It may be that the respondents who answered, “no, I have never searched for a particular trailer” and told us why, are among the most interesting audiences to understand for makers of trailers as well as for those who study them. As in so many fields and contexts, we learn more from criticism than from praise.
Among ourselves, we playfully refer to this group as “haters,” although they aren’t hostile to trailers qua trailers but more precisely resentful of certain tendencies and practices of contemporary trailers. While it’s tempting to dismiss the concerns as complaints from those who don’t understand the genre and its functional goals (a failing shared by many who love the form as well), it wouldn't be prudent.
The concerns, dislikes and disappointments of filmgoing audiences about the films designed to grab their attention and impress them into an audience are not only interesting in themselves; in their particulars and their prevalence they demand responses from film marketers. Rather than writing off such audiences, it seems both practical and profitable to engage them, educate them and find new ways to appeal to them.
The history of audio-visual movie marketing suggests that trailers evolve alongside film aesthetics and film technology and in relation to audience “literacy” and expectation. While we see ample evidence that the aesthetics and technology of trailers are commonly discussed and thoughtfully investigated, our current research derives—at least in part-- from a belief that audience literacy and expectation are under-examined, under-theorized and under-estimated.
Typical and Anecdotal Responses:
Those who don’t search specifically for trailers frequently mention the “spoiler” effect of contemporary movie previews as their chief complaint against them. It’s conventional wisdom in the industry that despite what audiences say to researchers about their antipathy for “tell-all” (or spoiler) trailers, those same audiences have been shown to be more likely to consume a given feature film--whether in-theater or via a paid internet platform-- when they know more about what they’re getting from it.
That said, we think there’s a compelling study to be made of the research pertaining to tell-all trailers, audience reactions and their ticket buying decisions. In light of the responses we obtained, we ask whether and how it might be possible to provide the generic and narrative clues audiences are said to demand without also spoiling the surprise, anticipating the mystery or pre-telling the story of the film. No doubt trailermakers work hard to finesse this exact issue project by project.
Among the No’s were a significant numbers who might best be regarded as passive or indifferent. Among this disparate group are those who told us that “I never thought to do so,” or “I don’t see films at theaters,” “I let my partner do the searching,” “I have better things to do with my time” or “I don’t remember them.” While these are verbatim quotes, the sentiments they express are not unique.
We should also mention the concerns of the trailer haters, who make up a subset of those who aren’t motivated to seek out specific trailers. These audiences may never be redeemed by movie marketers, but knowing what their objections are provides the most likely means of redress.
To begin with the mildest critics, many respondents express the legitimate desire to “preserve the surprise of the film itself.” When trailermakers deny this modest hope, a material percentage of audience members bitterly resent it.
Most difficult to engage or turn, perhaps, are those audiences who have no interest in the genre itself, preferring features to trailers. If there are any audiences who are “lost” or can be written off with equanimity, these are those.
Balancing those who feel as if a trailer spoils the experience of the feature by presenting a truthful but too specific précis of the film, there are those respondents who expect to be deceived by trailers and consequently avoid the misrepresentation they’re certain to encounter. Such audiences have trust issues that won’t easily be resolved.
Now, while it’s theoretically possible for a deceptive and mis-leading trailer nonetheless to accurately and truthfully spoil the film story, its surprise(s) and uniqueness, none of our respondents described such a perverse experience. It’s a wonderful hypothetical, however, that would make a great interview question for any candidate aspiring to a career as a trailer editor, copywriter or creative director.