'Pete's Dragon' Trailer Shows How Marketing Has Lost the Art of Surprise and Anticipation

It may be an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and my own fading memory, but how I remember the marketing campaign for Gremlins was one fuelled by mystery and anticipation. First there were the posters of the partly open box that had something inside but it was covered by darkness and the only other hints about the movie was the classic rules of "Keep out of light. Don't get them wet. And never feed them after midnight" printed on the poster. Then there was the trailer that showed a kitchen in shambles and an ominous voice going over those rules again, but we never see what the Gremlins looks like. I'm pretty sure that sense of mystery remained right until opening weekend, then they started rattling off ads and commercials that were full of the nasty creatures and the cute Gizmo. The mega-hit E.T. followed almost the exact same strategy with a vague poster and only glimpses of the alien in the trailer until the more overt ads arrived after opening day.

The anticipation game is lost now in modern marketing where if they have a big CGI creature then it gets shown in all its glory and every movie goer is well aware what to expect come opening night. The trailer for Pete's Dragon makes it seem like the first act of the movie will be all build up and set up for the big appearance of the dragon, but no audience member is going to buy into it because we saw him for free in the trailer. It is the same thing that annoyed me with the BFG trailer where it hints the start of the movie is about the girl worrying about the creature that stomps about at night but we have him spoiled in the trailer. There is no chance now for surprise or excitement about the appearances of the big creature because we know exactly what to expect.

I realize it is hard to keep things hidden with social media and a culture of instant gratification, but there is something lost when all the big reveals come out before opening night. Of course, the problem is amplified with today's movie websites that almost demand that trailers deliver cool scenes and show us more of the big characters. I've read countless pieces of a writer wishing he saw more in a trailer and how the next trailer better reveal a specific story point. Trailers have become part of the entertainment package and in some ways get more attention than the actual movies. Trailers should be about teasing and building up anticipation and the entertainment and satisfaction should be left to the real feature.