ads are like movie trailers for your product

I’ve always been fascinated by movie trailers – not for how they entice people to see movies, but for the insights they provide into how to make great ads.  After all, ads and trailers serve a similar objective:  convert viewership into action — buy a product or go see a movie.

The New York Times recently ran a piece about the art and science behind making a great trailer.  It talked about how trailers can be misleading, presenting a provocative spin on or showing select pieces of the film that don’t relate to what the movie is really about.  Kinda sounds like some commercials, doesn’t it?  We’ve all seen ads that portray a product very differently — and usually better — from reality (food photography used in fast food commercials, community stewardship portrayed in corporate ads, technology shown with a seamless user interface, etc.).

The piece indicated that trailer manipulation is sometimes intentional – some studios won’t hesitate to run a disingenuous trailer if they believe it will attract more viewers.  There’s a parallel to advertising in that too, right?  Some creative directors and brand managers alike have been known to focus more on seducing viewers than on whether or not the product will actually satisfies them.

It seems that advertisers – and movie studios – would do well to keep in mind a few important points:

Better to attract a niche than disappoint the masses.  Misleading ads don’t just turn off the people who were fooled by them; they make social media headlines that cast a cloud of mistrust over the brand.  Given that news of a disappointment travels as fast as the click of a “send” button these days, companies should avoid stirring negative backlash by targeting advertising messages only to those who are most likely to be satisfied with the actual product experience.   This may mean appealing to fewer customers and alienating others – but it’s a choice that’s sure to prove to be profitable.  Relevance is the new reach.

The best ads sample the product vs. tease the customer.  People are generally risk-averse – they want to know what a product is like before they spend their hard earned money to buy it.  An ad is an effective way to enable people to sample your product.  Great ads convey a sense of what it’s like to experience the product – either by showing a demo, using an analogy, or explaining a problem/solution.  There are many creative ways to do this, but the outcome of all should be accurate expectations.  If an ad only creates anticipation, viewers either develop their own – often incorrect – expectations, or they decide it’s not worth the risk to find out what the product is really like.

The product should be memorable, not the ad.  It’s well known that an ad must be likeable in order for it to be effective.  After all, an ad must be watched, read, or listened to before its message can have any impact.  And entertaining ads generate powerful word of mouth.  So creativity in advertising is not the problem; creativity that is divorced from the product message is.  The core idea of your ad should be an idea about your product, not the ad itself.  Don’t be fooled by the social currency of advertising; the business value of conversations about your product is far greater.

The New York Times piece ends with the insight that “a trailer can be more of a Rorschach test of sorts for the moviegoer than anything else.”  “Open to interpretation” is dangerous territory for movies and ads.

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