UK pop-culture history: the release of The Clash and The Sex Pistols’ first albums heralded a new era for music; and Star Wars IV: A New Hope generated the kind of movie buzz studio bosses dream of. Media interest was high, but if you wanted to preview the movie, the cinema was the place to go; two trailers were made and were exclusively shown at the start of other movies. Even 22 years later the trailer for Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace was released on the big screens, with such a hype around it that fans actually paid to see “Meet Joe Black” just to see it.
Flash-forward to today. Over a year before the release of the new Star Wars Episode VII, the first trailer was released on YouTube.
While the industry is clearly interested in pre-release WOM academics have tended to focus on how audiences have shared their experiences – positively or negatively - after they have seen the movie. We wondered if this was an oversight - after all, marketing folk need to plan campaigns that highlight the positives and suppress the negatives.
The more audiences can be encouraged to share their insights, the better those strategies can be. To this end, we’ve seen studios release a teaser poster ahead of the first trailer or, in the case of the Fifty Shades of Gray Sequels, announce release dates of 3 years ahead.
So, we did some exploratory research on some movies from last summer. About 6-8 months prior to release, we picked four that we thought would be popular in the action genre (e.g. Jupiter Ascending). We
interesting. While no-one wants to feel like they’ve seen a movie when they finished the trailer, a degree of comprehension is important if we’re likely to think we might like it. These are key factors in online engagement: where understanding and affinity are increased, there’s a statistically significant increase in our likelihood to engage in WOM. And if all that’s in place, our respondents reported a very significant increase in their intention to pay to see the movie – to be specific 75% of the variance is explained by those factors in combination. Research shows that an advertisement is a lot more effective if it generates word-of-mouth but we think this is the first time it’s been measured in this way with movie trailers.
For us, these are early days, but we have a research direction on how trailers can be designed specifically for the purpose of stimulating engagement during the pre-release period. By that we do not mean the “drive” period – where intense marketing activities take place two weeks prior to a film’s release - we mean the entire pre-release period, from the first information about an upcoming film hits the web.
The Internet, which makes it so easy for studios to advertise by cleverly leaking information and to monitor audience engagement, is also the reason why box office performance might be disappointing. Often, we see a trailer that we like but then decide to download the movie because it’s a rainy Sunday, or because we’re a bit ‘tight’ with money, or even because everyone else is busy and, who wants to be seen at the cinema alone? So what is it that makes us pay to see a film after all? Is it just the trailer or is it that everyone is talking about it? Or is it Harrison Ford showing up at the end of Star Wars VII #2 trailer saying “Chewie, we’re home” that makes us feel like we have to go watch the movie right now? Multiple times!
Chris Archer-Brown's research focuses on how social and mobile technologies can help firms improve communication and collaboration between employees and customers. His primary aim is to help firms exploit the benefits of the tools while managing the risks. Movies are an interesting and relevant context in which to understand how social media can generate word-of-mouth and form an important part of his overall research agenda.
Julia Kampani works as a Marketing specialist and is about to embark on a PhD at the University of Bath. She’s got a degree in Film Studies and an MSc in Marketing. Her research focuses around the power of trailers as a tool in generating word of mouth, and she is particularly interested in the way viewers share online information about a film during the pre-release phase. When she’s not working on writing papers, you will probably find her at the cinema!"