In Two Weeks! Next Week! Thursday! Tomorrow! Tonight! Up Next! Any bit of content can use a promotion to tell your audience that something is (or will be) available that should interest them. The promo genre stems from broadcast where you want your captive audience to know about something else on your channel, such as that a new series is coming, something is returning, or something special is happening on the next episode of the show you’re watching now.
These are commonly 5, 10, 15 or 30 seconds but can be of any length. There is also the ‘variable length’ promo which means you front–load the message and then let the promo run long so that it can be aired to fill an unusual time gap, and then the switchboard can end it whenever they need. Once the initial message is delivered (coming up next!) then a montage or bits of scenes can play to fill out a minute.
The promo genre is distinct from the commercial genre because its focus is raising engagement rather than converting towards a sale or affecting brand perception. Promos are generally short–term focused and lower budget than regular commercial advertising.
Online series are no different, and promos can be used as stand–alone videos (like a trailer) or as embedded ads in other videos to let people know that a new season of an existing series is coming back. The traditional promo genre strategies may not apply quite so well here, as in broadcast the same promo would have various versions with different graphics and voice–over that say “next week”, the day of the week, “tomorrow”, “tonight” and “up next”, each version tailored to the particular time slot that the promo would be airing. Broadcasters can now accomplish this with metadata updates in their on–air graphics systems, but the concept remains the same and requires custom V/O for each version. Online promos are a little different in message, as days and times are less relevant, but the strategy is sound.
A good promo will make the viewer want to watch the show, but while it should reflect the character of the show it does not have to accurately reflect what the show contains. You are trying to stimulate interest by presenting a question or showing strong reactions to suggest that the episode is compelling. A promo for a drama, for example, may imply that the killer is going to strike again (even though he doesn’t) and therefore you should not miss it, but so long as you don’t explicitly lie about the contents of the show then you’re in good standing. Your job is elevate interest and get people to watch the show.
Promos can vary widely in terms of content, from the traditional clip–based excerpts of the episode in question to an original script and shoot. Depending on the availability of assets, you may have no choice but to go and shoot something original, or may decide that this is the best way of building anticipation. This effectively teases the content of the show itself, and could be anything from street–style sound bites with the public to atmospheric moments of what could be sets from the show.
A teaser is a form of promo that is generally purposefully light on details in an attempt to try to cultivate interest in advance of a full campaign launch. We see this often with movie trailers, where a teaser trailer will be released months before the official trailer and serves as a sort of promo for a promo. In these early stages, there is often no final footage available to be used in the spot, resulting in trailers like close shots of a Batman logo and then a final shot with the text “Summer 2020” underneath. Like any promo, it’s important to be very clear on the objective and the audience, as a concise and brief message means you need exceptional clarity as to what you’re trying to accomplish.
Let’s take a look at a few promos.
MTV Jersey Shore Season 3
American campaign (Producer unknown)
Canadian campaign (Producer Eli Schwanz)
Here we have two different treatments for the same subject — American and Canadian promos for the 3rd season of MTV’s Jersey Shore. Both are on the theme of “get ready”, but with very different approaches to the concept. Both have “to promote the return of the series” as an objective, build upon the assumption of an audience that is deeply familiar with the details of show, but with different concepts. The first features the stars of the show but in the form of animated characters while the second features the fans of the show emulating the form of the stars.
The effect is the difference between spectacle and phenomenon — do you enjoy watching them because of the train wreck or because you see some of yourself in them, that you wish that some part of you was like them? Despite the larger budget of the animated promo, I think it depends on an element of novelty that is ultimately less interesting on repeated viewings than the live action version, which exhibits a deep understanding and affection for the culture of the show and its audience.
House of Cards
This promo also makes an appeal to an audience that is already deeply familiar with the show, suggesting the patience and strategic calculations of the plotting Claire Underwood. It is likely shot to purpose, but could also be clever usage of existing footage. Either way, much like Eli Schwanz’s ProMax BDA–nominated Jersey Shore campaign above, it is an excellent reflection of the tone and character of the show — slow, pensive, calculated, moody, psychological.
This promo cleverly uses visual metaphor with a lyrical counterpoint in the music, setting the punch against “you are beautiful”, a loving and appreciative statement. This nails the tone of the show perfectly, no doubt why it received the ProMax BDA for best promo 2014. It’s hard to imagine it working effectively as a :5 promo due to its reliance on the lyrics for the complete meaning, but it may be possible with a slight speed up of the song. It’s important to consider these sorts of cut–downs for on–air promos when planning your creative, though a great idea like this may stand well on it’s own with a separate concept for the shorter durations.
American Horror Series 4 Teaser
This :10 teaser promo uses an atmospheric approach that suggests the emotional experience of watching the show while not showing any actual footage from the series.
Storage Wars Season 2
While the title says that it is promoting the entire season, this promo says that it is for an upcoming episode. It follows the format of a classic episodic approach to the promo genre where clips are pulled from the upcoming episode to promote the show. Clips are interspersed with graphics and voiceover to create a new context that suggests that the upcoming episode(s) are exciting or interesting. The clips themselves are rapid sound bites that are meaningless on their own, but effectively used as both reaction to the voiceover and a continuation of it. This approach depends on a carefully scripted voiceover to form a cohesive argument, which depends on a very creative listen to the most exciting moments of the show — anywhere conflict, action or surprises occur.