Using The Croods to Explore Necessary Changes In Key Art

Marketing and promotional art is a key piece of the entertainment puzzle and has been a feature of the promotion business since long before film. Film posters are an art in and of themselves, but as Bill Cunningham points out in a guest post over at Truly Free Film, they haven’t kept up with the times.

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Bill’s piece is spot on, and he’s absolutely right that posters (in particular the venerable one sheet) haven’t kept pace with the changes we’ve been seeing in content viewing and distribution:

Unfortunately, key art design has not kept pace with digital distribution, and is stuck in an analog design space –  the equivalent of the 4:3 problem.  It’s awkward, clumsy and a relic for a bygone age.

What he’s getting at is that the one sheet posters were created to make the most of their location (the local cinema), today, the vast majority of consumers are browsing for content on a TV or other device. A portrait-oriented poster doesn’t make near as much sense there as at the physical space of the cinema. Bill does a great job of outlining why studios and marketing departments should switch to landscape or 16:9 format for advertising content on digital platforms.

We’re not going to repeat the excellent reasons or examples here, but instead, because the idea has serious merit, we’re going to use an animated example: The Croods.

To start, let’s check out the American one sheet for DreamWorks’ prehistoric hit:


So how does that fit into the browsing interface of Netflix:

Netflix Croods screenshot

Yes, it’s a different design than the poster, but you can see the issues. It conveys nothing about the film itself other than the title and the characters. It almost commands that the viewer be somewhat familiar with the film already. Netflix does offer a description, but you only read that after you’ve clicked on the image. The above image is the antithesis of a poster; it simply identifies the film in a field of others.

What would a Croods poster following Cummingham’s criteria look like though? Luckily Britain use a poster format known as a quad and it provides a good idea:


Notice the difference between it and the American one sheet above? The quad provides just as much detail but in a far shorter vertical space, the very dimension that is a premium in screens of almost any kind. For all the innovation that Netflix has bestowed upon viewing habits, it’s almost shocking that they haven’t approached how the content is displayed on their platform in the same way; they’re still beholden to a hangover of a format that was designed for physical spaces, not virtual libraries!

To push the conversation further along, digital content lacks such art entirely. What does YouTube use? Either a screenshot from the video of an image uploaded by the user. How are they displayed?

YouTube screenshot

Well, points for at least conforming to the same dimensions and orientation of the video, but otherwise things are pitifully small; the title gets more prominence than the image. Doesn’t that seem odd?

Creators in general (not just animation ones) should be more concerned about this and making changes as necessary. There’s little reason to be shackled to a format that won’t improve your chances of something being seen.