Trailers Before Trailers Green Band
If you’re the kind of person who seeks out movie trailers when they debut online instead of passively watching them when you happen to be at a theater, you’ve likely noticed a trend that’s become increasingly prevalent over the past year or two: three-to-five second mini-trailers, featuring snippets of what you’re about to see in the full trailer, are being tacked on to the beginning of full-length trailers on sites like YouTube and Facebook. Call these things what you like – trailers before trailers, pre-trailers, or the industry-preferred term “bumpers” – but they have been annoying me and many of my colleagues for a while now, and since absolutely nothing else of any importance is going on in our country at the moment, I figured this was worth exploring further.

I first noticed this trend about a year ago and quietly hoped the practice would stop, but since I’ve only seen it grow in popularity over the past few months, I decided to reach out to some key players at the studios and some of the world’s top trailer editing companies to learn more about these bumpers, find out why they came about in the first place, and see how they might evolve in the future.

Blame the Millennials

“The whole idea behind the trend really has to do with the millennial generation and their lack of attention,” says Kazadi Katambwa, a producer at Buddha Jones, an advertising firm who crafted trailers for films like Wonder Woman, It, and Dunkirk. “If you notice, all the bumpers are five seconds long. Green bands in front of a trailer are [also] five seconds long. So what they discovered is that when people see the green band, they check out. So those bumpers are really just to keep people on until the main event, if you will.”

Katambwa points out that the creation of bumpers was a reactionary measure taken by studios. “As far as the research went, it was ‘People are clicking away. OK, how do we react to that? Let’s give them bumpers.’ So it wasn’t so much that the studios tried to lead the way, it was more of a reaction to what the market is doing,” he tells me. “If you look at social media, if you go back five, six, seven years ago, you didn’t have any Instagram spots, any trailers on Twitter or Snapchat. It’s a reaction to the changing market and what the audience is gravitating toward.”

How Bumpers Are Devised

It may or may not surprise you to learn that a company can devote months of work to a full trailer, but the bumpers are often concocted at the last minute. “It’s interesting because we spend so much time on the trailers – we can work on them up to a year on some movies – and there’s a lot of research, a lot of voices in the room, a lot of trial and error to get it to this perfect place,” says Carrie Gormley, Partner/President of Theatrical Marketing at Create Advertising, an agency that produced trailers for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and Power Rangers. “And then often these teasers for the trailers are put together much quicker and without quite as much development. But we’ve been doing that for a year, so you know then what’s going to pop. You know what the big moments are, you know the big shots that are going to grab people, you’ve done that work already. So putting them together usually happens much quicker than putting the actual trailer together.”

It’s also important to remember that studios regularly pay to include trailers as a pre-roll ad in front of other YouTube videos. If you’re anything like me, you keep your mouse hovered over the exact spot where the “skip” button will appear on that ad after the first five seconds, timing your click perfectly to make sure you don’t watch one millisecond more of any ad than absolutely necessary before you see the thing you actually came there to watch. Yes, I’m aware I may be slightly more intense about this than your average YouTube viewer, which is the audience the studios are attempting to target with these ads. But for people who aren’t as ad-averse as I am, a flashy bumper for a trailer is far more likely to grab their attention and potentially delay their click of that “skip” button for a little while longer. When it comes to brand awareness, every second counts.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Not every studio is a participant in this trend. After an inspection of the YouTube channels of the traditional “big six” major film studios, Disney and Universal avoid the practice altogether, while 20th Century Fox opts to play just one second of the green band alert before the majority of their trailers. Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony all use bumpers to some degree, but Elias Plishner, EVP of Worldwide Digital Marketing for Sony Pictures Entertainment, tells me that their focus group testing resulted in data that’s impossible to ignore:

“Simply put, movie trailers need to be optimized for mobile platforms, especially when you are competing with hundreds of other forms of content in social news feeds. Sony Pictures was one of the first studios to embrace this strategy and now after fifteen months of launching trailers in this way, the data could not be more clear…These 3-5 second bumpers have helped our mobile-optimized trailers increase both retention and interest by almost four times, versus the exact same trailer without the bumper. There is no question about it: this is the way to compete with short attention spans and the abundance of messages on these platforms.”

After experimenting with them for a little while, bumpers have now become part of Sony’s standard operating procedure.

The Cinephile Factor

It’s clear that the studios are looking to reach as large an audience as possible. That’s part of their job, after all. But what about me and you, cinephiles and movie lovers who appreciate trailers as an art form unto themselves and who may view these bumpers as either an annoyance or, at worst, a blight on the trailer editing industry? It turns out we’re actually already being catered to, but we just might not know it. “The subset of movie fans and who prefer an untouched trailer are also a big part of our digital strategy,” Plishner tells me. “So the hundreds and hundreds of websites that we syndicate trailers to right after we launch online will always get a pristine trailer that we have not changed in any way – the bumpers are not meant for these platforms where people are actively opting in to watch a specific trailer that they want to see.”

I’ve chosen to watch trailers directly from the official studio channels on sites like YouTube and Facebook to avoid seeing ads from those third parties and pop-ups asking me to subscribe to their dumb channels. But now we know there’s a catch-22: it turns out those third parties are the only places you can watch a pristine cut of the trailer without the bumper attached. So it’s simply a matter of choosing the option that annoys you the least as a viewer. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather continue to give the studios my YouTube clicks and sit through their five second bumper than to reward some jackass who just reposts a version of the trailer to his own channel. But if you’re not a fan of YouTube at all and you’re still looking to avoid bumpers, here’s a pro tip: Apple Trailers counts as one of the third parties that always plays a pristine version. That seems like a pretty solid alternative to me.

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