• Michael Mullin

Tease Me

Some thoughts on marketing known vs unknown properties.

Marketing independently published books is a pain. Tips and how-to advice are an easy Google search away, but the truth is, it's an individual quest. As Joseph Campbell tells us (and I'm paraphrasing here): if the path is too easy, that means it's probably not your path. Someone ahead of you forged it already. While I don't know of any indie authors who find the path "too easy," I do like that philosophical take on life, and it applies this endeavor.

I've written two novels, a story collection and a comic based on one of the stories. The target age groups are different, and of course that affects my marketing strategies. But there's another distinction that takes precedent: two of my books, Simon and TaleSpins, feature a retelling of a known property. Rocketboy, on the other hand, is a wholly original story.

I pitch TaleSpins by focusing on the first story about Creepy the 8th dwarf. People get it right away. When they discover his name is Creepy, and he's banished to the cottage basement for being odd, that holds them beyond the hook. But I’m not kidding myself – both the hook and the hold are streets paved for me by others: the brothers Grimm with the story and Disney with the y-ending name.

People also get Simon (a modern-day Hamlet). The irony is my retellings are perceived as more "original" than the Rocketboy story. People love Rocketboy, but kid superhero/space adventure isn't enough to sell it. The retellings are easier at first for obvious reasons, but then the challenge becomes greater right away. What's your clever, "original" take?

To further explore the idea of marketing known vs. unknown entities, I could give examples of book reviews, dust jacket covers, or amazon blurbs from all across the literary spectrum. Stand-alones vs. series. Sequels. Etc.

But why do that when we can just look at cool posters from Hollywood?

The teaser movie poster is BIG business. Creating a buzz for a film’s opening weekend is everything, and professional reputations (not to mention millions of dollars) are at stake in this early phase of the marketing process. Does the studio play it safe with a big image of the star’s face? (Hey! Is Tom Cruise in this movie or not? Yes, I believe he is ... ) Or do they take a risk and create a compelling image that actually teases the movie? Unlike a book blurb, a teaser poster does not sell tickets. It’s only designed to entice the audience to notice to the full poster to be released later and view the trailers (which are also produced in “teaser” and “full” modes). It’s a process, much like the example I often use in conversation: your resumé doesn’t get you a job. Your resumé gets you an interview. The interview gets you the job.

First 6 known entities, then 5 unknowns.

Ok, this one is my favorite. Even though the film was an incalculable disappointment, this poster is still unparalleled in creating anticipation for a known property. (The long wait helped.)

This was a tougher sell on a known property because Spiderman had recently been successfully rebooted (with Tobey MacGuire) for essentially the same audience. Nonetheless, great image. (And I forgive them for ripping off the title of my graphic novel. Whatever.)

And here’s another absolute favorite of mine. A little less daring than it looks because the film was marketed so pervasively. But this is exactly what a teaser should do.

This image totally works for Disney's update on Rapunzel.

We don't know what celebrities are providing voices yet because this is a teaser (and we shouldn't care about that).

No mystery here. Well . . . there's plenty of mystery in the film story. Just not in the poster. A simple, striking image brings an iconic property to life in the theaters after a long hiatus. Fans were pleased.

Yet another example of a successful teaser poster from a movie I didn't like, This design did its job impressively as a literal first peek at the adaptation of a beloved property.


First, the wildly original movie District 9 went with this warning sign graphic to tease the film. I would have made the second line of copy less repetitive and more provocative, but no one asked me.

Horror movie teasers run the spectrum from great to ridiculous. Too many clichéd images of pretty women screaming. This one, however is very provocative. I never saw this movie, but the poster got my attention.

The one-word title "Shame" on messed-up bedsheets?

What's that all about?


Universally known mega-property now, but you may recall this was among the first images given to us. It got millions thinking. (Some of them haven't stopped, but that's another story.)

The Disney/Pixar brand gives this image instant respect. If you don't wonder what this movie is about, I don't know what to tell you. The shadow on the cloud is a fantastic touch.


This one is obviously based on Poe, but it's an historical fiction tale of a wholly original murder mystery. Best of both worlds in a sense, and kudos to the studio for the daring, thought-provoking teaser poster design.

This film is a "known property" in that it's based on actual world events. (The killing of Osama bin Laden.) This image teases the story brilliantly by hinting at information coming on a "need to know basis." You see this and you immediately want to be included in that group. Mission accomplished. (See what I did there?)

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