How Movie Trailers Could Be Better


About me

I’m a Partner Manager at Builtfirst where I manage relationships with SaaS partners like HubSpot, Zendesk, Brex & more. I participated in (& organized a meetup for) a startup apprenticeship program, Praxis.

You can find me at a park playing sports, a concert, or wine tasting.


It can be hard to take movie trailers seriously. As I returned to the theater for the first time in a year, I recalled that I had to sit through 15 minutes of commercials before the film began. There were two trailers played back-to-back for what seemed like the exact same movies if you weren’t paying attention. I’d argue their marketing team didn’t do much to differentiate their movies.

The first movie seemed interesting: Shang Chi & the Legend of the Ten Rings. This is an action movie from Marvel Studios about Shang-Chi, an assassin trained from childhood who must confront his past, wielding both magical and high-tech weaponry in order to create the future he thinks is right. 

The second seemed to have a shockingly similar plot. An assassin trained from childhood named Snake Eyes must confront his troubled past to create the future he wants with samurai swords and high tech weaponry. Both trailers featured plenty of action scenes and flashbacks to a troubled childhood. 

Upon looking further into the movies, they both look interesting in their own right, but their presentation made them come across as very similar. I couldn’t take either one seriously. 

To be fair, they are action movies, so it made sense they both focused on action scenes. We all have our own opinions about what we like to see in movies (and trailers), but watch the two trailers and I think you’ll agree. Let’s take a look at how good marketing differentiates you from the competition.

Being Specific is Key

It seems counterintuitive at first, but typically, the more specific you are in business, the more money you can charge, and the easier it is to find your perfect client. Let’s compare two potential clients for my company that designs websites for other businesses:

  • Small business owners that don’t have computer skills
  • Boutique shops considering online sales as a new revenue stream, either for pickup or delivery. 

One of these allows you to identify an actual customer, and the other just gives you a vague idea of people we might work with. One sounds like I work with business owners (millions of people), the other tells you I can help business owners with a very specific problem.

What if your product, or you, can help everyone? Then you’re probably not doing a good job. The world of business has countless solutions depending on dozens of factors. My company could provide not only websites, SEO, and hosting, but also photography/videography services, copywriting, social media management, email marketing, retargeting, and advertising. 

Our clients have asked us for these services. Obviously, the need is out there. But the talent and resources that go into designing a website are different from producing monthly social media posts. We could “figure it out”, but would not be doing as good of a job as a social media specialist. 

History has proven that companies that solve one problem effectively are the most successful. Google mastered Search before expanding into other avenues. There’s an argument for expansion, but only once you’ve completely dialed in your product. 

Revisiting the trailers – I don’t claim to be a movie trailer expert, but what interested me about Shang Chi was his Ten Rings. What was their significance? The trailer showed the rings attaching themselves to the wearer’s arms and energy flowing through, but that’s it. Where did they come from? Are their powers destructive or bend time like Dr. Strange’s magic? 

Rather than lots of guns and explosions, fleshing out the most interesting aspect of the movie, Shang Chi with his Ten Rings would have piqued my interest much more. 

Let’s figure out how to boil down our marketing to be as specific as possible.

Lowest Common Denominator (LCD)

This is a math term that can be applied to marketing. LCD means boiling down your product or service to the exact problem you are trying to solve, or the exact person that would love your product the most.

Let’s say your product is scented candles, and you just came out with a new scent: Tropical Beach. To attract the exact people who’d like your product, you might say something along the lines of:

Be transported directly to a lounge chair sipping on a margarita, taking in the crystal-clear waters and soft ocean breeze of Cabo with this scent. 


Or, let’s say you sell a software product solving a specific problem – Statuspage by Atlassian. Here’s a situation your customer may find themselves in:

Are you tired of responding to hundreds of emails with the same question about why your web application isn’t working correctly? Communicate the status of your service with Statuspage. Click here to see how you can automate communication of your downtime to your customers.

With me so far? Let’s take it a step further. You have a fairly large advertising budget for a marketing campaign. Wouldn’t it be a waste to just pick out one specific customer? This is where A/B testing comes in.

A/B Testing

A/B Testing is the process of comparing two different forms of marketing at the same time. On a marketing email, you could send two different emails. Half of the people on the list get one email, and the other half get an email worded completely different (but for the same desired result). 

Utilizing the principle of LCD, you can now test two specific customers and see which one is more likely to buy your product. Let’s return to the Statuspage product example, where your email again says:

Are you tired of responding to hundreds of emails with the same question about why your web application isn’t working correctly? Communicate the status of your service with Statuspage. Click here to see how you can automate communication of your downtime to your customers.

This email is targeted towards decision-makers in customer service/success. Let’s see how we can again be specific for sales teams:

Do your potential customers need proof of your web application’s reliability? Show your history of reliability with Uptime Showcase. Click here to see how Sales teams solidify their brand image with Statuspage.

Essentially, you should utilize the LCD methodology over and over again, until something sticks. Was the first email a success and the second a flop? Write a third for Operations teams and keep the first one going. 

Combining these two methodologies is how you make marketing work. And guess what? Marvel put out a second trailer for Shang Chi, and it shows tantalizing scenes with the Ten Rings. Now I want to see it. 

In fact, Shang Chi’s marketing team did exactly what I’m talking about – they were specific in each trailer, and not all of them were my cup of tea. In the theater, they showed action-centric scenes, similar to Snake Eyes. But on YouTube, they showed more of the Ten Rings, the piece that caught my attention.

The YouTube trailer did a better job of capturing my attention. Truth be told, I’m more likely to watch a trailer on YouTube than the theater, anyways. I just happened to see the action-oriented version in the theater first. Marvel followed the rule of LCD, and A/B tested those different trailers on different platforms, which I’m sure was effective. At least, we’ll see when the box office numbers are released.

I can’t say either version of the Snake Eyes trailers captivated me, but that’s just down to personal preference. And personal bias in marketing is a topic we’ll cover another day.

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