Watching the movie trailers that come before the actual movie is my favorite part about going to movie theaters.
When I go to the movies to watch the newest rom-com or the next Oscar Best Picture, I can count on seeing movie trailers of upcoming films of a similar vein, so I can plan ahead and figure out what movies I’m going to see next.
And the best part about trailers? They’re quick and ultra-engaging — in less than three minutes, I’ve learned who the main characters are, what the basic premise of the story is, and the major conflict (aka, the reason anyone watches any movie). I also get a glimpse of the tone of the entire movie.
On the flipside, not-so-great trailers can sometimes give away almost everything — like trailers for comedies, which shouldn’t give away too many of the jokes, but do it anyway.
Movie trailers are still incredibly effective at convincing you to leave your house, spend money on a ticket (and popcorn and a soda, of course), and buy into their movie. But why?
Because the movie industry knows precisely what to show an audience to convince them that this movie will be worth their time and money.
What I find most fascinating (and very relevant) is how great movie trailers are able to sell me on a movie without showing me the entire movie. When you break down the elements of a trailer, it becomes clear that trailers rely on classic marketing techniques to convert a passerby viewer into a committed theatergoer who’s willing to pay $15 to watch the movie on its opening weekend.
By watching and understanding what trailers are really doing, beyond simply entertaining us during the previews or commercial breaks, it’s possible to translate these elements into content marketing techniques for your own business.
Trailers can use a wide variety of techniques to hook you in, and sometimes it depends on whether a franchise or brand is already established.
But what if you’ve got something that’s pretty new and unique?
One of the first things that great trailers do is hook you in right away with something that’ll compel you to see the movie, regardless of the genre or hype behind it. Sometimes, it’s a famous director or producer, while other times, it’s a highly anticipated adaptation of a comic book or fantasy series (like Batman or Harry Potter). But most of the time, trailers for higher-budget movies hook you in immediately with big-name movie stars.
When Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone (or both of them!) shows up in a trailer of an upcoming movie, and you’re already a fan of them (like I am), then chances are, you’re already hooked and can’t wait to hand over your money to the ticket booth person at the theater.
Yes, I’m talking about La La Land (2016).
While I’m not the biggest fan of musicals, and I can’t tell what the plot of this movie is from the trailer, the moment I see Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, I know I have to see this movie. As a fan of both of these actors, I’ve always liked the work they’ve done. Almost every shot of the trailer is of Ryan or Emma or both of them together, making it pretty clear I’m going to enjoy this movie, since it’s going to be all about them.
In a similar way, using something recognizable right away in your content can signal to the audience that your business is something that’s relevant and something they’ll be interested in (but you don’t need to use famous movie stars to get noticed).
You could start with a popular culture reference, if you know you’ve got a young professional audience or if your audience is full of creatives. Or begin with a famous case study that your peers reference, too. A fascinating article on the Stretch Goal Paradox in the Harvard Business Review starts with a popular event in the tech world — Marissa Mayer being dubbed Yahoo’s CEO in 2012 — and then elaborates on the article’s main topic after that.
You can also incorporate quotes or sources that other people are familiar with into your own content — or even better, reference something that your business has already done that became pretty popular. Maybe your business has statistics that no other business can boast — if so, hook in your audience right away by mentioning that in your introduction. The Harvard Business Review has another great example in an article titled “Are You Solving the Right Problems?” that incorporates research that the author performed, and does so right away in the first paragraph. This asserts the author’s authority on the topic and allows a subjective topic to be approached with a grounding in facts.
Having something that people can use as a frame of reference can establish a sense of familiarity with a somewhat niche topic, especially if you’re trying to reach a new audience that you haven’t necessarily engaged with before.
It can also help you with establishing a tone within your content — something you can use consistently throughout the rest of your marketing.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the 1970s, you’ve probably heard the Star Wars theme song or the Imperial March.
In (almost) every Star Wars trailer, you can hear the iconic Star Wars theme (or more specifically, “Luke’s Theme”) by composer John Williams that reminds you of all the movies before it — while also establishing that, indeed, there’s another Star Wars movie coming out and it’ll probably have a similar feel to the previous films.
When the very first Star Wars movie was released in 1977, the movie industry (and probably George Lucas) had no idea it would become the franchise it is today. And Lucas’s decision to keep consistency in the scoring of the first three Star Wars movies has led to arguably the most recognizable pieces of movie music ever.
For the most recent trilogy of Star Wars movies, J. J. Abrams came in to direct and produce Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015). He has brought his own perspective to the franchise, but at the end of the teaser trailer for Episode VII, the Star Wars tone is still clearly established.
In the theme song (here at the end of the trailer), trumpets and horns establish a sense of epicness and adventure that signal to the viewer, “You’re about to watch a badass movie.” And then each film fulfills its promise as a movie where the good guys go on a journey full of action and triumph.
In this way, the producers behind every movie in the Star Wars franchise have masterfully used a consistent musical score to establish the tone of the Star Wars brand — adventurous, triumphant, explorative, and suspenseful. Any time an audience hears the music in trailers for new movies, they know what to expect — and they also know this new movie is going to fit into the rest of the series. As much as audiences love surprises, they also like what they’re familiar with.
Applying this to marketing means to consider the tone of every piece of content you produce across all platforms — social media, your blog, the copy on your website — to make sure it fits a consistent brand voice while also staying true to your business.
Fashion and beauty companies, in particular, do a great job of achieving a consistent tone across all platforms. Take Rue La La, for example; they’re a high-fashion, online, “members-only” boutique founded in 2007, long before the social media explosion. Just by looking at their website and social media pages, their company conveys the tone of elegance and exclusivity through stylish, on-trend graphic design and a cursive logo. They have to use this tone if they want to connect with their audience: 1) adults, 2) females, 3) people with disposable income, and/or 4) individuals who are into high fashion (whether they have the income for it or not).
To get people interested and talking about their company, Rue La La also has a blog, Rue Now, that consistently delivers on-trend content, with posts about fashion trends and beauty tips, proving their relevance in the industry while also keeping consistency with their own product (fancy, fashionable clothes). They also keep that image on Twitter and Facebook by sharing this content across platforms.
Picking the appropriate tone for your brand and your content all depends on your audience. Since Rue La La knows the audience for their products is probably already scouring the internet for the next perfect piece for their wardrobe, they have to deliver a tone that suggests they have the most exclusive pieces — and they deliver this through calling their mailing list a “membership.”
If your product is meant for young business professionals, consider how your company or service can convey a “young-yet-serious” attitude through copy that has an energetic, confident, and bright tone. Maybe even throw in slang every so often, but not too frequently — remember, your audience is full of professionals, even if they’re on the younger side.
When you’re developing the content side of your marketing, whether it’s a newsletter or a blog post, communicate with your audience in a voice that doesn’t sound too stuffy or jargony, and make sure to cover topics that young professionals will find particularly relevant. And with the right topic, you could be playful with your tone or use quirky, off-the-wall examples that a younger audience would “get” (like referencing a popular TV show character or musician).
The key, though, is to keep your tone consistent in order to establish brand awareness. That way, if a casual viewer of your blog comes across your content frequently enough on Facebook or Twitter, they’ll start to recognize your voice and who or what your company is, and they’ll be more likely to invest time in reading your content and exploring your website.
Being inconsistent with your brand’s voice and tone can result in the opposite of an interested audience. If the producers had used “Yakety Saks” as the score for the new Star Wars trailer, the audience would not only be confused and frustrated, they probably wouldn’t be interested in seeing the movie in theaters, because they’d think it was a joke.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to spend $15 on a joke of a movie (unless it’s meant to be a comedy).
Good movie trailers are directed at a particular audience, and great ones know what it takes to target their audience’s emotions. Take, for example, the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars (2014) — a movie based on a book by young adult author John Green.
As a movie targeted toward teens/young adults (approximately ages 13 to 21), the trailer clearly features the main characters: several quirky-cool teens. The leads have a romantic connection and are quite well-spoken, while also rebellious and fun, speaking to teens across various social cliques.
It also has an emotional pull — the central character, Hazel, has cancer. At one point in the trailer, we see her parents carrying Hazel into the emergency room, indicating there will definitely be dramatic moments that’ll pull at our heartstrings.
There’s also a touch of humor, though, and suggestions that there’s some hope and optimism despite the situation. With the light-hearted music playing in the background, and Hazel’s voiceover throughout the trailer, this appeals to an audience that wants to hear a happy ending despite what appears to be a rather dramatic storyline.
When you’re marketing your business or your blog, consider how your content can draw on your audience’s emotions to make them really trust and understand your brand, and also make them feel like you understand them — in other words, incorporate a human connection, like many movie trailers do.
Emotions can be difficult to gauge, though, and it’s hard to perform psychoanalysis when your audience is virtual. But they’re something worth incorporating, even if it’s in subtle ways.
For example, if your audience is stressed out about their financial situation, and you’ve got a service or product that can alleviate that stress, consider how your content can explore different topics in blog form about managing finances when you’re on a budget. This could draw an audience in if you’re zoning in on their emotional stance on money, or even more unique viewers for your blog who find your article in a Google search.
Or maybe you’re working with an audience that wants to rise to the top and be the most successful person they can be in their field, and you’ve got tons of resources you could provide for that audience. Connect with them through telling a relatable success story in your content — maybe through videos or written long-form content.
While it might seem strange to use personal examples as a type of “marketing,” it’s a tactic that trailers use because it works. People love to watch stories they can relate to personally because it helps them feel as though someone understands what they’ve gone through. For a movie like The Fault in Our Stars, both adults and teens can relate to the struggles highlighted in the trailer.
Infuse a little emotion into your marketing strategy. It might take a little bit of trial and error if you’re not quite sure what your audience will respond to, but just check out the comments section of a blog or social media post — they’ll let you know if it worked.
A trailer can only present a convincing “call to action” after it’s established the brand and appealed to your emotions — it can’t force you to show up at the movie theater and see the movie that they just sold to you through awesome cinematography and a fun soundtrack.
Similarly, you can’t force your audience to buy your product, either.
With trailers, there’s also a space of time between when the trailer comes out and when it’s actually in theaters. A sneaky way that trailers call you, the viewer, to take action and buy a movie ticket later on down the road is by leaving you with something that convinces you that you have to see the whole movie in order to know what happens.
This Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) trailer sets up a call to action (as well as leaves you with a lasting impression) that will basically make you buy a movie ticket.
Whether you’ve seen the first movie or not, this sequel does a great job of convincing you that this is going to be a pretty wild movie. It’s got comedy, it’s got action, it’s got romance, and it’s got Chris Pratt as the hunky lead role — oh, and all the other characters are cool, too.
But the main reason I’m sold on this movie is the moment when Rocket (the raccoon) tells Baby Groot (the … err, baby groot?) that he cannot press the red button or else it’ll blow everything up. Toward the end of the trailer, Baby Groot doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation and runs away with the device that holds the red button (and all the explosives) — then Rocket says, “That’s a really bad sign.”
Why is it a bad sign? Is everything going to blow up? Is Chris Pratt’s character in danger?!
The trailer doesn’t show or tell you exactly what happens after Baby Groot runs away with the button. Instead, it emphasizes that something will probably go terribly wrong, and mayhem might ensue. Is Baby Groot possessed? Is that why he ran away with the button? (Probably not, but hey, it’s a thought.)
Leaving me with this lasting impression, I’ve gotta take action and see this movie to find out what happens, as soon as possible.
When you’re placing your call to action within your content, whether it’s a sales email or a blog post, keep in mind that you also want to leave your audience with a lasting impression of what they just read. You also want this impression to be somewhat intriguing. In order for them to really know the answer, they have to sign up for your mailing list, or request further information about your upcoming book or course.
And in a way, everything in your content should implicitly support your call to action; the references to statistics or other sources, the personal stories you weave in, and the voice of your brand should all in some way relate to the style in which you ask your audience to take action.
Yes, it’s important to be clear about what you hope your audience does after reading your content, and it’s best to be as direct or specific as possible. But if your call-to-action statement isn’t integrated in a way that matches the tone you’ve already established, it may not land as smoothly as it could. Going back to the Rue La La example, for each Rue Now article (all about style and fashion), there’s a pop-up that says, “Get Serious Style Inspo. Sign up for the Rue Now newsletter.” While prompting you to join their mailing list, it’s not intrusive. Even when you exit out of the pop-up, it stays at the top of the post and doesn’t come back to pester you. It’s politely encouraging you to sign up and learn more.
However, their website’s homepage forces you to “sign up” for their free membership (aka email list) in order to access the site. This type of call to action is just too forceful; not giving your audience a choice, no matter how enticing a “free membership” may sound, will probably backfire and result in losing potential customers who don’t like being strong-armed into things.
While their call to action is a little too upfront on the homepage, I’d take a guess that their hope is to draw people in with articles that represent their company’s en vogue approach to fashion, then people will want to sign up for the “free membership” to view their exclusive products. Plus, if you’re on their newsletter mailing list, you’ll probably want to check out their products anyway — since, you know, their products are stylish, too.
While trailers never explicitly ask you to buy a movie ticket, your content (in whatever form you choose) will probably have a more specific actionable message. But trailers succeed at leaving you with cliffhangers that inspire you to go back to the movie theater — if a trailer tells you everything, there isn’t a reason to buy a ticket.
Inspire your audience to “buy the ticket” to your service or product by giving them a reason to learn more.
Next time you go to the theater, ask yourself, “Why did I choose to spend my money and time on this movie?” When you consider how you’re an audience member who’s been convinced again and again to spend your money on watching movies, it’s easier to see how those convincing techniques can translate into your own marketing plan.
You could also think of it this way: If you made a movie trailer about your business, how would you incorporate the following techniques?
And if you’re still looking for more inspiration, YouTube’s got an endless amount of movie trailers to watch — good ones and bad ones. You could end up doing “research” for hours … but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Photo credit: Deklofenak
Julia Hess graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Master of Arts degree in English. She has worked as a college writing tutor and instructor, a contractor at a major tech company, and a freelance editor and writer. An avid podcast listener, Julia provides editorial feedback, consultation, and detailed show notes for CYC’s podcast, Writers Rough Drafts.