Trailers Jump on the Age-Restricted Red-Band Wagon

Marketers of edgy adult content rely on ‘sticky imagery’ to make an impact

For years, most moviegoers didn’t know the difference between green-band trailers (featuring content approved by the Motion Picture Assn. of America for “appropriate audiences”) and their “restricted” red-band counterparts (dubbed for the red slate that appears at the head of the trailer). At one point, studios nearly abandoned red-bands entirely, believing it wasn’t cost-effective to produce advertising that could only run in front of select R and NC-17 features.

Today, thanks to the Internet, everyone seems to be jumping on the red-band wagon. From “This Is the End” to “Piranha 3DD,” previews packed with violence, profanity, nudity and drug use instantly go viral after debuting online, encouraging marketing departments to craft edgier spots for the Web, where they can target extremely focused demographics. To appease the MPAA, sites “age-gate” the content — an ineffective honor system that requires users to enter their birthdates before viewing.

“Red-bands have been around online for a while, but it’s only in the last year or two that there’s really a mechanism to effectively disseminate those materials,” says Radius marketing and distribution VP Heath Shapiro, who attributes the success of last year’s “Bachelorette” to a red-band trailer launched on FunnyOrDie.com. “There are just all these portals clamoring for content like that, which in tandem with social media can really amplify something in a moment’s notice.”

The rise of the red-band started with laffers. As comedies got raunchier in the hands of Judd Apatow and others, the only truly representative way to market them was to reveal some of the dirty jokes they had in store. Universal went all out with Ted last summer, fully embracing the film’s irreverent sense of humor by creating reams of red-band trailers, clips and even an MPAA-restricted tie-in campaign with Axe men’s products.

In the past couple months, studios have extended the red-band trend to a range of genre movies, believing the most effective way to win over the adult fans of extreme horror (“Evil Dead”), intense thrillers (“Trance”) and Michael Bay mayhem (“Pain & Gain”) is to give them a taste of the R-rated content.

Earlier in April, Radius debuted a punchy red-band teaser for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives on Yahoo Movies. Word of the trailer drop spread quickly as other entertainment sites picked it up as breaking news. Per a Radius rep, the teaser was the top subject trending on Twitter within the hour.

Sony had a similar success with promos for “Evil Dead.” The campaign led with a gory red-band teaser online that featured scenes of everything from bloody power tools to a seductive young lady splitting her tongue on a box cutter. Once die-hard fans had “discovered” the teaser, the studio followed up with a tamer green-band to broaden their audience.

“I think what has worked with comedies holds true with Evil Dead and the horror genre,” says TriStar and Screen Gems marketing head Loren Schwartz, whose resume also includes red-band trailers for “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.” “With “Evil Dead,” we have a very hard-R picture that has a huge fanbase who wouldn’t accept anything less. Selling only a diluted version of that movie would not be fair.”

The red-band phenom has gotten so popular that even media that doesn’t answer to the MPAA have tried to co-opt the strategy. Earlier this month, Web promos for Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove” series posed as restricted trailers, opening with a red advisory screen.

The strategy has its limits, however. By including extreme content, studios run the risk of giving people reasons not to go. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to Shapiro. For films with more than just opening-weekend receipts in mind, “You want to embrace an audience that’s going to embrace the movie,” he says.

Fox Searchlight reps felt the same way about “Trance”: “We are really cognizant of establishing the correct tone and atmosphere of these kinds of movies, but you can only show so much in your green-band trailer,” explains Searchlight marketing honcho Larry Baldauf, who followed up a U.K.-made all-audiences trailer for “Trance” with a special Web-only red-band. TV spots running during Adult Swim and other latenight programming blocks slyly suggested that viewers also seek out the red-band trailer on Shazam.

“One of the selling points we wanted to focus on was that this was Danny Boyle returning to “Shallow Grave” form, that this was an experiential film, and this was something more than a standard heist caper movie,” Baldauf says. So the team started looking for what he calls “sticky imagery” — moments that audiences wouldn’t forget.

Lucky for them, “Trance” is rife with striking visuals. The marketing team settled on a startling, hallucinatory moment in which Vincent Cassel’s character gets the upper half of his head blown away … and then picks himself off the floor and keeps right on talking.

“That shot — and we make you wait a minute and a half for it — is what justified the red band,” Baldauf says. “In a movie with a traditional narrative, that could be a spoiler, but here it’s just part of the fever dream. Anytime you have signature imagery like that, something you’ve never seen before, it’s really sticky.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Josefina-Molina

    Josefina Molina: Still Battling After All These Years

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — She isn’t done yet. The battling character of Josefina Molina, winner of Spain’s 2019 National Cinematography Prize, was glimpsed in her acceptance speech at the San Sebastian Festival on Saturday. She used part to thank those who had given crucial help, such as, among women, editors Nieves Martin (1981’s “Función de Noche,” [...]

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content