The upcoming Academy Awards ceremony has us thinking about big screens, red carpets, buckets of buttery popcorn—and good design, of course. When it comes to visual content, movies are arguably the most engaging, connective, and powerful. Nothing else moves us quite the way motion pictures do.
So, how do companies in the movie and video industries take what they know about the powerful medium of film and use that to communicate in email? Let’s have a look at email design for movie promotions.
Where have all the videos gone?
We analyzed hundreds of emails from companies in the movie promotion and live-streaming industries. Emails from AMC to Netflix to Fandango to Amazon and beyond. And while it’s possible to embed video directly in email, not one of these companies is doing it. Why? Probably because most email clients still can’t display embedded video content.
At present, HTML5 is probably the most popular language for embedding videos into emails. HTML5-embedded videos play directly in email messages on Apple email clients and mobile devices. (If you’re interested, here’s a how-to guide on how to implement HTML5 video in email). Years ago, video was actually more widely supported by email clients, but as spam became a bigger concern, security tightened and video support diminished. Right now, Apple Mail 4, 5, or 6, iPhone Mail, iPad Mail, and Outlook support HTML5 videos.
That’s pretty limited support. As a reference, here’s a nice table from MailUp on which email client support for HTML5 video:
It’s no wonder that even the movie industry is skipping movie content in email—at least for now. According to recent surveys, Kissmetrics reports that 75% of developers employ HTML5 and about 35% of mobile traffic is due to HTML5 videos. So it’s possible we’ll see more video content in email in the future. But for now, most movie promotions companies are using alternatives in email design, like a thumbnail, image, or animated GIF that links to the video’s URL.
Animated GIFs are mini movies
Just like movies, animated GIFs entertain. In email, where we’re so used to static messaging, they’re particularly eye-catching and engaging, bringing stories to life. Because GIFs are image files, they’re also super simple and straightforward to use in email. And, importantly for marketers’ bottom lines, GIFs have been proven to increase conversions. In once instance, a GIF-based campaign from Dell increased email conversion by 103% and raised revenue 109%.
Premium cable network Showtime recently kicked off an email with an animated GIF showing a teaser for a documentary:
Here it is in the context of the full email:
There’s probably no better way to communicate the suspenseful and visually compelling features of the documentary than in this GIF. In just a few seconds, we see more than five different scenes of treacherous mountain scaling and magnificent landscapes. Used in this way, animated GIFs are like mini movie trailers, showing a preview of what’s to come quickly and efficiently. The animated GIF, like the images below it, is designed with a play button symbol atop each frame, communicating to readers that by clicking, they can view the full video.
One fair warning about animated GIFs: they can pretty quickly become huge files. Depending on the number of frames and their resolution, oversized GIFs can be slow to animate and eat up data plans on mobile. Showtime’s GIF is a 7.4 MG file, which could be problematic, especially since some email clients like Gmail clip larger messages. For tips on how to reduce the size of an animated GIF for email, check out more in our post on Top 4 Tips for Using Animated GIFs in Email.
Vimeo, the video-sharing website, uses a different style animated GIF in a recent email—one that shows still images from videos on their site:
Here’s the full email, for context:
By comparison, Vimeo’s GIF is 436 KB, but it’s obviously a very different approach. Showtime’s animated GIF looks cinematic, while it’s clear Vimeo’s is more like a slideshow. But it also seems like Vimeo’s call-to-action isn’t necessarily as focused as Showtime’s—Showtime clearly encourages readers to click on the GIF to watch the documentary. It’s a full-width CTA and the key component of their message, so it makes sense that it’s larger and more complex. On the other hand, Vimeo isn’t using a GIF as a CTA—instead, they’re pointing readers to the CTA below the GIF. And the smaller file size allows them to send a longer email with added images. Both of these emails, by the way, do a great job of balancing text and image content, something we’ve admired about Vimeo’s emails before. The animation approach just depends on the company’s goals for a particular email.
Image grids offer visual previews
Emails for movie promotions are heavy on visual content. After all, we watch movies, we don’t read them; it makes sense that companies promoting movies want to offer subscribers a preview of what they can watch. For image-driven email with little-to-no text content, arranging products on a grid is particularly effective. The layout allows you to showcase a lot of items in an organized, scannable way.
When images don’t require much descriptive text, like the films in Amazon’s email (just a title label is all that’s needed), a grid layout is a good option. Note that the gridded content also comes below a top section with the primary CTA. This helps provide focus to the email while still including supplementary visual content.
The Tribeca Film Festival uses a creative grid layout in a recent email to showcase film content:
Again, there’s a primary piece of content at the top that takes up the most real estate, followed by secondary content immediately beneath. The email is also nicely organized with clean section breaks and headers. But because they chose to use a branded font, the email is made up of only images—each image’s header is part of the image itself. A better option would have been to break up the images with plain text content.
Single column layouts are mobile-friendly
As we’ve written about on this blog before, we generally prefer a single column layout over a multiple-column one for email. Single column emails are generally easier to read (they have a clear hierarchy without sidebar distractions), are better optimized for mobile viewing (multiple columns do not render well on smaller screens, which is why multi-column emails should always be responsive), and they are more focused on a call-to-action (single columns are optimal for storytelling, taking readers through each component of the message until there is a clear, obvious call-to-action).
The Film Society of Lincoln Center uses a single-column layout to advertise film openings, events, and new releases, one module at a time.
The design is mobile-optimized, rendering beautifully on a small iPhone screen:
On a mobile device, our instinct is to scroll, and the intuitive, sequential layout of the email leads readers directly to through each CTA (all bulletproof buttons).
Moviefone takes a similar approach in their “Hot on Moviefone” email, showing readers three modules in a single-column layout.
Old school design sticks around
Despite our frequently lamenting the pitfalls of single-image emails, and our wariness of multiple columns, and our insistence that an email is not a website, outdated design habits die hard for some movie promotion companies.
Fandango hits some design road bumps in this busy-busy email:
The header is complex and takes up a lot of space, the “Buy Tickets” buttons are images, and the dual-column layout doesn’t create any hierarchy or flow to their message. It also isn’t mobile-responsive, and those buttons are tough to tap on mobile! We recommend they simplify, focus, and prioritize mobile viewing for on-the-go reading.
The single-image email can be tough to avoid. We see it all the time. The film industry is no exception! Fandango partnered with Esquire on this movie promotion:
And AMC takes a similar approach here:
These emails would be simple to break up into modules with a balance of well-formatted text (with HTML background colors) and images.
That’s a wrap!
Email design for movie promotions runs from single-image promotions of a single film, to embedded GIFs in email that give subscribers a true sneak peek of a film, to simple grid layouts showing off lots of movie options. Here’s what we can learn from film-focused:
- Don’t embed video content in email–at least not yet. Most email clients don’t support the technology, so it’s better to use a screen grab, thumbnail, or animated GIF to link to your video’s landing page. Add a play button to your visual to help readers understand they can click to see more.
- Animated GIFs can be like mini-movies! They’re a great alternative to embedding actual movie files. But make sure to check your file size and test to see that most subscribers are receiving your email.
- A grid layout is a great option for displaying image-based content. Keep a focused CTA at the top, then provide options.
- Single-column layouts are great for mobile where readers are inclined to scroll. Break up images with plain text and bulletproof CTAs.
- Avoid the single-image email, even though it’s tempting for a single movie promotion. HTML background colors provide a ton of flexibility in improving your design, and they always render.
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