More than a hundred years ago, art and advertisement invaded the urban space together in the form of the poster. At the time, artists wanted to have their say in the making of the new modern world, which happened to be developing a taste for consumerism.
The poster was a Magnifique way of using their knowledge on composition, color, figures, and typography to sell a product, and guess what? It still is!
Movie posters can be so efficient at the task of attracting an audience that not only are they useful to sell a movie, but it is also quite common for collectors to buy the posters themselves, both as objects of artistic value and as tokens of beloved movies.
But how can you make quality art and good communication design come together to create a movie poster appealing to the public? Here is how!
1. Know your audience
In order to create a good design, it is mandatory to know who it is meant for.
The combination of a certain type and a color palette can be amazing for one target audience and terrible for another. For example, imagine using the colorful and cheerful typography of Disney Pixar’s Coco in the poster of a suspense movie meant for adults.
Probably not that effective, huh? The same works the other way around: a dark color palette with a red title will surely go well in a thriller poster.
Still, it will rarely attract the audience of a children’s movie (Monster House in 2006 being the only exception that comes to mind).
A movie poster can either be designed to attract a brand new audience (an audience that needs to get familiar with the film, in order to remember to go see it at the cinema!) or to change the attitude of an already known audience towards the film (maybe it’s a big-budget project, that has made a lot of waves on the internet even before its first stages of production).
In the first case, the poster can be anywhere; the larger the audience it reaches, the better the chance of generating interest in the film.
But in the second case, the poster should be presented in a location where the viewer is able to calmly process the information.
Either way, the poster’s content needs to answer a study of the potential consumer’s cognitive and affective responses. In turn, this study analyses the demographic factors of the targeted consumers (such as age, gender, ethnic background, education level, etc.).
Knowing your audience, their interests and values, the products they consume, and what excites them will be your first step when creating a movie poster that fits their needs.
2. Find a balance between originality and effectiveness
Among the many other posters belonging to movies of the same genre, your movie poster needs to stand out enough to be memorable. However, it still needs to share some common ground with the others to be understandable.
Payoff movie posters usually show the protagonists of the film and some hints to the kind of universe they live in and the issues they face.
The posters of big action franchises tend to organize the cast in a dynamic composition where the most important characters appear in a bigger or hierarchical position.
There’s always room for innovation when it comes to deciding where each character goes and what they are doing… but to go with a composition that completely evades this trend might be a huge mistake, as it would confuse the audience into believing the advertised movie is not an action film at all.
The same thing can be said for different posters belonging to the same movie.
Teasers are supposed to give you enough to feel hyped about the upcoming film, but always leave you wanting more. How much of a failure would a teaser poster be, if it presented you the plot twist of the movie before you even went to see it?
And when it comes to character posters, they offer you a more profound approach to the different characters involved in the film plot.
They can be a fun way of keeping the audience hooked, on the lookout for the next poster showing a new character… but the public won’t be able to recognize it if it doesn’t share a common aesthetics with the rest of the poster series.
To see the full spectrum of different types of movie posters check out:
3. Use psychology in your favor
Advertising is the art of understanding consumer behavior; design cannot operate without psychology.
Creating a poster that’s appealing to the audience is all about knowing the associations that people subconsciously make between certain colors or shapes and certain meanings, beliefs, or feelings.
Each target audience will respond in the desired manner to a different type of imagery, sometimes a bold design will do the trick, but sometimes the poster will need to create a calm emotional state to be effective.
The human brain works as an associative network that goes from memory to memory, tying them together with bonds of variable strength: if a poster is compelling enough, not only will it automatically call to mind the right associations, but it will also move people to take action and actually see the movie.
As artistic as they are, all in all, movie posters are forms of advertisement; their goal is to sell the movies.
Some common aspects of most movie posters are strategies that would be just as effective in a different type of ad: the movie title is in a big easily-readable font, the color palette reflects the tone of the product (in this case, a film), the characters that appear are generally portrayed by attractive people, and the copy works as a catchy slogan to stay in the reader’s mind.
On top of all that, the names of known actors and directors help increase an audience’s interest that already values the projects that involve these famous people.
4. Convey a message
There are good ads and bad ads; there is groundbreaking art and forgettable art; the same goes for movie posters.
You may follow all the rules of what should work in a movie poster and still not create a lasting impression on the audience.
Or maybe you could surprise them by doing the opposite (originality sometimes goes hand in hand with effectiveness!). Look at the original classic poster of The Exorcist (today a classic that any collector would want to have); it avoids many of the clishés in horror movie posters: it doesn’t show a terrifying deformed body, it has no bloodstains insight, the typeface is as normal as it gets, and no one’s staring directly to the public, and yet… it works, because it captures the essence of the film.
It builds expectation and inspires fear; it leaves you wanting more and fearing it simultaneously. A poster capable of reflecting the atmosphere of the film will be remembered.
Bad movie posters are not persuasive nor attract the attention of the audience. How do good movie posters sell the movie?
Well, if the movie is a comedy and the poster already puts a smile on your face, that’s a good advertisement. If it is a horror film and the poster already gives you the creeps, that’s a good advertisement.
And if the movie is a historical piece or it tells an epic tale, and the poster already conveys a powerful message, that is a good advertisement.
The best advertisement makes you anticipate and expect the release of an upcoming film, but not only that: it also makes you feel like you are already being a part of that experience.
Do you want to make movie posters?
If the answer is a big yes, then you are in for a treat. We are currently producing an online curriculum dedicated to teaching the art of movie posters. Yes, you too can begin a career in the movie poster industry.
The thing is, you will need to sign up for our newsletter so that you will be notified as soon as new classes are available. In the meantime, use our website as a resource. We have plenty of free articles that will help you get started.
Here are a few of the more popular ones: