Star Wars, Batman V Superman, and marketing campaigns

Star Wars: The Force Awakens proves you can have movie trailers, without giving the game away...

This piece contains article originally ran on Den of Geek UK.

It contains spoilers for Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Terminator: Genisys, albeit ones revealed in their trailers!

In recent years in particular, the thorny issue of spoilers in movie trailers seems to have become more pertinent. There have historically been problems, of course. As far back as 2000, What Lies Beneath let a good three paws of the cat out of the bag. But I struggle to think of a trailer that’s so thoughtlessly given away a major plot reveal as last year’s Terminator Genisys.

The film certainly needed all the marketing fuel it could get, but it remains really baffling that what should have been a crucial story turning point – the reveal of John Connor as a Terminator – was given away in the trailer. It’s not that it would have saved the film if people hadn’t known that in advance, but why give away something so crucial to the story before people have seen it?

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It’s not as if trailers are that easy to avoid. Sure, you don’t have to watch them when they appear online. But surprise TV spots in the middle of shows, and the three or four promos that accompany every trip to the cinema, sometimes make it hard to miss a trailer, no matter how hard you try.

There’s barely a major release now that doesn’t require at least three trailers before the film itself appears in cinemas. There’s generally a teaser/first trailer a good six to 12 months before. Then, three months away, another meatier promo. And finally, what’s gradually becoming known as the ‘payoff’ trailer. Throw in umpteen TV spots, international versions of trailers and little clips released online, and that’s a lot of footage that needs spilling in advance. After all, you can’t have three identical trailers. Each has to reveal something more about the movie.

With Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – which finally lands in cinemas at the end of March – that’s been a particular problem. The film actually finished shooting in 2014, and the first full trailer came online back in April 2015 (following footage that had screening at San Diego Comic-Con in June 2014!). Since then, a further trailer landed in July 2015, and the official ‘trailer 2’ was released in December.

Warner Bros originally had the movie scheduled for release in 2015, and it has faced a challenge to keep interest primed over a longer period of time. As such, the trailer that landed in December, four months ahead of the movie’s release, gave away a villain – Doomsday – that nobody knew for certain was going to feature.

Now, a quick caveat or two. Director Zack Snyder has insisted that there are many surprises still in store where Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is concerned. Rumors are suggesting a running time in the region of two and a half hours, which would certainly leave room. But still: wasn’t it worth holding back the reveal of Doomsday? Wouldn’t he have been something worth discovering in the movie?

The irony is that knowing Batman and Superman are ultimately going to join forces to fight a CG creation has made the film look just a little less interesting in many people’s eyes. But still: this may all have a happy ending, surprises may indeed have been held, and Doomsday may be a triumph. Right now, his reveal feels unnecessarily spoiler-y. After all, when you’ve got Batman and Superman in your movie, isn’t that enough to build a few decent teases out of?

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Paradoxically, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice‘s marketing campaign has overlapped with one that revealed an awful lot of material, without actually ruining anything.

Appreciating that the modern marketing machine now requires the large number of promos and trailers, it’s refreshing and worth noting just how skilfully Disney handled the build up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens last year. Director JJ Abrams was at the heart of this of course, keen to ensure that the film’s key secrets stayed in tact. Abrams was very much of the view that trailers should tease and excite, without giving the game away. While there were one or two bits I’d have preferred to have seen first on the big screen, it was pretty much mission accomplished that most of us got to see the film relatively spoiler-free.

How easy would it have been to put on screen, in advance of the film’s release, a showcase of the returning faces, clips from one or two of the very big moments, and a few secrets? There’s an argument that it was the release of the toys and tie-ins that gave a little more away with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but even these were controlled. The days of a novelization giving away the twist in The Empire Strikes Back are, thankfully, behind us.

In all, there were over 20 TV spots alone for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in addition to the trailers, images, posters and clips. Yet the only thing the spoiled the film’s big moments were people who had seen the film, and couldn’t wait to blab. If you watched the promos, you’d certainly get a flavor as to what to expect (perhaps one international trailer aside), but you’d get nothing close to the payoff. You certainly wouldn’t get John Connor turning into a CG machine before your eyes, as your hand repeatedly started slapping your face.

It’s not just Star Wars that’s found a way through this, either. I was almost rapturous with applause when I sat down to watch Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and discovered that the big trailer moment, the poster shot, is the first five minutes of the movie. It meant that key sequences later in the film had been preserved, and I – for one – was appreciative of that.

I wonder if part of the reason Mission: Impossible 6 managed to keep secrets under wraps was also due to the fact that its trailer was released relatively late (thanks to Paramount’s late in the day decision to bring the film forward five months)? Of 2016’s summer blockbusters, the only promos we’re waiting for now are Ghostbusters and Jason Bourne 5, and the truncated period between now and their respective releases hopefully means that’s more opportunity to keep surprises under wraps.

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As for Star Wars? Aside from one international trailer, in hindsight Disney and Lucasfilm deserve credit. Heck, only now are they even releasing details as to who has surprise voice cameos in the movie. That’s respecting an audience, while selling a movie at the same time. That’s got to be a decent way forward, right?

Here’s hoping, when we get to see the final cut of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, we find out that the same has applied all along.