Trailers can be vital and viral for a film’s success


M3GAN showed the value of viral marketing

By Paul Kranenburg, Staff Writer

When was the last time a movie trailer truly blew you away? When was the last time a trailer stuck with you so much that, even if you never saw another piece of promotional material for it, you would never forget about it? If you can answer these questions, then did you actually go out of your way to see the movie in the theater?

With the rise of streaming and the movie theater industry still recovering from the pandemic, it seems as if studios have to go above and beyond to attract moviegoers nowadays. Granted, there are others that don’t need to try too much.

Any movie with the Marvel Studios banner is a guaranteed success and Minions are still enough to attract a large family audience. However, if you were to ask a room full of people if they prefer going to the theater and watching at home, most of them would probably choose the latter.

Films such as this year’s “M3GAN” managed to attract a large audience before it was even released due to it becoming a viral sensation. But that doesn’t mean this will work out in the long run or that it should be the goal for everyone. Indeed, marketing a movie is important but it isn’t just about what or where you’re marketing but also how.

Usually, anyone who saw that the people behind “Frozen,” “Zootopia,” and “Moana” were releasing a new movie would immediately be in line due to those factors alone. However, the post-pandemic movie industry has turned out differently. While “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Encanto” did decently enough given their circumstances, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest release was a massive financial failure. The film, “Strange World,” was said to be a victim of more marketing and promotion by many.

According to an article by Rachel Ulatowski on “The Mary Sue,” Disney seemed to pay very little attention to marketing “Strange World,” choosing to focus on hyping up their latest franchise blockbusters. The article quoted several tweets from film buffs who mention how they either didn’t know “Strange World” was released or that it existed until headlines about its lackluster performance caught their eyes. They also said that this is a major blunder on Disney’s part, considering that animation is what built the company. However, Ulatowski mentions other potential explanations for the film’s financial loss. These include the decrease in moviegoers due to the pandemic and audiences preferring to save money during the Thanksgiving weekend.

However, these issues didn’t seem to hinder “Encanto” very much, even with a more limited theatrical window. It seems as if marketing is largely to blame for this, with many not seeing much of a presence for it on social media or online advertising. However, one has to take into account that this is a film targeted primarily at families. This would mean that ads for it would have been more likely to appear before videos and on websites for children. This leads to a point about a shift in marketing due to the technological boom: The rise of online marketing.

Initially, the issue seemed to lie in a comparison between the lackluster marketing of “Strange World” and the viral phenomenon that was “M3GAN.” However, accredited film review and content creator, Stefan Ellison, known online as “Mr. Coat” presented  different point of view. Ellison admitted to having been exposed to more ads for “Strange World” than others, as well as not seeing much live television anymore. This brought up an interesting question: if theaters are being impacted due to the rise of streaming services, what is the impact on advertising itself? Ellison mentioned that TV spots are still around, especially during major televised events, such as the Super Bowl.

However, he also brought up a significant counterpoint to the claim that “M3GAN’s” viral presence was the sole reason it succeeded. According to Ellison, “ ‘M3GAN’ succeeded, not just because of the viralness of its marketing campaign, but because the premise and apparent tone of the film had a hook that intrigued audiences.”

It wasn’t just that the title character of “M3GAN” did a funny dance in the trailer. It was also an indication to the audience that this horror movie about the killer robot doll had a lot more going on than just blood and scares. So it isn’t just what is being marketed and where you see the ads but also how it’s done. Trailers shouldn’t simply be plastered on every screen your eyes come across, but they should also grab your attention with its content. After all, relying mainly on online marketing could result in the same result as “Strange World.”

One of the oldest and most notable examples of a studio relying solely on becoming an online viral sensation as the main marketing tactic is 2006’s “Snakes on a Plane.” Ethan Alter of Yahoo! Entertainment described the film, featuring Samuel L. Jackson, as “the first meme movie” because the discovery of its existence led to pieces of fan-art, blog posts, and amateur mashups. As soon as the studio, New Line Cinema, caught wind of its newfound internet fame, they quickly tried to capitalize it. They rented out Hall H at San Diego Comic Con for a big promotion and even decided to do reshoots that would add in a new batch of scenes that they believed that the film’s newfound fandom would love. Unfortunately, the viral crowd didn’t come out to see the film upon release and the film was another financial loss. Alter also mentions how films since then such as “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,”  “Blade Runner 2049,” and “In the Heights” all had both massive online promotion and positive word of mouth yet still bombed at the box office. This is all to say that the shift to online marketing isn’t enough. It’s about what’s in the promotional material itself.

Studios need to sell people on the overall concept, world, and characters that they are trying to sell. That’s why “M3GAN” was a success that already has a sequel in the works. Audiences were already intrigued by the goofy thrills and chills and Universal deciding to put dancing M3GANs all over TikTok was just an extra push.

Trailers have under three minutes to try to convince you to pay money for an experience that will last at least an hour-and-a-half. It isn’t just about the effort to remind people of a movie’s existence but the effort to show what they have in store.