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Why movie trailers now begin with five-second ads for themselves

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Jason Bourne takes off his jacket, punches a man unconscious, looks forlornly off camera, and then a title card appears. The ad — five seconds of action — is a teaser for the full Jason Bourne trailer, which immediately follows the teaser. In fact, the micro-teaser and trailer are actually part of the same video, the former being an intro for the latter.

So begins the era of the teaser within the trailer. The trend is the latest example of metahype, a marketing technique in which brands promote their advertisements as if they're cultural events unto themselves. Last year, the studio advertised the teaser for Ant-Man with a ten-second cut of the footage reduced to an imperceptive scale. And in two weeks, Disney will celebrate Star Wars Day on May the 4th, an entire holiday dedicated to promoting the marketing around the films in the fictional galaxy far, far away.

But where previous metahype promoted key dates in a marketing campaign — like official trailer releases and fan celebrations — the burgeoning trend of teasers within trailers exist purely to retain the viewer's attention in that exact moment.

Take for example, the trailer for Independence Day: Resurgence that was released this morning: the first 10 seconds are visually arresting — an alien ship turning Earth's atmosphere into flames, an upside-down skyscraper skewering a city like a giant dart. But the images, free of context, make no sense. They're simply loud and spectacular.

What follows this teaser is a (comparably) slower sales pitch, one that features the same footage, but takes time to explain what is happening in the scenes and why. The structure is built for the new way people discover videos on the internet. The Independence Day trailer may run as an advertisement before another YouTube video, and viewers must be convinced to not click the "skip ad" button. Or the trailer may be shared on Facebook, in which case, those who come across it — people who may have their smartphones or laptops muted — must be convinced in a couple seconds to stop scrolling and give the full video a trailer.

The teaser within the trailer speaks to a moment in which we have so many distractions and choices that marketers must sell us on giving a trailer three minutes of our time. This practice isn't limited to movie trailers, though. Next time you're on Facebook, pay attention to how the popular videos in your newsfeed are edited. Is the most interesting image the first thing you see? And does that trick get you to stop scrolling and watch?

Here are two more examples, both from 20th Century Fox. Feel free to share others you've spotted in the comments.


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