Do trailers lie?
This is a familiar claim made by media commentators whenever new trailers are released or a new film/television programme/video game doesn't quite live up to pre-release expectations. Recently, we've seen this debate in relation to Drive and a television trailer for the Jack Reacher film; in 2007, a trailer for BBC programme A Year with The Queencaused controversy for re-editing footage out of order to apparently show Queen Elizabeth II storming off during a photo shoot; meanwhile the trailers for films from The Graduate to Star Trek Into Darkness have been described as either giving too much away, or misleading audiences about plot points, characters or genre.
But what is often overlooked, or downright ignored, when such claims are made, is whether 'real' audiences feel misled, or lied to. Because, if audiences actually believe this, if they feel they are regularly being mis-sold or duped, then why does the trailer remain so incredibly popular? Why has it retained its prominence in marketing campaigns for almost a hundred years? Why do millions of people search for, and download, new trailers every day?
I've been researching trailers for over a decade now, and every year I expected someone to come out with a study that asked just those questions. I knew the film industry regularly ran focus groups to assess the effectiveness of early versions of trailers, but that such results were rarely publicised. I could see people on a variety of websites debating the merits of individual trailers, but these swung dramatically between positive and negative responses based on knowledge of the property in question. No one seemed to be talking to the people who exist between those poles, between industry audience and active online participant, the people who view trailers in cinema, on television, online, via mobile devices and who are, arguably, swayed by what they see.
In the end, faced with scant evidence of what audiences really think about trailers, my colleagues and I decided to just ask them ourselves. Ed Vollans (PhD student at the University of East Anglia), Dr Frederick Greene (a trailer writer and visiting assistant professor at UCLA) and I have begun a project called, rather obviously, the Trailer Audience Research Survey. While this project is intended to last for several years, and will feature different ways of talking with audiences about trailers, our first step is a broad audience survey.
If you're interested in taking part, and giving us your opinion on the trailer, you can access the survey here. The more responses we get, the more we will understand what audiences really think about trailers, rather than relying on media hearsay and conjecture.
All going well, we'll report back on the first results of our research later this year...