In this celebrity-saturated age, when you can’t even pick up the Wall Street Journal without seeing a famous face, there’s one unlikely place you can go to not see any stars at all: promotions for stars’s newest movies.
Take the newest trailer for Mockingjay, the third (and should be last but they’re chopping it up into two movies for no legitimate narrative reason) movie in the Hunger Games franchise:
The Hunger Games marketing team had Jennifer Lawrence and elected not to use her, because where we left off at the end of the second movie is suspenseful and thrilling and intense. The way to sustain that intensity between films is to not cash in all the Jennifer Lawrence chips; it’s to keep her off-screen.
Do you know what this means? We are getting self-restraint from Hollywood, the capital of indulgence and oversharing! In the name of a better, more exciting and alluring trailer, these PR powers that be are keeping Katniss on the sidelines (for now).
Another highly anticipated film that is prioritizing story power over star power? Gone Girl. Ben Affleck makes many a confused, stricken appearance in these two trailers. Both of those clips are more trailer than teaser, so you can’t really leave the guy out.
But Affleck is almost entirely absent from the poster campaign, which evokes the eerie, clinical-while-criminal tone of the story:
Affleck does make a tiny appearance in one poster; he’s one person in a group photograph that’s also in an evidence bag. But that’s a far cry from, say, the Argo ads. And Affleck didn’t appear in the earlier teaser poster before this “Happy Anniversary” series, either:
And that one doesn’t even tell you the title of the movie. You get to imagine the title. It’s an ad that actually does want you to engage.
This strategy reminds me of the Don Draper pitch to Heinz that didn’t even include the word ketchup, or a picture of a Heinz bottle, or even a suggestive red splat. Don’s idea was that the ad would appeal by being “tantalizing but incomplete.” “The greatest thing you have working for you… is the imagination of the consumer. They have no budget. They have no time limit. And if you can get into that space, your ad can run all day.”
Of course, this method only really works if people can fill in the blanks. Gone Girl and The Hunger Games are already wildly popular. And playing hide and seek with the biggest celebrity in the picture is a way of making you think about that celebrity; if your first thought after the Mockingjay trailer is, “So where’s Katniss?” then they get to have their subtlety cake and eat it, too.
But I can still appreciate the way these ads seem to have a real understanding of the fandom for these films. Because for the people who can’t wait to see these movies, Lawrence and Affleck are only part of the draw. The main attraction existed fully-formed in the books. For movies like these, the story is the star.