Here’s a question for you, is a film trailer a piece of advertising or is it content that we film fans actively want to see? Content is the media we want to consume, every article we read online, every TV show we watch, and every podcast we download, this is all entertainment and information that we seek out and pro-actively watch/read/listen to. Advertising is the other bit. Advertising is almost our way of paying to get the content we want. If you want to read an article enjoy this animated ad at the side. If you want to watch a show then prepare for a third of it to be adverts. If you want to download a podcast for free please listen while they read a message from their sponsors.
In a world where the internet is everywhere and we are constantly keeping our eyes transfixed to a minimum of three screens at a time we want constant streams of media and we want it for free. Advertising means that we can continue to get it for free no matter how irritating it can be at times.
But where do trailers fit in?
This question occurs to me from time to time, normally when I am trying to watch a trailer on YouTube. When a trailer is shown on TV or played on the radio then it is clearly just another form of advertising. They are paying lots of money to shove a product in front on your face in the hope that you will buy it. Whether it is Will Smith peddling After Earth or Barry Scott pushing Cillit Bang it is a simple advert to raise awareness and sales. YouTube is an entirely different matter. On YouTube trailers get to be both advertising and content.
If you look at the image at the top of the page you can see that I was trying to watch the trailer for The Road on a YouTube channel dedicated to trailers. Before I could watch the content I wanted to see I was show an advert which just so happened to be a trailer for Tower Heist. Somewhere an advertising agency was paying so that I would watch a trailer before I was allowed to watch a different trailer. Content is our end and advertising is simply a means to an end.
Even over here at Mild Concern we are guilty of blurring the lines a little. Many, many times in the past we have featured a trailer as content. 99% of the time this was either because the trailer really excited us or because we wanted to give it a proper dissection. On only two occasions, the other 1%, we have featured a trailer because somebody paid us to do so. It’s not necessarily something we like to do but we’re open about it and it pays for the hosting but if we’re honest the trailer for Johnny English Reborn probably wasn’t going to make it here on its own merits.
For the most part I would say that the different between a trailer as advertising and a trailer as content is that a trailer can only really serve as content when it is for a film that people either already want to see, a Twilight trailer used to be an event in itself, or for a film that was not previously on your radar but presents a film so intriguing you want to share the two and a half minute preview with the world, Upside Down for example. I quite often seek out trailers and watch them in a way I wouldn’t watch other advertising. I want to see them and don’t need the reward of an episode of Coronation Street to make me watch.
I don’t see how agencies tasked with promoting a film can really justify trying to monetise the trailers themselves. I recently sought out the trailer for Upstream Color after having been baffled by it at a press screening. I found the trailer on the film’s official YouTube channel which is normally the best way to watch a trailer; it will be the best quality and won’t feature any advertising. And yet it did feature advertising! Amazingly it isn’t enough that you want to find out about a small independent release. You still have to earn the right to watch their advert by watching another beforehand. Trying to profit from your advertising itself is baffling. The film should be the product and not the trailer, you can’t really expect to make money from both.
Trailers in the pre-internet age were forms of advertising pure and simple but these days they are just as likely to be found posing as the main attraction in an article as they are simply preceding the main feature at the cinema. At their heart though trailers will always simply be an advert, a commercial. As much as you might want to see a trailer the advertising agency wants you to watch it even more and so we should never be made to watch another advert first.
Advertising is a necessary evil, but let’s not get carried away. OK?