What’s the point of marketing a good old-fashioned sex romp if you can’t sell the sex? That’s the conundrum Sony and Universal faced when it came to advertising the ribald and often vulgar humor of their two upcoming Judd Apatow comedies, Superbad and Knocked Up, respectively. Their solution: Create racy, age-restricted ”red band” trailers — named after the ominous crimson MPAA advisory that precedes them — and premiere them on the films’ official websites. This way, they avoided offending sensitive moviegoers and built a new kind of buzz.
Red-band trailers are essentially R-rated sneak peeks, and they sporadically preceded R-rated movies before the FTC chastised Hollywood in 2000 for marketing mature content to children. Since then, they’ve been all but abandoned by studios. That’s because theater chains refuse to play them for fear they’ll be seen by the wrong audiences due to, say, a projectionist’s mistake.
But the sudden popularity of these new trailers could spell a red-band resurgence. And strangely enough, the MPAA may be responsible: In the last year, the film-ratings organization has turned studios onto companies providing age-verification technology, which forces those interested in watching a red-band trailer online to enter their name, birth date, and zip code. And fooling the system is difficult, because the companies search against public records, including DMV data, to determine that visitors are who they say they are. ”[It] allows us to be responsible, and puts the onus on the consumer,” says Dwight Caines, an executive VP at Sony who’s now creating red bands for fall releases The Brothers Solomon (starring Will Arnett) and Resident Evil: Extinction.
Still, some studios, like Warner Bros., simply won’t make them, arguing that it’s not effective to produce a trailer that will only be seen by a limited number of moviegoers. Others, like Universal, are just miffed that these trailers have been ghettoized to the Internet in the first place. ”I’m not suggesting every red-band trailer should be played with every R-rated movie,” says Universal marketing prez Adam Fogelson. ”But if Wedding Crashers were playing today, the idea that a red-band trailer for Knocked Up or Superbad couldn’t get play with that seems wholly illogical.”