In an industry where the percentage of truly smart and talented people is appallingly small, the importance of snark-driven content like we love to offer at SNTS is abundantly clear. But that said, when it’s time to give props, we need to go there.
Have you seen what Universal’s creative advertising department has done with Sam Mendes’s 1917? It’s brilliant. The best campaign in years. And it’s shocking to see because usually someone in the chain of too-many-people-forcing-their-ideas-into-everything (from execs to filmmakers to the boss’s stripper girlfriend) mucks up the process. There’s almost always too much over-thinking (and spending) that derails promising creative materials.
And I’m not going to name anyone involved because in all honesty, everyone over at Universal, the creative agencies, and probably even the filmmakers will take credit. Figuring out who is truly responsible is very difficult with so many people involved. But in reality it’s just a few key people who collaborated on this great campaign. (Also sometimes the movie lends itself to great advertising with a terrific simple, compelling, easy hook and that could also be the case here, I haven’t seen the film.)
To be clear, I’m talking specifically about the trailer and TV (including digital) ads. Why just single out those parts of the campaign? Because the real story is that those are the only elements that actually drive box office.
Yes, the dirty little secret of the movie marketing world is that at the end of the day, all the crazy money spent on publicity stunts, promotional tie-ins with Dr. Pepper, posters of every character in the film, having the cast giggle about nonsense on Jimmy Kimmel – none of that really matters. Sure, any publicity is good publicity (unless you violate someone, or maybe say something nice about Trump), but all that stuff only contributes to what movie people call awareness.
But while making people aware of a movie is great and all, it doesn’t make them want to buy tickets. That’s not how it works. Guess what makes audiences aware of a movie and decide if they want to pay money to see it? Right, trailers and TV/digital ads.
There are highly paid movie research execs who will all admit this, but maybe not on the record out of fear of pissing off too many of their peers. They’ve done real studies which have revealed these moviegoing truths. But even that is a waste of money – really, just think about how you decide what movies to pay for. It’s not rocket science. Sure, yeah, everyone went to see A Quiet Place because Jon Krasinski told Jimmy Fallon about the time he got hit in the head with a bagel. Of course that’s why they went.
Or maybe they went because of this promotional/poster image of Emily Blunt looking like she just saw husband Krasinski’s movie Aloha:
Yeah, that sells tickets. See how she’s both scared and covering her mouth? That tells you the movie is scary and has something to do with being quiet. Get it? It works on so many levels. OMG poster geniuses – shut up and take my money!
Or maybe, just maybe, it was a great trailer that hooked people into wanting to experience the movie.
But getting back to 1917. Here’s what makes it so good. They show us what it is (period war movie), give us a clean, simple, grabby hook (one solider has to stop an attack or 1600 troops will die, including his brother), and it looks big and epic. Huge stakes, we know what’s going on, it looks like an impossible mission, tension galore – AND, that’s IT. Because that TEASE (the true job of advertising) makes us want to PAY to find out the rest.
Look at this TV ad:
Which is really just a shorter version of the trailer, which somehow goes the full two and half minutes just expanding on the simple tease:
Most of the time all the overthinking leads to more and more information and plot details (and waaaay too many materials in general) being released in an effort to keep building interest. Which is misguided. A lot of that is driven by painfully flawed research testing of the materials to which audiences always reflexively ask to know more and more about a movie until they are shown pretty much the whole plot – at which time they complain they have now seen the whole movie. Which they have. And so why should they pay to go see it now?
More, more, more, too much. Most of the time movie marketers are so lost in the flawed process they shoot themselves in the foot. Yes, the message has to be right, yes the creative must be brilliantly executed. But the job here is to effectively hook audiences with a great tease that leaves them wanting to pay to get the rest. Once you have that, quit while you’re ahead.
1917 gets it.