“New and Unique Stunt”: Advertising Origins of Movie Trailers

Today, movie trailers are commonplace in the entertainment industry. Not only are trailers used to promote…well, movies, but they are also utilized to promote Broadway shows, soon-to-be-released music albums, and recently books. I was curious to learn about when this advertising approach began, and I was surprised to discover that the first trailer shown in a movie theater wasn’t for a movie. It wasn’t shown prior to the feature film screening either.

In November of 1913, Nils Granlund, the advertising manager for the Marcus Loew theater chain, created a short promotional film for the musical, The Pleasure Seekers, which opened later that year at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City. The trailer, which was aptly named for coming at the end of the movie, was a novelty. The Daily Star in Lincoln, Nebraska called the new advertising technique a “new and unique stunt […that] will take the place of much of the bill board advertising.”

A year later, Granlund also produced the first trailer for a film featuring Charlie Chaplin, and trailers have been used to advertise for feature films ever since. However, the style of the trailers have changed dramatically since their creation. The first movie trailers were really “teasers,” which relied on crypt questions, messages, and shots from the film to pique the audience’s interest; this technique is still very popular with horror films today, some for censorship reasons and others for artistic representation. Teaser trailers also focused on the actors in the film to better draw in the audience. This short YouTube video from University of Nebraska Lincoln explains the differences between contemporary trailers to their earlier counterparts:

Here is the trailer for Gone with the Wind (1939); this isn’t the original trailer (this was compiled, or at least re-edited, after the movie won 10 Academy Awards), but you will see a marked difference in its style when compared to contemporary trailers.

As you can see, the trailer relies very heavily on text, the actors, and and little else to promote the movie rather than giving away the whole plot. Now let’s take a look at a contemporary trailer and see how they compare. This trailer is for This Means War, an action comedy being released tomorrow.

With this trailer, the entire plot is exposed, leaving little to the audience’s imagination, but the actors of the film are heavily emphasized. As the semester continues, I’ll be interested to discover more about trailers and further analyze the advertising and film techniques they incorporate. Stay tuned for more!

This entry was written by juliannalopez and published on February 16, 2012 at 5:05 pm. It’s filed under Movie Trailers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on ““New and Unique Stunt”: Advertising Origins of Movie Trailers

  1. Diana Riker on said:

    It’s interesting to read how trailers have evolved. I much prefer the trailers of the past because I feel today’s trailers give away too much information. I know the entire movie just from watching the trailer. I think they ruin a lot of comedies since so many of the most humorous scenes are given away in the trailer. I can’t tell you how many comedic films I have seen which I was disappointed with solely because the rest of the humor in the movie didn’t measure up to the various scenes that were shown in the trailer.

    I think that one of the most egregious examples of revealing too much plot was in the new terminator movie that came out a few years back in 2009. My friend is completely against seeing trailers because he feels that they ruin movies. Well when the climax of the movie occurred I unthinkingly (I swear I totally forgot he hadn’t seen the previews) whispered to him “When is he going to find out he’s a robot?”

    Well, needless to say I ruined the movie for him. However, I had assumed this information would not have be given out in the beginning of the film since it was shown in the previews for it. I could not fathom why they would give away the main secret to the entire movie in the previews. All this tension was built up throughout the movie and then was immediately diffused when he finds out he is a robot. We already knew that. Where was the surprise? I was angry at the faulty suspense I was held in.

  2. Pingback: Lady Luck Productions » “New and Unique Stunt”: Advertising Origins of Movie Trailers « Let's …

  3. I definitely agree with Diana. I’m mainly commenting to say that, although it was long, that Gone With the Wind trailer has suddenly made me really want to see it again…

  4. Thanks for adding the bit about the history of trailers, which I didn’t know about. Very cool. Have you seen the Literal Trailer parodies? You can see many on YouTube. (@dsantonelli_ is writing about them in her Master’s Project.) I wonder how these literal trailers might differ if they were, say, Semiotic Trailers. What would the captions read?

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