Trailer Treachery: Why TV Trailers Should Tell It Straight
But a group of cinema-goers in Liverpool recently walked out in disgust, complaining that they'd had no idea it was a silent movie. Cue much guffawing from media junkies, who haven't had this much fun since people flocked for the exit of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because it had subtitles.
But cultural smuggery aside (we can't all be like Frasier Krane, who when asked if he minded subtitles, replied, 'Mind them? I prefer them!'), should we be worried about trailers that try so hard to make the content attractive that they stop being true to it? A woman from Michigan is actually suing the distributor of the film Drive, and the cinema where she saw it, on the grounds that she was expecting a fast-paced, race action thriller from the trailer, and the actual film was nothing of the kind.
On the one hand, it seems a difficult case to prove: nothing that was in the trail wasn’t in the final movie. Ads for video games take much greater liberties with 'sequences not actually representative of actual game-play' and no-one bats an eyelid.
On the other, anyone who’s seen The Shining cut as a rom-com trailer, or felt the homoerotic tension in a brilliant trail for 'Brokeback to the Future' knows that a good editor can make a promo say what they want.
And what's left out is just as important as what's left in.
The trail for Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, for example, omitted to mention that the Demon Barber of Fleet Street would occasionally burst into song. Is this excusable? I can imagine the distributor's strategists deciding that the statistical overlap between gothic-admiring, murder story fanatics and Sondheim-adoring, broadway luvvies was too small to bet on, but surely there's a responsibility to be accurate all the same?
This is something we think about every day in the world of TV too. Seeing a promo for the Great British Food Fight on Channel 4 a couple of years ago, I greatly looked forward to seeing some kind of slapstick fest, ideally culminating in Gordon getting a faceful of custard. I was confused, not to mention disappointed, to discover on tuning in that it was merely a season of straightforward food programmes.
And that's precisely why television promos are less likely to commit trailer treachery.
Broadcasters need audiences to watch not just the first 5 minutes but the whole programme, and not just that programme but the series. And for that matter, not just the series but the rest of the channel.
Unlike cinemas, they don't take money at the door. There's much more of a relationship between audience and broadcaster, so trails need to be effective but also faithful to the content in hand. So on TV, at least, you're unlikely to find, as The Simpsons' beleaguered lawyer once exclaimed, examples of 'the most blatant case of false advertising since The Never Ending Story.'
Do you think trailers should stick closer to the truth? Is there a difference between what movie and TV trailers need to offer?
Susie Braun, Strategic Planner and John McDonald, Planning Director