Movie trailers have an effective new strategy you might not have noticed
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Movie trailers have an effective new strategy you might not have noticed


Image: bob al-greene/Mashable, the noun project

Even the trailers have trailers now.

As movie marketing gets finely chopped into ever smaller bites — check out this motion-graphic teaser for the release date of the character posters! — studios have found a new way to seize your attention during the critical first few seconds of their biggest, most important reveals: online trailers.

They’re called “bumpers” — usually an action-crammed, lightning-fast five seconds or less, followed by a title card with the release date. Then the trailer really begins.

So instead of kicking off with a static studio logo or quiet fade-in, you see something like this right off the bat:

And you’re going to see a lot more of it soon.

Not all studios are doing bumpers just yet — Sony seems to have been first, with, Warner Bros. and Paramount also dabbling — but they’ve already proven extremely effective at grabbing and keeping your eyes glued to the screen.

Sony Pictures has found that adding bumpers (like the one for Flatliners, below) has increased both retention (the number of people who stick with a video once it’s started playing) and post-exposure interest both by almost four-fold, Elias Plishner, the studio’s executive vice president of worldwide digital marketing, told Mashable.

“Movie trailers were not built for mobile platforms, especially in social feeds where you are competing with hundreds of other forms of content,” Plishner said. “We decided to build trailer bumpers with two goals in mind: Increase retention and increase interest. We tested A/B versions, with and without the bumper — and the results were crystal clear.”

Online trailers used to pretty much mirror what you’d see in a theater, where the rating card — THE FOLLOWING PREVIEW HAS BEEN APPROVED FOR APPROPRIATE AUDIENCES — and studio logos are still standard.

But you are not captively glued to a seat right now, and your time is shorter than your patience.

You, being a modern human, are far more likely to hang around after this …

… than after a string of cards or long, luxurious establishing shot. Especially if you’re mobile when that pre-roll starts on YouTube, for instance.

It’s been roughly a year since the first bumpered trailers, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which was the first. One of the earliest we could find was Sony’s The Magnificent Seven, which features a cast countdown that makes a lot of sense for the form:

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Not all studios using bumpers are using them for all trailers. In some cases, there’s enough action in the first few seconds that they’re not needed, even for social platforms. Sometimes it’s just a creative choice. 

And sometimes they’ll do both with and without for the same movie — the Wonder Woman bumper (above) is not used in the “origin” trailer, which came later, and won Best of Show at the Golden Trailer Awards earlier this month. It opens instead on a shot skimming the waters around Themyscira, then panning up to the Amazon warriors’ island as the voiceover begins.

Some have speculated that that trailer bumpers are engineered to get around algorithmic norms or rules on Facebook and other social` platforms, but studio sources deny that, saying they’re just optimizing that “handshake” moment to capture the audience there.

They’re also playing with aspect ratios of Facebook news feeds, where a 1:1 square or even vertical-oriented trailers are starting to appear. And international rollouts are getting their first bumpers as well.

Chances are you’ll bump into one soon. Maybe you’ll even stick around for a couple of minutes.

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June 19, 2017
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