Movie Article

'Fifty Shades': How Hollywood Made You Watch

The film's trailer exploded online (thanks, Beyonce!), highlighting how social media has become the new marketing bullhorn.

Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey

When Beyoncé posted a 15-second teaser trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey on her Instagram in July, fan reaction erupted right on cue, proving that pop music's reigning diva plus first-look footage of 2015's most tremulously awaited erotic drama equals a match made in viral heaven.

So by the time a full-length trailer for the film arrived on July 24—featuring stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in various stages of seduction (and undress), backed by a slowed-down torch-song version of Queen Bey's 2003 smash ''Crazy in Love''—it trended worldwide almost instantly, paired with a tagline from the film's Twitter feed: ''The wait is over.''

Not quite. Though the trailer has gotten 90 million views on YouTube, the movie doesn't hit theaters until Feb. 14, 2015. But this kind of sustained marketing foreplay underscores a strategy increasingly employed by Hollywood. While teaser trailers are nothing new, a plug from Beyoncé is. A star like her can focus attention in our Age of Distraction and spread the word to millions of fans in mere seconds—fans who then share it with their friends just as fast. Studios have learned how to use our social-media culture to their advantage to generate fevered buildup to their potential blockbusters, sometimes even a year or more in advance of the actual film.

Exhibit A: Christopher Nolan's Interstellar will be released on Nov. 7, but late last year a cryptic teaser, which mainly showcases a string of historical vignettes and a rueful voice-over from Matthew McConaughey, began ratcheting up anticipation. Then in May, when a second promo clip with more than two minutes of actual footage from the movie started circulating—while still maintaining the plot's shroud of mystery—it was parsed with Da Vinci Code-like fervor by online pundits, perpetuating word-of-mouth buzz.

Meanwhile, a pair of teaser videos put out earlier this summer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 use slick political-propaganda ''addresses'' featuring Donald Sutherland in his role as President Snow, footage that will not appear in the Nov. 21 sequel. The first conventional Mockingjay trailer finally ''premiered'' at San Diego Comic-Con on July 25 courtesy of a branding tie-in with Samsung, which presented the clip to conventioneers on the tech company's latest tablet.

According to a veteran movie-marketing strategist, the current teaser-trailer arms race reflects Hollywood's bid to break through to millennials where they already are: the fragmentary world of Twitter, Instagram, etc.

''Hollywood is simply co-opting the way young people communicate with themselves while also co-opting the people the public responds to,'' he says. ''You hire Beyoncé to do a song and have her tell people about a movie? It's the studios' attempt to remove the corporate onus. It's them saying, 'Let's let this be a groundswell from someone who's got cred.''' Crazy in cred, even.

Originally posted Jul 30, 2014 Published in issue #1323 Aug 08, 2014 Order article reprints
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