & TV’s Producers Program.

While many initiatives undertaken as part of a digital marketing plan explore and exploit publicity and promotion in a non a/v format (twitter feeds, facebook pages and likes, QR codes, Alternate Reality Games, etc.) much of what is being produced for online viewers and would-be ticket buyers can be understood as “special shoot” material. Whether User generated or produced by the distributors and their vendors, the content is audio visual and movie-related or referencing (though sometimes obliquely). While they may not be previews of coming attractions in the strict sense of that term, I’d feel no awkwardness in calling such materials “trailers,” intended to announce, inform and appeal to audiences on behalf of the film or tv title in question.

For example: for Men in Black 3, Sony’s digital marketing department created a series of videos intended for viral dissemination featuring a teenaged MIB enthusiast who purports to believe in the reality of their existence and their mission. Under the name of bugeyes126, he videotapes and posts his efforts to document the activities of agents J (Smith), K (Jones), and perhaps young K (Brolin) too. He’s also invited viewers to call in with their own sightings, experiences and comments related to all things MIB, which are recorded and posted to his youtube channel.

While I’m not bowled over by the Bugeyes premise, the content is inarguably audio-visual material in support of an audio-visual product, my baseline definition of a trailer or preview of coming attraction.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gjqR-phEEa4]

A more interesting example, because I think more obviously engaged with the diegetic world of the film advertised, is the wedding blog for the Five Year Engagement. Imitating the now venerable model of a blog created by a couple planning their nuptials, Emily Blunt and Jason Siegal have posted pictures, comments and videos of themselves and friends as they anticipate and celebrate the blessed day. Have they been specially shot by the marketing department to support the campaign? Or are they actual scenes or outtakes from the production? Who knows. Who cares. What’s important is the presentation of character, tone, title, genre and subject matter implicit in these very personal and “small” short films. There is no question that they’re trailers.

Lastly, for the American Reunion franchise reboot, about which I’ve posted earlier, the official website offers an array of videos and cool features, including trailers, favorite moments from the franchise, facebook timelines for the characters, offers, contests, opportunities to buy the DVD, etc. etc. What I wanted to highlight here, was the Stiffler App, available from Android only since Apple declined it, and personally recommended by the Stifmeister himself.

When I introduce the subject of trailers in conversation, I like to cast a wide net that includes bloopers, clips, outtakes, featurettes, viral videos, user generated videos, teasers and so forth and so on. But the Stifler app? Can that pass the movie preview sniff test? I’m told that with the app, I can “Challenge [my] reflexes and [my] taste buds with Chug It! Get [my] party on with the Kegger Calculator! Hear golden nuggets of wisdom in the Stifler Speak Soundboard (along with some classic lines from the past!).”

Despite how appealing all of these features are and how they develop and reference the diegetic world of the American Pie multi-verse, I suspect (and if I had an Android smart phone, I’d be able to confirm it) that the visual elements of the app are not “moving pictures,” and thus, on the most formal of grounds, cannot qualify for entry into the trailer club. Great try, though, and definitely a boundary crossing, category-challenging piece of code!

I’m collecting examples. Should you know of some gate-crashing aspirants, don’t hesitate to let me know.

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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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