Are Movie Trailers Now Bigger than the Movies Themselves?

This week we’re in the midst of TriStar’s marketing blitz for Rian Johnson‘s new film Looper. Beginning on Monday, the studio started releasing the first of three trailer teasers leading up to the Thursday unveiling of the first feature trailer for the film, which arrives in theaters on September 28.

Parent company Columbia Pictures did something similar at the beginning of the month with their remake Total Recall, Fox did it earlier this year with Prometheus, Open Road did it with The Host (one year before the film hits theaters) and it has become a common practice for upcoming films.

Frequently people will lament the new marketing tactic saying, “What next, a teaser for a teaser of a trailer?” Personally I have grown to accept the practice. After all, it doesn’t hurt me, I hardly watch trailers as it is. But it does have me wondering, has pre-release hype essentially resulted in a cinematic climate where the product itself doesn’t matter as long as you can build enough buzz to ensure opening weekend box-office dollars before the next weekend comes along and it’s simply rinse and repeat?

When it comes to this new trailer teaser practice the roots clearly begin with the Internet and the first time I can remember a studio releasing a teaser for a trailer was the ten-second tease for the The Twilight Saga: New Moon trailer back in 2009. Summit followed suit for each Twilight feature after that, but until this year it didn’t seem as if it would become commonplace across the board.

I imagine most of this started when movie blogs would post snippets of footage after they would air during “Entertainment Tonight” promos, boasting the chance to see the first trailer for an upcoming film the following night. People would record the brief bits of footage, post it on YouTube and it would catch on like wildfire. Studios got wise to the practice and instead of having Nancy O’Dell chattering over the top of it why not control it yourself, build buzz and then brag about how many online views your new trailer received in a press release?

Over at the Los Angeles Times, Ben Fritz has one such moment of bragging as Fox Chief Marketing Officer Oren Aviv discusses the three trailer teasers that were released online in advance of the first 60-second teaser trailer for Prometheus. “We teased the teaser,” Aviv said. “And it was viewed 29.7 million times.”

The “Times” article features data from Visible Measures that says trailers will be streamed and viewed online upwards of 7 billion times in 2012, up from the 5.3 billion views estimated for 2011. Fritz writes, “Aiming to take advantage of the mania surrounding material that they used to just hope people would remember after leaving the theater, studios now market the marketing.”

I think that quote is very important. It mentions how studios used to just hope people would remember the trailers they saw before a film after leaving the theater, but now it’s about marketing not only the film, but the trailer. So now what are we hoping people aren’t forgetting?

From the first moment a trailer arrives people begin dissecting them, looking for plot clues and wondering what we’ve learned such as this examination of the Prometheus trailer, this examination of The Avengers trailer and yet another examining the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises.

Excitement comes built in for most films of high expectation nowadays, particularly the last three I just mentioned, and I’d say the recent trailer teasers for Total Recall and Looper mark the first time films that didn’t necessarily have a massive built-in audience have tried this tactic. When it comes to films such as the Twilight and The Dark Knight features you can release teasers for trailers or teasers for teasers of trailers and you’re still likely to win nothing but bragging rights when the trailer eventually is viewed 100 gagillion times (approximation), but it seems we’re getting closer to the point where the event is the trailer and no longer the movie.

Soon we’ll be asking people, “Hey, did you see that movie?” They’ll respond, “No, but I watched the trailer a couple of times.” Considering the importance placed on the increasingly popular marketing tool I wouldn’t be too surprised, after all the buzz leading up to a trailer’s launch is becoming more talked about than the films themselves.

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