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Not sure how the community will feel about this question but its one that I've been wondering more and more about every time I see yet another movie do this. It has to do with design trends so let's see how this goes.

I'm talking about the bar at the top, usually black, with the name of the film in it throughout the entire length of the commercial. More and more movie trailers are doing this. Where did this design trend come from and why? Is there a media I'm unaware of that allows you to click on the movie name or something?

Examples:

Check this out:

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My guess is someone said "Hey, there's a lot of waisted space up there? Can't we fill it with something?" –  Scott Jul 24 '13 at 14:35
    
Design trends are just that...trends. They come and go. Sometimes without a particular rhyme or reason. –  DA01 Jul 24 '13 at 14:38
    
I wonder how recent this trend is, I don't remember it being a popular technique –  Adam Schuld Jul 30 '13 at 12:02
    
I have to figure there's something more to it. Maybe Widescreen? I don't know, thats what I'm trying to figure out. But its not like any other industry has adopted this style or any standard commercial style. Maybe some movie association has mandated all movies must comply by a certain date? –  Ryan Jul 30 '13 at 20:54
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This isn't a standard commercial style. The hashtags/title and release date aren't part of the trailer. They're just thrown in by some uploaders to make use of the letterboxing space because theatrical releases are presented in a CinemaScope (2.35:1) aspect ratio while YouTube displays all videos in 16:9. But most official trailers don't have them, and especially if the video isn't hosted on YouTube (e.g. go to the Apple trailers or the official website for the films). –  Lèse majesté Aug 13 '13 at 5:23
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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted
+300

I'm going to attack this from a research perspective, but also include information to make this relevant to graphic design.

'Letterboxing' Movie Information

I did some research and couldn't find any article that referenced this technique specifically. Nothing. Anywhere. I did, however, find some good information about movie trailers out in the process. I also emailed the website Trailer Addict{1} to see if they had any information about this trend and they had a great moderator willing to enlighten me with some solid information:

Hey Adam,

Yes, this is a growing trend and it sort of annoys us. The idea is more for actual television than internet. Usually the release date is not mentioned until the end of the spot, but with this it's a constant reminder to the viewer of when the film is being released, especially if they decide to step away before spot ends.

The addition of the hashtag for twitter is pretty much there to enjoy the open black space and extra marketing. A lot of times we'll just cut this area out to bring the video back to proper dimensions.

I think this logic makes sense from an intuitive perspective even if it doesn't appeal to my designer sense. It adds another area of focus and therefore I would argue makes the viewer less engaged. It is interesting to note though, that this technique is only used on TV Spots. I couldn't find any movie trailer that extended outside of a minute that used this technique-- I challenge anyone to prove this assumption wrong. This reflects a different mentality between the two types. In the land of TV if a trailer has your attention, it is only briefly. Whereas in extended movie trailers, you are engaged enough that the text above the movie isn't necessary.

Changing Dynamic of Trailers

There has at the same time been a growing trend to increase the number of cuts in movie trailers. A study by Wired Magazine showed that the number of cuts in trailers has been steadily increasing since the 1940s.


Wired Magazine Study Wired Magazine Article - 6/8/13{2}


I believe this data trend supports the idea that those who create movie trailers are finding it increasingly difficult to capture the attention of viewers. Viewed through this lens, I can understand the reasoning behind utilizing the letterboxing space in TV spots. It is most likely thought of as way to get the information to a generation that has the focus of my first digital camera or my dog.

Getting the Necessary Social Buzz

Another observation is that this technique is primarily used with hashtags and doesn't predate the creation of Twitter. This is important to note because this technique's use seems to increase with the use of social media.

#NowYouSeeMe #Red2 #Getaway2

If you recognized that your target demographic was heavily engaged in social media, it would make sense to utilize those streams. According to Deming Hill{3}, the use of social media in trailers reflects the competitive landscape. To 'BLOW OUT' the premiere, it requires a Herculean effort and coordination to create the chance of going 'viral'. I would say that this technique is a way to create legs for opening night and is becoming successful in doing so.

Film Annex explains in an article the importance of hashtags. It builds micro communities around events and allows potential viewers to feel engaged in the process.

Why do hashtags matter? Because in today's fast-paced, information-filled world, hashtags are brief enough to draw attention to specific topics

In conclusion, this 'Letterboxing' information technique's use can be explained by its efficacy and the changing dynamics of the movie trailer. Although its logically appealing, I'm not sure if it is justified from a design perspective. It could make sense as a larger strategy to include this technique right before the premiere of an event to time a critical peak of buzz. In fact, I would think to a certain extent, this probably happens.


Sources

{1} : Thanks to Trailer Addict for taking time out to answer this question. They live and breathe TV trailers over there. (http://www.traileraddict.com)

{2} : Part of a Wired Study called 'The Art of the Trailer'

{3} : Deming Hill, An Executive Guide to Social Media

{4} : Film Annex, Building Communities Around Hashtags

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Based on that feedback, I wonder if a big reason is the "Tivo" effect. By having the release date static across the top it 'sticks' a bit more when users are FFWing through commercials on their DVR. –  DA01 Aug 19 '13 at 2:08
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It's funny you say that because I actually noticed that today on the Jobs movie trailer. They had it in a white letterbox area and it really was easy to notice even when fast forwarding. –  Adam Schuld Aug 19 '13 at 2:24
    
Ahh, nice extra find! I don't have any of those DVR/TIVO devices so that's something I hadn't considered. –  Ryan Aug 19 '13 at 16:18
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I can think of a few possible reasons:

  • If you're not paying attention or walk out mid-way, you'll still have seen the name of the film. One of the ways adverts are tested (if/when adverts are tested...) is by impact on name recognition, so it's possible the trend is fuelled by performing well in this specific type of test.
  • It taps in to a middle-aged executive's idea of how social media works. "The kids of today don't want to wait until the end of a trailer to know what to tweet about! They'll be posting things like "OMG #theconjuring" before the ad has even finished!"
  • If any frame or clip from the trailer is taken and used online anywhere, it still advertises the film (unless the ugly black bar is cropped out)

I'm not aware of and can't think of any aesthetics reasons for it - it just distracts from the main action and breaks any sense of immersion the trailer might be building up.

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If thats the case why aren't we seeing this in other industries? Its not like every cereal company plasters their name at the top in similar ways. Or retail stores announcing some new sale date all the same way. –  Ryan Jul 30 '13 at 20:55
    
That's true for the first point. For the second and third, movie trailers are online talking points more than other types of advert: it's common for people to scrutinize and re-post movie posters and rare for people to do the same for cereal adverts, and stills from movie trailers are often used in blogs, memes, articles etc. –  user568458 Jul 30 '13 at 20:58
    
Okay so what about television? Not like ABC, Fox, CBS and NBC all woke up one day and decided to promote their premiers in the same way. Somethings just strange about this to me. –  Ryan Jul 30 '13 at 21:58
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I like this answer. In the world of advertising there are prophets that come up with "brilliant" new "ideas" for the "magic" recipe every day. This will be just one of those people's brilliant ideas that a few people in the industry will be following. It'll either run its course or it'll stick around. Movie promotion tends to be highly formulaic anyway. Basically every movie trailer within a genre has the same plot, same themes regardless of the movie. Movie advertising is less about creativity and more about following known formulas. –  thomasrutter Aug 13 '13 at 4:00
    
When it comes to something new like social media, they'll all be falling over themselves trying to figure out ways of exploiting it, some which will seem strange and out of touch with reality - as in point 2 in this answer - and you'll see them copy each other too. –  thomasrutter Aug 13 '13 at 4:02
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Since you placed a bounty.....

My guess is someone said "Hey, there's a lot of waisted space up there? Can't we fill it with something?"

Often design trends are nothing more than this. Someone in marketing had the idea and started doing it. All others followed that idea. After all, from a marketing standpoint it is a good idea. I highly doubt there was any research or reasoning other than "use that space" for the initial display. Afterwards, results may have been better so it was continued and a trend was born.

Why you don't see it in other industries....

Aspect ratio mismatch.
Feature films are often not shot in 16:9 (177:1) format. Many are shot in 2.39:1 which translates to letter boxing on modern television sets, even widescreen sets. This leaves the space at the top and bottom of the screen. In addition, it allows the producers to use direct film footage without the need to crop or "pan & scan" to determine the best portion of a shot to display.

Other industries shoot and produce their advertisements specifically for television markets so they produce to size at 16:9 aspect.

If you watch television stations such as TBS or TNT when they run older 4:3 commercials, they place their brand (station) identification on the left and right side of the screen. In that sense Ted Turner's companies are doing something similar albeit for a different aspect ratio mismatch.

What I'd like to know is why in 2013 CBS still shows Big Brother in 4:3 format. Even in HD it's still 4:3. Too cheap to upgrade equipment I guess. :)

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I'm pretty sure this trend comes from TV industry and heavily influenced by the internet.

Main reasons and reasoning, in my opinion:

1) Making trailers is an art. That epic narrator voice combined with sick editing skills produce, 90% of the time, trailers that are better than the movies themselves. In other words, you gotta make the trailer count as much as possible. Especially if your movie is not a blockbuster.

2) Primetime TV spots (or regular tv spots, when compared to online advertising) are very expensive. Either they show less of the movie or they show more of the movie and the movie name pops for a shorter time. It's a struggle.

3) You don't want to stretch or crop your image, so letterboxing on home TVs is inevitable. Thus, "empty/free space".

4) The target market is used to seeing the name of the movie/series right below/above the video, on youtube or other video sites.

5) Twitter and #hashtags. #nuffsaid

6) ...Which led the TV industry to start making overlays of hashtags for their TV Series. This DOES have an actual impact on viewing ratings, because the tag will be more memorable, will be used more, and then friends and followers will see that subject coming up more and will want to get into the conversation.

7) Movie industry saw in this a way to stick the name of their movie better in people's heads, as well as increasing volume of talk about the movie (especially on twitter). This is really important, by the way, when you want to release a new, original, non-billion-dollar-budget movie. It's hard for a newcomer to be remembered at the ticket booth when there's "Superman 8", "Xmen 5" and "Fast and Furious to the Moon" as your competition.

I have no idea about the official industry term, but I'd bet $10 that inside the industry it's something like "tag" (as in "I finished the trailer" "Did you remember to tag it up?") while to the target market it's something like "brand" (as in "a branded trailer has much higher retention and conversion rates, and lowers the overall cost of social media marketing by X%")

EDIT:

Forgot to explain my opinion on the conversion and trend:

As for the last two trailers (and all trailers that didn't use a generic white font over black background), unfortunately it seems that ONE trend is to call ever more attention to this (i.e. ever LESS attention to the trailer itself). This is far from the main trend, IMHO. But I think the reasoning went like this:

1) TV Stations started "tagging" their trailers for next episodes and such.

2) Movie industry started tagging their trailers for less popular movies. Possible reasons stated above.

3) Movie industry started putting movie title instead of a hashtags, because hashtags are hashtags. Kinda like how QRCodes are QRCodes. They kind of have their uses, but it should be way less than the current trend.

4) Movie industry saw possibility of branding the space, using fonts, colors and elements from the visual identity/motion design into the "header" of the trailer. Not just necessarily a good thing, of course.

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