Posters have become the lesser cousin to trailers when it comes to the marketing for movies, particularly big blockbusters. The poster is usually released around the same time as the trailer or in some minor cases, a couple of months before just to get people interested.
As we have now gotten used to teaser trailers, the same happens with posters too. Teaser posters, glimpsing at a character or a location, can often be a simpler and cheaper way of getting people excited (or even aware) for a movie.
Posters are very rarely designed to get you interested in a movie or to get you to see the film. Most of the time they remind you a film is out or show the date of release, reminding you why you want to see the movie, with a cool picture or a widespread shot of the main star’s face (usually accompanied by a huge font for their name).
What if the poster was actually the only source of marketing? How would that change the way posters were made? Would it change the way films were marketed, if posters were the only way of getting information out and trailers didn’t exist?
The first major shift we’d see is more teaser posters. These posters would hint at a movie being released but probably for a good year before hand. There are already some great teaser posters, Cloverfield being a fantastic example. They would have slightly more detail in them and probably released on a more frequent schedule, like footage being released, bit by bit, with new characters, actors and screenshots of action added. It would become that a film had a collection of teaser posters rather than maybe two or three.
I hate character posters. They seem pointless and lack creativity. Unfortunately, the character poster would become a necessity in a world without trailers. It means that you would have one poster per character for the bigger, blockbuster films (like Guardians of the Galaxy is currently doing). It would be another way of advertising your stars but also releasing snippets of information to try to entice people towards a film.
The “main” poster
All movies have that one poster which becomes associated with a film. It usually becomes the front of the DVD/Blu-Ray box as well. I think this would be the biggest change. Not too long ago, posters for science-fiction or adventure movies had busy, exciting and very detailed images. Indiana Jones and Star Wars collected together key scenes and threw those on the poster in an attempt to show you what kinds of things you would see in the movie.
We have lost this, with posters that are very minimalist (but still effective, like Gravity) or posters which just show the main actors, their names and the movie’s title, hoping that star power will be enough (American Hustle for example).
For films with very little in the way of action and adventure, big stars will have to be your draw and we’ll see much more of the huge names and faces that are associated with movies. I doubt it’d change much for the smaller, independent films, which rely on word-of-mouth more than anything else anyway.
It would mean that studios would have to get much more creative with the way they produce their posters. We could get the “hologram” posters that move as you walk past or change images depending on where you stand. You may even find that posters have a collage effect, putting all of them together to create a scene in itself or make up a larger piece of marketing material.
The wider impact
Imagine a movie at the cinema “starting” at six o clock but actually beginning to be shown at about ten past 6, after the mandatory ten to fifteen minutes of adverts. No trailers but a quicker cinema experience.
Also imagine a cinema that is awash with even more movie posters than it is now. Billboards covered in movie posters, as well as the side of buses, bus stops and buildings. It feels like movie posters are everywhere now, imagine if they were the only marketing tool a studio could use.
It would have the effect of stopping trailers “spoiling” movies. No showing key plot details to entice viewers or showcasing the biggest and best action-sequence to get bums on seats.
Overall, an interesting idea but one that would be worse for everyone involved. Some film posters are very creative already and are still used as a key marketing tool, even if it’s not the only marketing tool. Other film posters are nothing more than a stop-gap or space saver for an area that won’t accommodate a trailer. It will mean a flux of posters, images and character stills rather than cool footage or three minutes of creative story-telling.