Home > Marketing, Movies > New vs. Traditional: How to Market Your Film

New vs. Traditional: How to Market Your Film

One of the hardest things to do with a completed film is properly market it. The process of marketing a film is an inexact science, and many people have little faith in the system. Director Kevin Smith voiced his concern with the studio marketing system by pulling a marketing stunt of his own. He held a bidding war to sell the marketing and distribution rights to his latest film, Red State (2011). He then bid on it himself, and awarded himself the winner with a bid of $20.

Red State (2011)

While this is a rash example, I believe it makes it worth revisiting some of the more clever marketing ploys created for films.

One of the most intriguing marketing ploys in modern history has to be for The Last Exorcism (2010). This film leveraged the content of popular video chatting site ChatRoulette.com to get it’s message out. Unsuspecting people would be drawn into a video chat with a pretty girl starting to take her clothes off. With no warning, the girl would become possessed by a demon. This was achieved in a number of ways, including a sudden rolling back of the eyes into the head. The viewers were unanimously shocked at this turn of events, and forced to experience the terror of The Last Exorcism. The videos became an internet sensation.

Be warned the video below may be frightening for some viewers.

Billboard Marketing for Kill Bill

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) took another approach on the shock value marketing scheme. Playing on the ultra violent themes in the film, billboards were taken out that incorporated the cars and streets surrounding. A giant image of The Bride (Uma Thurman) wielding her sword was placed on a simple, white background. The sword appeared to be spraying blood, blood which then spilled onto the street and cars placed strategically close to the billboard. The film was a massive hit.

While both of those are examples of unique and modern approaches to marketing, we can’t forget two of the most traditional and powerful forms of film marketing: the movie trailer and the movie poster.

The trailer gets it’s history from being played after movies in the early days, they were created to move people out of the theatre while the next audience moved in. Now we recognize the true power of the movie trailer. By creating a trailer, a film’s marketing team has the opportunity to entice viewers to see their film, to give them just enough to get them excited. We can look at the trailer for Rocky Balboa (2006) as a good example of this.

The trailer for Rocky Balboa succeeds in building anticipation for the film, without giving too much of the plot away. In a pure story sense we learn that Rocky decides to return to boxing after seeing a simulation determining that he would defeat the current world champion if all things were equal. Despite wanting to attempt only small fights, Rocky is coerced into a fight with the current champion. The trailer hints at a love interest, and gives us just enough action to get us excited for the fight. But where this trailer truly succeeds is in reminding an audience that has largely forgotten Rocky Balboa, how much they love him. To see an aged Stallone training and giving advice, beginning with the opening quote: “it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit,” brings memories back to audiences from the high points of the series. Defeating Apollo Creed in Rocky II (1979), defeating Ivan Drago in Rocky IV (1985), and the defining moment of the series: losing to Apollo Creed in the original Rocky (1979). All these images come flooding back to mind in the opening moments of this trailer.

But the trailer for Rocky Balboa calls upon the history of a successful film franchise. How would an entirely original work build the expectations of an audience?

When Scream (1996) came out, the horror market had largely stagnated. People had become tired of the cliched plots and thrills that had worked largely since the seventies. Scream approached the genre differently, as a tongue in cheek tribute to the greats of the genre. By doing this audiences were drawn in as characters in the film discussed and died by the very cliches that audiences had grown tired of. The characters were smarter thanks to their knowledge of the genre, and the audiences appreciated it and turned Scream into a hit. The trailer begins as a standard horror marketing tool, but quickly turns into a fun film as they show, clearly, the characters understanding what is going on. We learn that the media and the authorities may be clueless, but the young protagonists (the film’s target audience) are completely aware of the film rules and lore. The film explicitly promises sex, drinking, and people guaranteeing their own deaths by breaking the rules they already know. In short, it promised a teenaged audience everything they would want in a film.

Of course, the trailer also runs a certain risk. By showing audiences parts of the movie, it is possible to give away too much of the plot, convincing audiences to stay away thinking they already know what’s going to happen. Rocky Balboa tells you the plot, but leaves you wanting to see the outcome.

But how can a movie poster convey all of this information? Without the dynamic abilities of a trailer, what avenues can marketers use to create a compelling case for their film in a regular poster?

Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975) is one of the most iconic movie posters of all-time. The film, aimed at a teenaged audience, has a simplistic plot but is a masterfully crafted film. Being a hit can, in part, be attributed to the allure of this poster.

A simple theory behind the poster can be attributed back to Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock once said that an audience watching two people talk in a cafe is not a movie, but show an audience that there is a bomb under the table, then the scene at the cafe gains a whole new meaning. I’m paraphrasing, but the theory is simple: letting the audience know something the character doesn’t creates intrigue and suspense. In this case, it’s the girl swimming who has no idea there is a giant man-eating shark coming up at her from the depths.

The poster promises thrills, as seen in the shark attacking the girl, but also promises sex. With the pretty woman swimming on the poster, it is a logical conclusion that there will be more scantily clad women in the film. This is a common theme running through thriller and horror films. Promise sex on the poster and you have a film that a teenaged boy will want to see.

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

A poster such as the one above for 3:10 to Yuma (2007) wears its emotions on its sleeves. The grungy texture and sepia toned color palette immediately transport our mindsets back to the Old West. If there was nothing on this poster except the title of the movie in this style, we would be able to guess that this film was a Western. The cowboy in the image hold one gun ready to fire, while the other sits sideways in his other hand. Subliminally this alludes to the blurring of the lines between good and bad in the film. On one hand he is an outlaw, on the other he is just a man trying to survive. Then there is the slogan: Time Waits for One Man. Between these three elements, the themes and nature of the film have been conveyed to the audience, creating a compelling argument for a modern Western.

What are some of your favorite example of film marketing? Do you have a favorite trailer or poster, how about an original concept that a film has used for marketing? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

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Categories: Marketing, Movies
  1. John Savoie
    April 8, 2011 at 3:52 am

    Interesting read. Now to think up the next great one!

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