In recent years, with the advance of digital technology and the proliferation of streaming platforms, we have seen a serious explosion of quality film and TV content. And everything - from indie darlings filmed on iPhones to high production value blockbusters – is vying for our attention. So it’s no surprise that marketing campaigns have had to step up their game, tapping into innovative ways to capture and keep our attention on new releases. And leading the charge? Teaser posters.
In fact, a teaser poster now often marks the start of a campaign years before a film or TV show’s planned release. So what exactly is a teaser poster? Well, in comparison with conventional posters, a teaser poster is typically very pared back, employing a minimalist style.
This can be for a combination of practical reasons – for instance, design choices for the film such as casting or production design may not yet be complete – and for creative reasons – as the audience, we can ‘fill in’ any blanks with our imaginations. Great teaser posters can utilise extremely limited information – such as a title, release date or simple imagery – to whet our appetites and build hype.
But there’s more to effective teaser posters than just keeping things simple - good examples are actually the result of a very considered series of choices strategically picked to create the maximum impact on its intended audience by dropping ‘clues’ about the film or show. In order to build intrigue, it’s important for a teaser poster to carefully balance design principles with audience expectations. Let’s examine some popular approaches to this.
Existing franchises often feature a beloved or iconic character teasing us with the expectation that the new film will explore that character’s story in greater detail than ever before. If this character is a very visible part of the cultural lexicon, these teasers may not even need to feature the film title. Examples of this are ‘Toy Story 4’s ‘Woody’ poster, below, and Star Wars: Episode 1, above, featuring the shadow of Darth Vader looming large.
As they don’t need to include a lot of information, teaser posters can stand out from the competition by creating a striking impact with large amounts of negative space such as in the teaser for ‘Black Widow’. This effect is enhanced further still when presented on a large scale such as the side of a bus or on a billboard.
Films without franchise appeal need to clearly establish a mood or tone that suggests genre and/or story. It’s notable that these types of film will usually need to convey slightly more information to generate excitement – perhaps the name of the director, the lead actor or a clear tagline as in the teaser for ‘The VVitch’ – ‘Evil takes many forms’ – an invitation to the audience to imagine the dark world of the film.
A combination of light/bright and dark imagery is an easy way to grab attention. For a sequel like ‘Frozen II’, using the existing colour palette from the original film’s marketing triggers recognition for the film’s strong visual identity.
Using a brand identity in a savvy manner is key to the design of many teaser posters – especially as we continue to see the trend of sequels to films from several decades ago such as ‘Bill and Ted Face the Music’ that employ the warm glow of nostalgia as a central part of their appeal.
Another way to trigger audience recognition and harness the power of a film’s brand is by using a logo. There are a myriad of ways to bring this into play, as you can see in the evolution of different teaser posters centred around the Batman logo over the years.
From the glossy look of 1989’s ‘Batman Returns’...
...to the grittier looks of the logo in ‘Batman vs Superman’...
...and then ‘The Batman’
(not forgetting ‘The Lego Batman Movie’)
It's clear that there are endless creative ways to play out this theme.
For the fans
A lot of the best modern film and TV marketing campaigns acknowledge existing fanbases, adopting and subverting cultural knowledge to heighten anticipation of the final product. Take for example the set of teaser posters for the new Amazon series ‘Rings of Power’ which depict the hands of various characters.
These characters are as yet unknown to the public, but the fanbase – made up of readers of Tolkien’s original works and also those who have enjoyed the more recent movies – have already been analysing this poster imagery on forums and social media, discussing who these characters might be and what stories may feature in the series. What appears on the surface as a simple design concept is already paying off by creating talking points and a space for the fans’ imagination to thrive.
Teaser posters have become an established part of film marketing campaigns, introducing a fun and fevered build up to some of the biggest new releases. Great examples recognise how the filmmaking landscape has changed and give space for audiences to participate in and feel connection to the work – whether through sharing exciting designs on social media, discussing the content with friends and strangers, or being encouraged to watch an old classic in anticipation of a new reworking. They encourage ‘buy-in’ to films and TV shows earlier than ever before and in a saturated marketplace, are an increasingly essential tool for ensuring a film reaches its audience.
We've got heaps of poster art briefs open at the moment, check them out and try your hand!
Adam Blakemore works under the name Strelka as a freelance designer specialising in film poster design and movie marketing. You can check out his work at www.strelka.co.uk