How to.. learn effective customer targeting from theatrical releases
What can the 'heartbeat' structure of cinematic trailers teach the advertising industry about attracting an audience? Matt Bush, Director of Agencies at Google UK, tells us.
The following phrase contains immense power; “Coming soon to a screen near you”.
In an age where cut through is becoming increasingly difficult and competition for audience attention mounts, film ads can still compel us to watch them, to become glued to our screens, to emotionally invest in a film we have not yet seen. It’s one of the few ad genres - alongside Christmas ads - that many will actively seek out to watch.
Most ads are built to be ads. They are full of cues that say, dear customer, you are about to be shown AN AD.
There’s no doubting the power of the cinematic trailer. They have created a genre that is all their own and it is easily one of the most recognisable and effective ways of promoting the latest releases. In fact, there’s a huge amount marketers can learn from the cues of cinematic advertising, particularly when it comes to digital video.
Theatrical marketers are constantly using the speed, scale and power of YouTube to carry out scientific experiments, playing with length, format and form - and their subsequent ads should be examined closely by all marketers. The traditional 30-second ad is the original ‘made for TV’ format, and while that’s not to say it can’t work in the digital sphere, there are more powerful ways of getting your message across online.
A cinematic trailer instead has a ‘heartbeat’ structure... with a strong cue... multiple peaks and unexpected shifts.
So, what sets an ad for a film apart from a more standard format? First of all, most ads are built to be ads. They are full of cues that say, dear customer, you are about to be shown AN AD. There’s a lead in, a build, a climax and a reveal, followed by the specific promotion and branding.
A cinematic trailer instead has a ‘heartbeat’ structure. It starts with a strong cue, includes multiple peaks and unexpected shifts all throughout the narrative. It’s the ‘hook and hold’ and it is a compelling, dramatic approach to getting through to customers.
The viewer is already poised to join in the thumping handclap before Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury is even shown.
Take the Oscar-winning Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, for example. The first two seconds of the trailer only show the title card, but it is overlaid with the iconic, pulsing drumbeat intro from We Will Rock You. It’s the very definition of the ‘heartbeat’ ad. The viewer is already poised to join in the thumping handclap before Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury is even shown. By the time he turns up between seconds two and three, you’ve had a lot of emotional engagement in a very, very short space of time.
Above: Rami Malek in the trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody.
It’s easy to see that if you apply the same approach in a digital ad space, how valuable that heart-stopping, attention-grabbing moment is. As Bohemian Rhapsody shows, for even the most dedicated ad-skipper, there is a lot that can be achieved in five seconds.
There is certainly much to be gained in terms of engagement inspiration from the world of film.
Conversely, there is also a huge advantage to be had in luxuriating in a narrative. We experimented with 20th Century Fox’s ads on YouTube and found that drawing customers into a story could be highly effective at driving mid-funnel consideration with a large audience. This is because you then get the chance to guide a person through the wider narrative. Ad sequencing, for example, divides customers into groups who are served different types of content, based on their behaviour.
If viewers skipped Jackman's film, next time they were served a different character from the supporting cast.
We tested the hypothesis that sequential advertising was a powerful way to tell a story on digital video using The Greatest Showman. An ad featuring Hugh Jackman was the base creative and if a viewer watched the whole thing, they were next served a longer ‘making of’ trailer. If viewers skipped Jackman's film, next time they were served a different character from the supporting cast. Showing different executions in sequence was 149% more effective at driving consideration than a singular creative.
Above: Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman.
The world of attention will always be changing. At the same time, however, there has never been a better environment to explore curiosity in creative advertising.
Consumers are no doubt extraordinary, individual beings with different drivers, but there is certainly much to be gained in terms of engagement inspiration from the world of film, and much to be learned from customer behaviour to achieve the most effective, tailored campaign. One thing is certain. This is a process of iteration and testing and continues long after the credits roll.