Whether they get you excited, or instill you with rage, there's no denying that the trailer reaction is one of the most formidable methods of generating "hype", and has helped redefine the way that people prepare for the release of summer blockbusters... in that people now prepare for the release of summer blockbusters.
I'm not here to bash trailer reactions as a fad or a phase. That kind of dismissiveness actively refuses to understand the spectator landscape that is shaped by something as simple as people crowded round their computer gawping (and sometimes crying) at commercials. For the longest time, I thought trailer reactions were a niche practice, with vloggers riding the success of much bigger media entities. Then I saw this promo for the upcoming Pixar movie Inside Out.
Think about what we're looking at here. This is a method of marketing, adopting the form of an unofficial method of marketing, made into yet another method of marketing. Scroll down to find people reacting to the reaction, and you realize what a rabbit hole this is.
The Cabin in the Woods was wrong! The audience is not am insatiable cosmic beast that must be appeased. They can be conquered and tamed, and even made a functioning part of the industry itself. When you see people crying at the prospect of a movie they barely know anything about, or someone gasping and shouting in a way they never would if they weren't on camera, it's easy to say they're mindlessly hopping on board a hype train they didn't even know was running. The truth is, trailer reactions don't exist because we're all blindly echoing the marketing that's thrown at us. It's the opposite. They exist because we're all much, much more expressive than we used to be.
In days of yore, trailers mainly functioned as a means of exposure. Movies simply had to say "hey we exist!", and due to the relative lack of competition, audiences would flock to see them. Of course the original Star Wars broke box office records. It was 1977, what else are people gonna do? Read? That advertising environment just doesn't exist anymore.
Modern blockbusters can no longer say "hey we exist", nor even "you will enjoy this". The only message that will truly resonate with an interlocking, digitally savvy market is "everyone will like this. EVERYONE. And if you miss out on this, you're behind and will never catch up!" People respond to this idea not just by wanting to see the movie, but by showing others that they want to see the movie. We as a consumer base have so many ways to say things, yet so few ways to make people listen. So, we repeat what everyone else is listening to.
The PR departments for major studios absolutely love this, for the mere act of getting excited on camera surpasses regular advertising, generating that magical furor that rakes in the big bucks. Gone are the days of critics giving recommendations, or of movies making their money back with extended theatrical runs or home viewing sales. It's opening weekend or bust. Nothing captures that vital zeitgeist like the idea of compulsive viewing conjured by Youtube videos. The very emotions the audience needs to feel are laid out neatly in a video by your favorite internet personalities, and that's all the persuasion that needs to be done.