What We Can Learn About Effective Poster Design From the Movies
  by:  |  Apr 24, 2008

With U-Printing set to offer a 10% discount on all poster orders during the month of May, it seemed like a good time to take a look at some of the elements that go into the creation of an effective marketing poster. As we discussed before, the motion picture industry has been very effective in using posters for marketing purposes. But before we take a look at specific examples from the film industry, let’s take a look at some of the assets of the poster as a marketing tool.

The first and most obvious thing is that a poster is BIG. Obviously, a poster is among the largest tools you have in your advertising arsenal. That size gives you a whole lot of space to spread your message. Just the sheer size of a poster, as opposed to other advertising choices like postcards and brochures, makes it much easier to draw your customer’s attention. A person walking by your shop is not nearly as likely to stop and read a small piece of paper stuck to your store window as they are to look at a big color poster.

Along the same lines, posters give you the ability to create large arresting images which can grab the attention of your customers. The use of colors and images can go a long way towards getting potential customers to read your message. There is a certain visceral impact which comes from a large colorful image. And once you’ve made that impact and gotten their attention, they are infinitely more likely to read any other information that is on the poster.

Finally, unlike postcards and brochures, posters speak to a large audience. Whereas a postcard will only convey your message to one person at a time, a poster can reach hundreds as every person who sees it is a potential customer. As an advertising tool, posters are the gift that keeps on giving.

Having established the ground rules for what a poster can do for you, let’s now look at recent actual movie posters to see how they take advantage of the strengths of the poster as a marketing tool to sell their product.

1. Iron Man Teaser Poster

With the success of the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises, in 2006, Marvel Studios was looking to break out a new franchise with another signature character, Iron Man. The goal was to create interest both among comic book fandom and mainstream movie goers. The campaign started early, with the first poster being launched at the San Diego Comic Convention in July of 2006 with this poster:


The poster says everything it needs to with regards to the character. For the comics fan, it highlights Iron Man’s lighted chest plate and trademark “repulsor ray.” For the uninitiated, it illustrates the concept of a cool looking armored hero shooting a beam out of his hand.

This is an example of the use of the poster as a way to create an arresting image. The image immediately catches the eye and draws the viewer to look at it. It also conveys the other important information, namely the release date of the movie, May 2, 2008.

But does it sell the product? In this film, the primary draw is the character itself. Although there are several top caliber actors in the film (Robert Downey Jr., Gweneth Paltrow, etc…), from an advertising standpoint, this film is based more on the franchise and the armored character than the actors. The poster clearly is aware of this and shows off the armor to great effect. As such, this would have to be considered a very effective poster and perfect example of how a compelling image can draw a potential customer in.

2. Get Smart

Adaptations of classic television shows have been hit or miss over the years. For every Brady Bunch Movie or Wayne’s World, there has been a failure like The Beverly Hillbillies. So when Warner Brothers decided to launch its big budget adaptation of the classic 60’s sitcom, Get Smart, it faced the burden of not only overcoming the stigma of adapting a TV show, but it needed to deal with the overwhelming presence of Don Adams’ brilliant interpretation of the maxwell Smart character.

The first step was in casting Steve Carell in the role. Carell is well known for playing likable characters in comedies centered on broad, physical humor, just like the humor in the original Get Smart show. Despite this fact, Warner’s still needed to get across that Carell could indeed fill the shoes (and shoe phone) of Adams, without being a parody of the character. To do that, it needed to create a preview image which showed that the movie would be faithful to the original concept while still showcasing the star power of its two leads, Carrell and Anne Hathaway. This is the teaser image they created:


The image shows the two stars to great effect, It showcases Hathaway’s beauty and highlights the secret agent nature of her character with a classic spy pose. Carell adopts a classic Max Smart pose (arms crossed) and the fact that his face is partially covered by Hathaway’s hair fits both with Carell’s established likable loser character and with the nature of the Maxwell Smart character. It would seem to meet both of the criteria that we established for Warners in regards to what the poster needed to do.

3. The Love Guru

Mike Myers is a unique comedy talent. Unlike many top comedic actors who play parts which are created for them through established scripts or their own work, Myers develops his characters organically. He creates a character idea and then builds through a series of stand up comedy routines where he appears in character. The phenomenally successful Austin Powers was created this way, for example.

His latest character is “The Love Guru,” a new film launching this summer. The concept is relatively thin, Myers plays an Indian relationship guru who is brought in to get a struggling hockey star back together with his wife. But, as with Austin Powers, it is the character itself that drives the movie. This movie is the complete opposite of Iron Man in many ways, its primary draw is Myers playing an eccentric character, not the character’s image per se. So essentially, the goal here is to sell the audience on Myers and that the fact that this film is in line with his previous work. This is the poster:


Does it work? It does meet both of the goals mentioned above. Myers is the center of the poster, both his name and image are clearly emphasized. The overall look of the poster is consistent with previous Myers efforts, complete with a humorous catchphrase. This is an effective way to launch the new project.


What can be taken from all this is that a poster can be effective to convey any number of different messages. The use of an arresting and attention getting poster image can get your brand’s message out to a large number of people at once. Essentially, every single person who sees your poster having your message delivered to them. If you’ve done your job in designing the poster effectively, then it will catch people’s eyes and bring them in as potential customers.