If you’re not a Star Wars fan, stop reading now.
Normally when someone starts a blog post that’s going to draw parallels between a popular culture reference and marketing, they’d start with, “If you’re not a fan, that’s OK, you can still follow along.” I’ve said that myself in the past.
But honestly, if you’re not a Star Wars fan, if the trailers for the upcoming film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens don’t get your heart racing and emotions flying, skip the article and head straight down to the comments and tell me why. I mean it!
Even Matthew McConaughey was balling his eyes out.
Now, is the rest of this post just a not-so-subtle excuse for me to talk about Star Wars and the new movie?
Yes… and no.
As I thought about the third trailer, in particular, I began to notice some production elements that really spoke to me. Not just as a Star Wars fan, but as a blogger and marketer. I also became keenly aware of how the trailers have progressed over time, referring both to the three trailers for the latest film, Episode VII, but also the trailers for the original trilogy and prequels.
Let’s refresh our memories a bit, and then we’ll get into some of the more salient points of interest.
Here they are, in order of chronological release:
Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope – Official Trailer
Film Release: May 25, 1977
Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Official Trailer
Film Release: May 21, 1980
Star Wars, Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi – Official Trailer
Film Release: May 25, 1983
Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Official Trailer
Film Release: May 19, 1999
Star Wars, Episode II: Attack Of The Clones – Official Trailer
Film Release: May 16, 2002
Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith – Official Trailer
Film Release: May 19, 2005
Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Official Trailers
Film Release: Dec. 18, 2015
Trailer #1, Nov. 28, 2014:
Trailer #2, Apr. 16, 2015:
Trailer #3, Oct. 19, 2015:
BONUS: 45-Second TV Spot, Nov. 08, 2015
BONUS: 60-Second TV Spot, Nov. 13, 2015:
Of course, the production value of the trailers has improved tremendously over the years, thanks to dramatically improved technology, and the ever-growing revenue from the previous films. So we’ll ignore that element and focus instead on style and content.
What do these trailers have in common? What’s different?
More importantly, what can we take from these trailers as bloggers and marketers and small business owners? Clearly none of us have the budget to produce a video for our business at this level, nor would it make sense. Film trailers are an industry unto themselves.
I have a few ideas, so if you’re still with me, let’s explore them together. (Though if you want to go back and watch those one more time, I’ll understand.)
You’ve Got 150 Seconds To Tell Your Story
Originally, film trailers appeared after the feature film, hence the name ‘trailer’ – but that was quickly found to be ineffective as much of the audience was leaving the theatre at that time. Shifted to the beginning of films, the short advertisements were designed to get a theatre audience excited about another movie that was coming out.
Trailers were limited to 2 minutes, 30 seconds, except for one time per year when a studio could issue a longer trailer as an exception (though this was changed to 2 minutes in 2014).
Trailers consist of various key scenes from the film being advertised, often augmented with large, descriptive text describing the story, and an underscore generally pulled from studio music libraries. And you can see examples of this in the above Star Wars trailers.
All three of the trailers from the original trilogy (Episodes IV, V and VI) use a narrator, text overlays, and dramatic scenes from the films. It’s not until 1999 with the release of The Phantom Menace that the trailers begin using brief snippets of text and clever spicing of dialogue to convey what the film is about.
That trailer is just 2:12 long. It opens with a scene from a strange planet, with familiar music in the background. Text floats up:
“Every generation has a legend…”
“Every journey has a first step…”
“Every saga has a beginning…”
At that point, you can hear the subtle, mechanical breathing of the first trilogy’s villain, Darth Vader.
Suddenly there are exciting scenes, spaceships flying, laser battles, strange new aliens, and it’s not until a full minute into the trailer that there’s any dialogue. The unmistakable voice of Samuel L. Jackson saying, “You refer to prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it’s this boy?”
And then we see our first glimpse of the boy known as Anakin Skywalker, whom most of us know is destined to become Lord Vader himself.
The rest of the trailer introduces some new characters, some old, familiar characters, and suggests some of the struggle Anakin and the others will be facing.
In other words, within just a couple of minutes, the video gets us, the audience, excited about the film and provides a basic understanding for what it’s going to be about.
Like it or not, movie trailers and similar communication vehicles have been conditioning us since the 1950’s to be told, quickly, what something is about so that we can make a snap decision and move on, one way or the other.
Your social media shares of your latest blog posts are just like film trailers in this regard! You’ve got seconds to pique someone’s interest and get them to take an action – click through to your post – or they’re gone.
Your headline functions in similar fashion, particularly when it comes to Twitter, since it’s likely that it’s the headline most people will see as tweets anyways.
For instance, when I tweeted out a link to a new blog post that I’d written about SEO tips for entrepreneurs, it was seen by 341 users, retweeted 3 times, and garnered 0 clicks. At the time of that tweet I had around 20,000 followers, all fairly targeted in that they’re interested in what I’m writing about, and so this single tweet was viewed by just 1.7% of my followers, plus some viewers from the retweets. And not one was interested at that time to read more.
Now, over the next couple of days, I tweeted alternate versions of the title, as well as specific tips from the post, and garnered thousands more views and dozens of clicks.
Looking back, I could review all of the tweets that I shared about that specific article and determine which ones performed the best, looking at both engagement and clicks. Such analysis could reveal that tweets in a certain style, or with a particular hashtag, performed best and should be emulated in the future.
Prepending tweets with “NEW BLOG” is actually an ongoing experiment that I’m running, to see if it is effective in drawing more attention to those articles that I’ve just published. Clearly it didn’t work for this tweet, but I’ve got others to analyze that might have had better results.
(Your Twitter Analytics at analytics.twitter.com will provide all of this information to you, though you’ll need to sift through each and every tweet you’ve posted to get it. You can always export the data and then do sorts or filters to highlight tweets with specific text, hashtags, etc.)
Movie studies do similar experiments with their trailers all the time. Many films will have A, B and C trailers, where one might focus on the film’s action or comedic moments, while another focuses on the overall story, and the third features the movie’s love interest. Each is designed to test which elements of the film resonate best, and/or target a specific audience.
This is why so much care needs to be taken with your article headlines and social shares, and not be such a stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder. Not only is your article readership depending on the ability of those elements to rope people in, but they’re also tremendous opportunities to conduct experiments and learn about what your audience is interested in.
I use the same technique when promoting virtual events – you only have a few moments to grab someone’s attention and get them intrigued by your event – so include teaser videos in your virtual event plan.
To help with this, I recommend using Agorapulse. You can use the scheduler to set up social shares of your latest articles over the course of the next day or two, and change up how you’re introducing the article each time. Then, once they’ve gone out, Agorapulse will tell you exactly how each share performed.
Reveal Everything, And Nothing
You know the other name people have for trailers, right? Teasers. They tease us. We get a glimpse into a new movie and it’s interesting, exciting, motivating… just enough to plant a seed in our minds that, “oh! We should go see that!” So that later on, when the movie is released, you remember that teaser. Maybe not what was in it, but the emotionsaround it.
You remember that the movie looked good, based on a 2 and a half minute video, and use that as a basis for a trip to the theatre. Given the cost of movie tickets, popcorn and drinks today, that’s a great sale! (Though considering I have two small children, my perception of the cost of seeing a movie is from 2010, but I assume it’s only gotten more expensive.)
In thinking about the content of the trailer for a moment, the scenes and dialogues it chooses to share, the moments which are revealed… that’s a tricky line to walk, isn’t it? Reveal too much, and I won’t need to see the movie (or maybe won’t want to). Reveal too little, and there’s a risk my interest won’t be sufficiently grabbed.
A great trailer needs to share just enough to clue you in to what the movie is about, without giving away all of the plot lines and twists.
This is where I think it’s amazing to see how Star Wars, and the successive trailers, have progressed.
With the first few, we’re told right up front that this is what the story is about.
By the time we get to The Force Awakens, we get a thrilling trailer that tells us virtually nothing about the upcoming film.
There are glimpses of our past heroes Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C3PO. And villains like the Stormtroopers, and even a whisper of Darth Vader’s legacy.
The most telling line is a voiceover from Luke Skywalker, in which he says, “The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power too.”
For fans of the saga, that’s an incredibly powerful segment. We’re reminded of Anakin Skywalker’s fall and redemption, and Luke’s own rise to power… and suddenly we learn that Luke is talking to someone else who is in his family and can use the Force.
But that’s it! That’s all we know. We’ll have to watch the movie to find out who this family member is, and how they’re going to use their newfound power. Not to mention what’s happened to the Empire and the Rebellion over the 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi and the destruction of Emperor Palpatine at Endor.
Just like our initial shares and headlines need to be brief, to take advantage of our audience’s limited amount of time, those shares also need to be powerful teasers that reveal just enough of what we’re about to talk about to pique their interest.
Say too little, and your audience won’t be interested enough to click through. Say too much, and they won’t need to.
Interestingly, that’s a thought process that you must continue down through the rest of your writing. From your headline to the first sentence and beyond, each must compel the reader to go on to the next.
That compelling continuity must also exist across our content, not just within it.
Do You Have Your Own Theme Music?
When George Lucas started looking for someone to provide the score for the original Star Wars, he said, “I was looking for somebody who really understood classical movie scoring, and I was talking to Steve Spielberg about it, and he had worked with [John Williams] on Jaws and said, ‘This is the man for you. He’s perfect. He really understands that medium.” And once I worked with him on Star Wars, I wouldn’t have anybody else doing it.”
That sounds nice, of course, but what does that really mean? What is classical movie scoring?
As a connoisseur of great movie soundtracks, I thought I already had a fair idea, but I decided to Google it anyways for this article to see what comes up. While the results were mostly links to collections of music, Wikipedia did have this interesting definition:
A film score (also sometimes called background score, background music, film music or incidental music) is original music written specifically to accompany a film. The score forms part of the film’s soundtrack, which also usually includes dialogue and sound effects, and comprises a number of orchestral, instrumental or choral pieces called cues which are timed to begin and end at specific points during the film in order to enhance the dramatic narrative and the emotional impact of the scene in question.
That doesn’t really explain to me what Lucas might have meant by “classical movie scoring” though so I needed to dig deeper.
Did you know that film scores were originally just music intended to drown out the noise of the projector? That’s because, initially, films were silent. They were often shown in churches or large rooms, as there was no such thing as a movie theatre. But the damn projectors were too loud!
So proprietors began playing music, and soon, film producers were finding specific pieces of music to play alongside their films. It was most often played on piano or organ, but some began to use entire orchestras.
That’s when film composers were born.
Louis F. Gottschalk was one of the first, in 1914, scoring films for The Oz Film Manufacturing Company (Frank Baum’s production company that tried to followup on the success of The Wizard of Oz.)
For the next twenty years, film scores continued to evolve, including increasingly original work, and eventually incorporation into the film itself. But even then, the connections to the onscreen movie were tenuous at best. It wasn’t until King Kong in 1933 that we begin to see the kinds of cues and themes that we’ve come to expect with film scores today.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
By the 1940’s, scoring of narrative features was becoming part of most film music, though film scoring overall was still decades behind the technical innovations of concert music.
That’s why a thematic approach to film scores occurred decades after themes, or leitmotif, was seen in classical music, most traditionally associated with Wagner’s tremendous operas.
Not coincidentally, the Star Wars saga is referred to not just as science fiction, but as a Space Opera. It’s part of a sub-genre of films that are set almost entirely in space, are melodramatic, and usually feature fighting between people with advanced abilities. Blade Runner, Ender’s Game, and Flash Gordon are other great examples.
So George Lucas clearly intended Star Wars to have a classical, opera-like orchestration, rather than, say, new age or jazz music. And he wanted to make sure he brought on someone who understood that and was well-versed in that style of composition.
And so we’re back to why Spielberg recommended Williams. If anyone in the world comes up to you and starts humming Duuuh-de… Duuuh-de… Duh-de, Duh-de, Duh-de… you’d know instantly that they were humming the theme for the great white shark, the iconic antagonist from Spielberg’s Jaws.
That thematic style, which I’ve written about before, is one of the defining traits of both John Williams and the Star Wars saga. Luke’s theme. Han Solo and Princess Leia’s theme. Darth Vader’s theme. Those notes and chords remind us of those characters and our emotional attachment to them, whether they’re visible on the screen or not.
They’re heard throughout each of the original trilogy and prequel trailers, and as John Williams himself hoped, they can be found in the latest trailers as well.
“I can’t imagine that there will not be some references to the existing stories that we know, which would necessitate and make appropriate the use of some of the earlier themes.” – John Williams
Why do you think Williams felt it was so important that not only the music, but the films themselves contained references to the “existing stories” of the previous films?
The key word there is stories. The Star Wars films, like every film, are stories. And we crave great stories. We want to affirm who we are, and experience the similarities between ourselves and others, real or imagined. And when we’ve experienced a great story and created that relationship between ourselves and the story, or ourselves and characters within the story, we want more.
Hollywood knows this, which is why we have eighteen Rocky sequels. If you can keep creating new, unique stories that have old, relatable aspects to them, audiences will love them. And want more.
Do you think that technique applies equally to content? Do you think it would be a good idea to establish leitmotif’s for your blog and business? Do you think that telling rich, relatable stories through your articles, and carrying consistent themes and ideas through all of them would interest your readers and keep them craving more?
That’s the main point. To use themes and aspects of the past that tie everything together. As Williams went on to say, “In each case I’ve been able to use the earlier material and develop new material that would coexist with and hopefully feel like a part of the fabric of the film.”
Part of the fabric.
If you listen to the latest trailers, the most unique of all of the films, you can still hear those notes, those chords, those themes woven throughout. It’s new and exciting, yet just like all of the others.
Create themes that reflect your business and resonate with your audience, and weave them into the fabric of your blog and brand.
And Then Make Everything New
From the initial Star Wars release in 1999 to the last of the prequels in 2005, each film’s trailer did what virtually every other movie’s trailer does. But something changed with The Force Awakens; something was new and different. Did you catch it?
Listen to the first 60 seconds of the first trailer:
Ok, perhaps that one’s subtle, and the second trailer even more so. Listen to the entire third trailer then… and I do mean listen. (I know it’s hard not to watch and get excited again, but bear with me, we’re coming to the home stretch.)
First of all, what themes did you hear? Did you catch Han & Leia’s theme as the Millennium Falcon was roaring through the crashed star destroyer, and while Han was talking to Rey and Finn? (Coincidence? I think not, by the way.) And note then when that theme transitions into a darker, richer version of Luke Skywalker’s theme.
But taken as a whole, the 2:35 which comprises the third trailer represents something that’s totally new and unique.
Did you catch that?
The third trailer is an original score.
That’s incredibly unique in the film industry, and incredibly powerful!
The leitmotifs are there, of course, helping us to emotionally tie what we’re seeing to what we’ve heard in the past. The auditory cues are there as well.
Right from the very first second of the trailer and note of the score. There’s a brief scene of what looks like a star field, but then it slides open to reveal Rey, one of the new characters, in a protective desert suit, exploring wreckage. The first note and subsequent notes are keyed to Rey’s movements, and then as we see her ship rise up from the sands of
Tatooine (no, it’s Jakku!), you can just catch rising notes from a harp to match.
The piano chords, strings, and then percussion all build to a crescendo, leading us through the visual cues, some ominous dialogue, and then the excitement of familiar themes and characters.
Familiar, yet totally different.
Did J.J. Abrams really need to invest in a new score for this trailer to be a success, and help to further incite what is already insane levels of anticipation from fans?
Yet as I watched the trailer the first or second time, and took note of the music, I realized that the score was truly supporting the trailer and helping to build the excitement. While using stock music from the studio’s libraries would have been normal, it’s what everyone else does, it would have been just that. Normal.
Sure, Star Wars fans would have been excited regardless, but if you think about it as you watch the trailer again, I think you’ll agree that it’s better, it’s stronger, thanks to the original score.
Don’t believe me? Watch it while it’s muted. Or perhaps while playing one of the original soundtrack’s pieces from your phone. Does it impact you the same?
Abrams and Williams did something special with this trailer. They created a brilliant piece of content that wasn’t just better than what had been done previously, it was 10x better, as Rand Fishkin might say.
It’s setting the bar quite high for the film itself, which will no doubt deliver.
That, too, is a lesson we can take to our own content. Whether it’s a blog post or a social media share, or an interview we’re doing on a Blab or Hangout, what can we do to make that better? A lot better?
Instead of using some random piece of clip art that you like, take the time to create a custom graphic in Canva that really speaks to your audience and resonates with them.
Instead of using articles on other sites to answer your prospect’s questions, take the time to create your own blog and guide that answers the question even better.
Instead of winging it in an interview, take the time to create some notes in advance by paying attention to the host and their audience, and thinking about the topic of the interview.
It’s these moments where we have an opportunity to put in the extra effort, and we either do or we don’t (there is no try). But when we do, we create for ourselves a chance to make a deeper, richer impression on our audience.
What did it do for Abrams and Star Wars?
They broke Fandango.
Timing the release of this third, awesome trailer just before online ticket preorders went live for the December film was brilliant. Excitement levels and interest were so intense that Fandango, where millions of hungry Star Wars fans went to order their tickets, suffered outages and server downtime.
Love Your Audience
It was a glorious bit of marketing. And therein lies our lesson.
Star Wars has had a cult following for nearly four decades. Even films that were not so positively reviewed and received (The Phantom Menace, sorry Jar Jar fans) still were incredibly successful. Abrams easily could have trusted to that legacy and created an average, yet still incredibly successful, movie.
But he hasn’t, and the trailers are evidence of that. Heck, many of us would have paid money for the Millennium Falcon flight scene alone, right?
Tell a great story. Write compelling teasers and headlines. Go above and beyond what’s expected. Aren’t these some of the basic tenets of good content marketing? Good versus “Good Enough” as Ann Handley would put it.
“I want to stop playing it safe with my marketing, and Be Bold like @AnnHandley” [tweet this]
J.J. Abrams is taking Star Wars in a bold new direction, as I see it, and that is, of course, incredible for the fans. But it’s also an incredible example for all of us who are marketing and are blogging, and who wish to reach an audience and not just engage them, but enrapture them.
When I’m talking in a Facebook Live about blogging I get excited about all of the incredible things we can do with this Voice and this Platform that we’ve created for ourselves, and I want that excitement to spread as virally as any article. Whatever it is that you’re in business for, I would hope your passion for it shines through and quite literally infects your audience.
Abrams isn’t making the latest Star Wars special because of money or fame or other such motivations. He’s doing it because he loves Star Wars and he loves the fans. He’s a fan himself! He’s following his passion, and we couldn’t ask for a better example.
Over To You, Gold Leader
I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey we’ve taken together. There are two things that I’d like for you to do now.
First, please consider sharing this article with all of your Star Wars or Marketing friends, as I’d love to hear what they think about it. All of your favorite buttons are right below.
Second, please know that while Blogging Brute is “home base” for me, I do a lot of writing on The Social Media Hat, on LinkedIn and Medium, and other sites as guest blogs as well. I want to invite you to subscribe to my email newsletter so that I can share with you whatever I’ve written, regardless of what galaxy it’s published.
May the Force be with you. 🙂