Welcome to Watching the Trailer (A re-post from Watching the Trailer.com)

[Since I’m actively collaborating with and contributing to the Watching the Trailer research project, and its site and blog, for the near future, i’ll be reposting content that has been initially posted there. Double dipping, you say? Perhaps, but in the interest of keeping this site fresh and disseminating our fascinating discoveries, I’m going to repurpose content that’s relevant to both. FG]

Watching the Trailer – initial report to accompany launch

The release of blockbuster trailers such as The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is now a media event, featured on news channels, distributed and discussed via movie and fan websites, and widely shared across social media. Yet despite the enduring appeal and apparent popularity of these ‘coming attractions’, very little is known about what audiences think about trailers, how they use them, and – a particular popular stigma – whether the trailer actively misleads or deceives the audience.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia’s Film, Television & Media Studies department, led by Dr Keith M. Johnston, in association with Dr Fred Greene (a UCLA-based trailer scholar and entertainment industry copywriter) and UEA post-graduate researcher Ed Vollans, today publish the initial results of their ‘Watching the Trailer’ audience project (www.watchingthetrailer.com).

This survey of audience attitudes to the film trailer represents the first large-scale non-industry study of the general trailer audience. The study revealed a range of information about audience viewing habits, likes and dislikes in relation to trailer content, and strong opinions on the ‘spoiler’ nature of the modern trailer.

Watching the Trailer: general responses:

Almost 60% of respondents now watch trailers online, and only 25% in cinemas, confirming a shift in trailer viewing that has occurred over the past decade

Nearly 81% indicated that they regularly search for specific trailer titles online

Such viewing was strongly driven by peer recommendation and the desire to keep ‘up to date’ with tent-pole film releases and the associated audio-visual marketing materials that featured in online articles and across social media

Audiences responded positively to trailers that presented cast, story, music, imagery, and use of special effects. The desire for ‘repeat viewing’ of the trailer was pronounced (evidenced in regular trailer ‘breakdowns’ found on entertainment websites and blog posts)

Viewing of trailers was frequently described by respondents as ‘entertainment research’ – confirming the choice of what to see, providing factual information (release date, cast, director)

Trailer viewing was linked to the pleasures of a well-known franchise (such as The Hobbit), notably around narrative content or continuing emotional connection

Negative reactions were seen around the production style of large-scale film adaptations, namely perceptions of ‘accuracy’ in visual and narrative representation (for example, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug trailer was criticised around the HD look of the film, its perceived reliance on cameos, and wider issues of how the book had been adapted).

On the key issue of whether trailers reveal too much, respondents offered a range of reactions, including:

‘It showed far too much of the action and storyline’

‘Trailers frequently give a distorted view of the film’

‘It dramatically built up the hype for the film without revealing the whole plot’

‘All different aspects of film shown – a great taster’

In terms of influencing audience behaviour, trailers elicit distinct reactions, broadly dividing along the lines of existing fans, existing ‘haters’ and some generally neutral observers:

Fans described eager anticipation, excitement, enjoyment, interest in a known franchise, ‘tantalising glimpses’, and the desire for repeat viewing

Non-fans used emotionally charged language to disparage: ‘terrible films,’ ‘fake’, ‘pretty rubbish’ or deriding films for skewing too young in tone, approach or style

Neutral respondents noted their indifference to marketing materials, describing a lack of ‘emotional investment’

Watching the Trailer: Trailers as ‘Misleading’

Despite decades of industry research that indicates audiences are more likely to see a film the more they know about it in advance, survey respondents voiced strong irritation at the revelation of crucial plot details, including surprises, narrative reveals and plot outcomes:

Over 80% of respondents stated that they were ‘disappointed’ with a given feature film after having seen its trailer
But only 40% qualified that disappointment with trailers as ‘often’, ‘frequently’, or ‘too many times’
Research revealed regular frustration with and dislike for trailers as a result of perceived ‘spoiler’ information and ‘deception’

Misrepresentation was a key word here, with audiences displeased at what they see as a difference between what is sold, and the finished film

Man of Steel (2012) was listed by many respondents as an example of a trailer that had a strong emotional and narrative hook, but where the final film was described as ‘disappointing’ in comparison

Respondents explicitly linked this displeasure to how trailers create individual expectations that feature films are unable to meet.

Indeed, a recurring refrain through this research was that despite the negative tone some respondents adopted, the trailer was often hailed as better than the feature film:

‘the [Man of Steel] trailer had a better story, better pacing, better use of music, and stronger emotions than the film did’

‘The trailer for Grand Budapest Hotel was much more entertaining than the film itself’

‘The Prometheus trailer was… wonderful in its own right, and did an absolutely brilliant job of showcasing something that promised to be thoughtful, spectacular and exciting.’

Yet respondents were also clearly able to distinguish between the function of a trailer and the finished feature film, noting that the trailer’s job was to ‘sell’ or ‘convince’ (not be a completely accurate representation).

Despite this range of responses, however, it remains clear that the bulk of respondents agree that audiences want trailers that excite, tease and leave them emotionally engaged, without revealing excessive narrative (or ‘spoiler’) information.

[To read more, visit www.watchingthetrailer.com]

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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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