Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” And online video marketers can observe a lot of best practices for building audiences on YouTube just by watching movie trailers.

The Backstory of the Trailer

The first trailer was shown in a U.S. theater in November 1913. It was invented by Nils Granlund, the advertising manager for the Marcus Loew theater chain, who produced the short promotional film for the upcoming musical, The Pleasure Seekers, which was opening at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway.

Granlund was also the first to create a trailer for a motion picture in 1914. He used a slide technique to promote an upcoming film featuring Charlie Chaplin at Loew’s Seventh Avenue Theatre in Harlem.

These short, promotional films were called “trailers” because there were originally shown at the end of a feature film screening. That practice didn’t last long, because patrons tended to leave the theater after the films ended. But the name has stuck even though movie trailers are now shown before a feature film begins.

Movie trailers have become very popular on video-sharing sites like YouTube. According to YouTube keyword suggestion tool, the monthly search volume is 22,691,000 for trailer and it’s 2,165,700 for movie trailer.

Write optimized titles, tags, and descriptions for your content

Dimension Films uploaded one of the first movie trailers to YouTube on Mar. 26, 2006. It was the “Scary Movie 4 Trailer,” which currently has more than 18.4 million views.

This movie trailer is creative, funny, and spot on for its YouTube audience. However, a ton of great content lives on YouTube. Creating a stellar video is crucial for any video content producer, but it’s only half of the battle.

To give your videos and channel the best potential for success on the platform, you’ve got to optimize them. This means developing an intimate understanding of both the way discovery and audience engagement on YouTube work and the tools available to take advantage of these key insights.

For example, the title of “Scary Movie 4 Trailer” includes the keyword, trailer, and the description is 223 words long (1,399 characters). That was a lot of words back in the early days of YouTube when descriptions were only supposed to be up to 1,000 characters long. (They can now be up to 5,000 characters long.)

But YouTube encouraged video content producers to be as detailed as possible – short of offering an entire transcript: “The more information you include, the easier it is for users to find your video!”

Dimension Films took this advice and wrote a clear and accurate description for their movie trailer to help YouTube index their content and serve their video in search results and as suggested videos.

Jumpstart your traffic with video ads

With a worldwide box-office gross of about $2.8 billion, Avatar is often proclaimed to be the “highest-grossing” film of all time. And according to a YouTube case study published in September 2009, 20th Century Fox collaborated with YouTube to promote the launch of the epic science fiction film.

The aim was to build awareness for Avatar, which was released Dec. 18, 2009, in the U.S. With a budget of $237 million, it was imperative for Fox to:

  • Pique the interest of as large an audience as possible.
  • Deliver an experience that would do James Cameron’s 3-D epic justice.

Fox chose to launch the teaser trailer on the homepage of YouTube on August 22, 2009 – 4 months before the film release. The campaign ran across 15 countries and utilized an expandable masthead incorporating an HD trailer to ensure the highest quality experience possible.

Avatar trailer in expandable masthead

That was back when the YouTube Homepage was delivering around 11 million unique visitors a day in the US. Today, about 23 million viewers a day in the US and over 70 million people around the world visit the YouTube home page every day.

A research study with MetrixLab accompanied this campaign and the results highlight why online video marketers should jumpstart their traffic with video ads. According to the study:

  • People’s awareness of the Avatar movie was increased significantly after watching the ad.
  • Watching the ad again had an even stronger impact on aided awareness of the Avatar film and of Avatar advertising – up to 18%.
  • The campaign also had a direct impact on behavior – driving a 15% increase in intent to watch the move.
  • Intent to view was further increased when the HD trailer was viewed.
  • The YouTube trailer was cited commonly as being a reason that respondents would like to see the movie.
  • Users were 9% more likely to discuss and share information about the film after seeing the ad.
  • The campaign also drove a huge increase in searches on YouTube directly after seeing the ad.

Create a channel experience around your videos to increase watch-time of your content

Making great videos is where everyone begins their strategy as a YouTube creator. However, building an effective channel strategy, across your videos, will help online video marketers turn viewers into a channel audience that will support their long-term success on the platform.

Creating an effective channel experience and promoting a channel to the audience also helps movie makers retain viewers across multiple videos and increase watch-time for their channels. Just as content creators produce videos that they hope will retain viewers’ interest for the duration, movie studios also want to create an experience that drives viewers’ completion of a video to their watching more content from their channels.

For example, look at the network of YouTube channels created to promote Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first of a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

  • Another, The Hobbit, is the official channel for The Hobbit trilogy. It has 2,897 subscribers and 2,123 views.
  • And a third, The Hobbit Movies UK, is tailored for viewers in the United Kingdom. It has 81 subscribers and 5,825 video views.

Other YouTube channels were also leveraged to ensure a successful launch of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

This includes Peter Jackson, which is focused on the filmmaker, who is based in Pukerua Bay, New Zealand. It has 69,378 subscribers and 6,223,686 views.

It also includes WetaNZ.com, the official YouTube homepage for Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand. It has 1,816 subscribers and 925,750 video views.

And the Warner Bros. Pictures channel on YouTube includes more than 30 videos about The Hobbit. It has 251,938 subscribers and 284,025,868 views

It’s also worth noting that The Hobbit trailer with the most views isn’t on any of these YouTube channels. In fact, “THE HOBBIT Trailer HD,” was uploaded to the ColliderVideos channel on Dec. 20, 2011 – almost a year before the movie’s release date on Dec. 14, 2012, in the US. It currently has 25,314,510 views, which helped The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to gross $1,017,003,568 worldwide.

And videos like “An Unexpected Briefing #airnzhobbit,” which was published Oct. 31, 2012, helped, too. Air New Zealand partnered with WETA Workshop on the Hobbit inspired Safety Video. It features cameo appearances including Sir Peter Jackson. The video currently has 10,710,563 views.

The first Vine movie trailer

On March 27, 2013, 20th Century Fox became the first major studio to release a trailer tailored for Vine, Twitter’s six second video service. It promoted the upcoming release of The Wolverine.

Teasers are great for buzz building. Even six-second snippets are a great way of generating interest. Acording to Unruly’s recent list of 20 most tweeted Vines, the “tweaser” for the upcoming Wolverine movie achieved over 7,300 tweets using this new method.

Leverage social media to build viewership and engage with your audience in new ways

Finally, online video marketers should leverage social media to build viewership on their YouTube channels and engage with their audiences in new ways.

For example, content creators should set up a Google+ Page or Profile to engage with fans and other YouTube creators. Not only can they share videos and other media, they can engage directly with their audiences in Google Hangouts and broadcast live hangouts on their YouTube channel via Google+ Hangouts on Air (HOA).

Summit Entertainment did that last week. And it published “ENDER’S GAME – Teaser Trailer Announcement & Preview” on May 2, 2013, to inform viewers that the worldwide premiere of the first trailer for the epic adventure would be five days later on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Fans could also “Hangout” with Asa Butterfield on the Ender’s Game page on Google+.

Ender's Game Google+ Hangout

They could watch the premiere of “ENDER’S GAME – Trailer” on YouTube.

Yep, trailers have changed a lot in the past 100 years. They started off as promos for upcoming feature films. Now, there are teaser trailers for upcoming movie trailers that promote upcoming feature films.

If that sounds like something Yogi Berra once said, he really didn’t say everything he said. Then again, he might have said that, but you never know.