MOVIE TRAILERS: The Original Branded Content?!?

According to the various entities (AOl Be On, Vimeo Branded Content Channel, Forbes/Contently, Youtube Brand Channel, McMurry, McCann, etc., etc.,) clamoring to produce and distribute Branded Content on behalf of clients, the future of advertising lies with the creation of content that customers want to see and eagerly wish to consume– content that features, is sponsored by or somehow reflects positively back on its sponsoring brand. Apparently, they have finally noticed how effective their brethren in the entertainment industry (courtesy of trailers, tv spots and video game trailers) have been providing branded content to consumers for over 100 years, content that consumers have greedily, eagerly and repeatedly enjoyed, shared and anticipated.

Now, a disputatious reader might insist that a feature film (or Video Game or TV show) does not really count as a Brand or Brand Name, given its impermanence in the marketplace and its “one-off” character. (For the sake of demolishing such a baseless contention, I’ll even pretend that franchise films don’t exist.)

But let’s refer the question to the definitional authorities: Google (with reference to Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster and Ask) defines a brand as a “type of product manufactured by a company under a particular name.” A film (TV show or Video Game) is certainly a product. It’s manufactured by a production company. And it goes by a certain name. Q.E.D., it’s a brand. But, it is only fair to acknowledge that the term brand typically refers both to the brand name (which is what’s defined above) and to the mass of associations and emotions that reside in the mind of the consumer when he or she thinks of the brand name in question.

According to Forbes contributor, Jerry McGlaughlin, CEO of Branders.com, the brand name is analogous to the trademark of a product, whereas the brand is the “perception of qualities in the customers mind concerning the qualities and attributes of each non-generic product or service.” This perception is the brand. It’s a kind of mental real estate. (When trailer makers talk of eliciting a given perception in the mind of the likely movie goer, they call it positioning, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog–too many times to specify. Indeed, according to Trailer pioneer, Andy Kuehn, to position the film within the marketplace, is the function of a trailer.)

According to the gurus and the marketing executives who theorize, promote and produce Branded Content, the following assumptions (not an exhaustive list) are operative:
– Story/narrative engages audiences and wins customers
– Quality content yields engagement: it’s central, not peripheral.
– Concept is implicated in tactic and strategy (The Unpitch)
– Narrative offers points of identification and connection
– Audience motivation = emotional drivers of status, knowledge, desire, pleasure, excitement, compassion, expression, etc.
– Authenticity, transparency and relevance are critical
– Branded Content leverages the power of the total work. (e.g. music, story, voice and visual media: the Gesamtkunstwerk)
– And, nota bene, a great story doesn’t guarantee success. Brands must choose the right genre, style or approach for their objectives.

Does it strike you, as it struck me when compiling and considering these “assumptions,” that they all apply equally to the work of trailer makers in devising their diabolical previews of coming attractions? The “sample” of a feature film sells it by reference to its narrative pleasures.

Consumers often like trailers better than their films because of the talent and effort that goes into the production of them; quality content is the ideal and the obligation of a successful movie trailer, whatever the quality of its feature.

Moreover, a trailer should provide a point of access to its viewer, a place of identification or distanciation, depending on the story and protagonist/ antogonist.

And of course, the emotional hook or engagement strategy is critical, whether a product of music cues, hyper-kinetic editing, star presence or compelling copy. An emotional investment has long been understood as a driver of a ticket purchase decision.

As for authenticity, transparency and relevance, the placement of trailers in a theater, framed by titles, graphic copy and design, makes plain what they are and what they are intended to do. Their relevance is likewise implied by the presence of a movie goer or movie consumer, whether in his or her seat at the multi-plex or in front of a computer monitor at home, surfing the web for trailers, clips, featurettes, teasers, bloopers, mash-ups, fan-made trailers, or what have you.

Now, for the power of the total work or Gesamtkunstwerk (a term popularized by Richard Wagner with reference to the multi-sensory appeal of Opera), this has always been A/V movie marketing’s forte. Not only are the senses stimulated by story and image, motion and music, word and voice, one experiences a foretaste of the product for which the branded content is an appetizer.

And, the final caveat applies as well: a skilled trailermaker must decide from among an array of possible marketing approaches, his choices guided and constrained by the nature of the film in question. Not any story or any appeal will do, as experience shows only too well.

When a manufacturer or service provides faces the questions of branded content: viz,
What story(ies) should you tell (Concept)
What story will you tell (Brief)
Who will produce it for you (Editorial)
Who will supervise the process (Project Management),
s/he is in the analogous situation to that of a film distributor or producer, though with perhaps more time for the product (a non-perishable, non-topical, non-film) to ride the shelf in anticipation of a purchase. The film producer or distributor can go to the trailermaking industry with confidence, knowing that among the 80 odd boutiques filled with talented professionals, someone (or many of them) are going to have compelling answers to such queries.

You’d think that other industries would be turning to Hollywood to help them with this critical challenge, since it’s one that Hollywood (to speak synechdochally), has been rising to meet for a century.

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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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