Movie Reel

Why you should ignore most advice about podcast trailers (and the advice you actually need!)

by | Mar 16, 2023

With the release of shows like The Trailer Park Podcast and other trailer-themed articles, podcast trailers seem to be having a moment. 

Podcasting continues to grow and with more shows comes more competition. Podcasters and podcast agencies are trying new ways to earn attention and attract listeners to their shows. 

A podcast trailer is one way to do this. 

But what are podcast trailers all about and what makes a good one? 

In this article, I cover: 

  • What a podcast trailer is and why you should have one. 
  • How following popular podcast trailer creation advice will get you mediocre results. 
  • What advice actually helps in making an amazing trailer. 
  • What podcasters can learn from the movie industry. 

Do you need a podcast trailer?

Probably. 

According to Dan Misener from the podcast growth agency Bumper, podcasts that appear on top charts are more likely to have a trailer

Misener states in the article, “I pulled a list of ‘Top Shows’ from Apple Podcasts US on Friday, February 3, 2023. Of the top 200 shows I looked at, 108 (or 54%) contained trailer episodes […] this suggests top-performing shows in Apple Podcasts are much more likely to contain trailer episodes than the average show.”

Given correlation isn’t causation: Having a trailer or not having a trailer doesn’t guarantee chart-topping placement. 

However, having a trailer often shows the podcaster cares.

“But trailers are often a mark of quality. A trailer tells potential new listeners that you respect their time and attention. A trailer tells directories and app-makers that you care about the listener’s experience.”

– Dan Misener, Co-founder of Bumper.
Dan Misener

James Cridland of Podnews recently shared some interesting stats about trailers as well. In the Big tech is bad for podcasting update, Cridland reported, “Podnews looked at 362,324 podcasts feeds in our sample over the last three months: just 50,096 of them (14%) have a trailer marked in their feed. Trailers are given special promotion within many podcast apps, and can be an ideal way to help potential listeners understand what your show is about.”

Again, podcast trailers aren’t necessary, but they are an easy way to help listeners figure out if they want to listen to your show and that the podcaster cares about their show.

How to make a “good” podcast trailer. (😂)

Unfortunately, the bar is pretty low here. In preparation for this article, I did a Google search for “podcast trailers” and looked at the ‘People also ask’ section to get ideas. 

I was disappointed by the results. 

The top “People also ask” phrases included: 

  • podcast trailer examples
  • podcast trailer script
  • podcast trailer script template
  • podcast trailer idea
  • podcast trailer generator
  • podcast trailer script example
  • podcast trailer description
  • podcast trailer marker
  • podcast trailer length

More people are interested in being told exactly what to do and/or they want to follow a pre-existing script for their podcast trailer. 

I also ran “podcast trailer” through an SEO tool and I laughed out loud at the results. About 10x more people are searching for “how to make a good podcast” than what makes for a great one. 

I know it’s minor but I still thought it was funny. 😏

Podcast editing and mic

Best practices for podcast trailers.

I went through the top 10 articles on “podcast trailer best practices” and most of the advice was the same basic suggestions.

But a handful of solid sources do exist. I’ve been producing podcasts since 2012 and these are a few pieces of advice that resonated with me.

Use a podcast trailer to set up your podcast feed.

Every podcast likely has an RSS feed. Without getting all techy, it’s the URL you submit to distribution platforms like Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, etc. to share your show. 

However, you need an episode in your feed for it to exist and to be able to submit. Personally, my team doesn’t like launching a feed with the first episode. 

Each distribution platform takes a different amount of time to push your feed live from the time of submitting it. That means your content might be live on Spotify but not on Apple.

Thus, we prefer to establish the RSS feed with a trailer and not the first episode. This gives us the time to set up and submit the RSS feed to all of the different platforms, it’s totally fine if people find it and listen on their own, and then we can plan out a proper show launch with a planned release date for episode 01.

Furthermore, I don’t like listeners accidentally finding the first full episode without context. Launching an RSS feed with the first episode of the series also makes it difficult to track analytics compared to having a dedicated release date.

Feature your trailer on specific podcast platforms.

Certain podcast distribution platforms like Spotify allow you to set a trailer for the show. This is an easy way for a browsing listener to find and hear your trailer to see if your show is for them. 

If you have a trailer, make sure to set it up on different platforms.

Represent your podcast accurately.

This was the one piece of the “basic suggestions” I mentioned above that I agree with. 

Back in high school, I saw a movie trailer for a comedy that portrayed it as a quirky kind of humor. I bought tickets for me and my girlfriend, went to the theater, and within the first 5 minutes of the movie, realized it was actually a crude and raunchy style of humor. 

We left and got our money back. 

Podcast trailers are the same way. Don’t promise or portray one thing in your trailer and deliver something else in the actual show. That’s a fast way to lose listener trust and loyalty.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your trailer(s).

I was happy to see a few articles encouraging podcasters to consider what kind of trailer they are making. 

A few types include: 

The Teaser Trailer. Give only a bit of info to pique a listener’s interest. 

The Coming Soon Trailer. Typically launches before a show or season is released to get listeners excited. 

The Promotional Trailer. The standard “this show is about” trailer that most people think of when talking about podcast trailers.

Listen to podcast

Common practices for podcast trailers.

As noted, most of the “best” practice articles were generic, lackluster, and absent of facts.

I’ll save you the effort. Nearly all of the top search results boiled down to these points: 

  • Be brief and concise/don’t be too long
  • Include the podcast name, show description (who it’s for and what it’s about), the release date, and call to action (like where to find it)
  • Be aware of your tone, who your audience is, and the promises you make about the show
  • And for the love of God, keep it between 30 and 90 seconds (preferably under a minute, otherwise the world might explode). 

…But why? 

What nearly all of these articles fail to do, is give any concrete reasons why we should follow these rules. 

Why is it SO important to be brief? Why do I need to follow the same title/host/description/CTA formula? 

When looking deeper, the majority of the articles are written by podcast agencies or podcast course sites. And with my own understanding of the SEO game, it makes me feel like they wrote articles to rank, not that actually offer interesting insights. 

Unfortunately, that means that everyone reading the top search results for “making a podcast trailer” is getting the same mediocre advice. 

It reminds me of the “Rules” chapter from Rick Rubin’s book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being

Rubin says, “Rules direct us to average behaviors. If we’re aiming to create works that are exceptional, most rules don’t apply[…] The world isn’t waiting for more of the same.” (p. 98 & 100)

“As soon as a convention is established, the most interesting work would likely be the one that doesn’t follow it[…] Embedded in each medium, there are sets of norms that restrain our work before we’re even begun.”

-Rick Rubin, Music Producer, Author of The Creative Act and Legend.
Rick Rubin

So now what? Most of my research returned the same boring suggestions on how to make a podcast trailer. 

It’s time to look elsewhere.

Finding podcast trailer inspiration from the movie industry.

The podcast industry isn’t the only place to find inspiration for your trailer and my curiosity led me to the movie industry. 

A little context on movie industry trailers and why podcasters should pay attention:

The movie industry has got a bit of experience in the podcast industry. 

Podcasting has been around since the early 2000s. The first movie trailer shown in an American film theater was in November 1913 to promote the musical The Pleasure Seekers. 

And for movies, often more is at stake. 

Movie budgets are significantly higher than most podcast budgets so recouping costs and making a profit is more important to everyone involved. 

According to research featured on Science Direct, a movie trailer can account for one third of opening ticket sales. 

The point: More is riding on a movie trailer. My guess is directors are not Googling “best practices for a movie trailer” and following the instructions they find (although that information might be worth adding to this article later 😆).

Movie Reel

Random and interesting movie trailer facts.

If you haven’t noticed, I really hate that most podcast trailer articles suggest the shorter the trailer the better. 

Again, why? 

How long are movie trailers anyways? 

Turns out, 2 minutes and 30 seconds (or 150 seconds) is the max time allowed by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and movie theaters like AMC play 20 minutes of trailers before the actual movie begins. 

And apparently in 2013, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) tried to reduce the maximum trailer time to 2 minutes. 

Stephen Follows, a film industry analyst, had some interesting research around this too.  

From his analysis of movie trailers released from 2000–2016, the average length of a movie trailer was 1 minute and 54 seconds or 114 seconds and the shortest was 11 seconds. 

Average length of movie trailers
via stephenfollows.com

Averages around genre varied too. For example, sci fi and mystery genres averaged around 110 seconds in length with the shortest being horror clocking in around 100 seconds. 

On the other hand, war, biopic, historical, and sport movies had some of the longer trailers above 125 seconds, with the longest being documentaries at over 130 seconds. 

Possible takeaways: 

1. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s going to be more engaging. 

I was a 7th grade English teacher before starting Come Alive Creative. Students used to ask me all the time, “Mr. Large, how long does the paper need to be?”

My answer? 

As long as it needs to be. 

Quality isn’t a matter of length. It’s a matter of accomplishing what you need to in a way that is interesting for the audience. 

For example, one podcast trailer article cited Deep Dive with Ali Abdaal and The Mindset Mile from Aisha Zaza trailers as good examples. 

Both trailers clock in around the 2 minutes in length(gasp!). For both, I was bored at about the 50 second mark. It didn’t have anything to do with the length. I was bored because of what they were presenting and how they were presenting it. 

The Wind of Change podcast trailer is 3 minutes and 39 seconds long (another gasp!) and I engaged the entire time. 

2. Trailer length depends on context. 

As noted, movie trailers had commonalities based on genre. In the same way, a podcast about interviewing famous chefs might need less time than a trailer for a narrative podcast exploring the Cold War. 
Also, the style or type of trailer you are making will likely vary in length (i.e., a teaser trailer will probably be shorter than a promotional trailer).

3. Trailer length depends on context. 

As noted, movie trailers had commonalities based on genre. In the same way, a podcast about interviewing famous chefs might need less time than a trailer for a narrative podcast exploring the Cold War. 

Also, the style or type of trailer you are making will likely vary in length (i.e., a teaser trailer will probably be shorter than a promotional trailer). 

Number of months between trailer release and movie release.

Continuing down the Stephen Follows rabbit hole, he also did research around the time between releasing a trailer and releasing the movie

For movies released between 2000–2016, the average movie trailer was released 126 days, or 4 months, before the movie’s release date. 

The shortest runway is under a month (about 15% of movies) and the longest was over a year before the movie’s release (5% of movies). 

This interestingly also varied by genre. Most movie genres stick to around the 100 to 125 days before the movie release mark. Only Sci Fi, fantasy, adventure, family, and animation averaged trailers posting closer to 200 days before the movie’s release. 

Average amount of time between release of the first trailer and the theatrical release of the movie.
via stephenfollows.com
Possible takeaway: 

Be intentional about when you release your podcast trailer. We typically release the podcast trailer two weeks before the official launch of the podcast. 

The idea is to have the trailer closer to the launch date so people don’t forget about it but I don’t have any data to confirm if that’s the best time or not. 

However, Follows’ research has inspired me to do more research into this and I’ll likely have more to report in the future. 

What are the best movie trailers? 

This is a fun one too. 

According to IMDB, these are the top 13 movie trailers: 

  1. The Dark Knight
  2. Braveheart
  3. Avatar
  4. The Butler
  5. The Fighter
  6. Prisoners
  7. War Horse
  8. American Beauty
  9. The Last Samurai
  10. The Lion King
  11. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  12. X-Men: First Class
  13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

While being fun to review and watch, this isn’t very helpful information. 

However, it did inspire me to review some movie trailers that I do enjoy. 

For example, my team broke down the flow of several different movies in this ugly Google Sheet. It’s a chart that documents the changes in variables for several different movie trailers.

Movie trailer breakdowns

The far left column is the length/timestamp of the trailer. The proceeding columns tracked the following using different colors to indicate changes: 

Scenes – How many times the scenes changed 

Music – When music was used 

Narration – If/when narration or voices were used

Character dialogue – If/when dialogue from the actual movie scenes was used 

Sound design – If/when sound designed was intentionally used to highlight something or make a point (more than the natural sounds of a scene)

And titles/text – If/when text and titles were used to share information in a trailer

It’s interesting to see the differences between the movies and genres. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel Trailer is 2 minutes and 25 seconds long and includes the following: 

  • 89 scene changes, making the average scene about 1.6 seconds long
  • 2 minutes and 04 seconds of background music from 3 different tracks
  • 9 seconds of narration
  • 1 minute and 14 second of dialogue
  • 19 seconds of intentional sound design
  • And 19 seconds of titles

Compare that to Free Solo’s trailer clocking in at 2 minutes and 27 seconds

  • 77 scene changes, making the average scene about 3.2 seconds long
  • 2 minutes and 20 seconds of background music from 1 track
  • 0 seconds of narration
  • 2 minute and 13 second of dialogue
  • 2 seconds of intentional sound design
  • And 31 seconds of titles
Possible takeaway:

It’s just interesting to see how each movie and genre make decisions. Faster cuts vs slower cuts. Music vs silence. Narration vs dialogue vs both. 

Given, visuals like titles don’t really apply to audio-only podcast trailers but it does make you wonder. 

How can I leverage music, scene changes, narration, or dialogue to improve my trailer? 

This is just the movie industry. There are other industries that use trailers or commercials to get you interested in their content. 

Look around and get inspired.

throwing away paper

Learn the rules so you can break them. 

This is my main takeaway:

Forget what everyone else says.

Including me. 😂

No one knows what they are talking about. Marketers frequently say “X” is the best one year and then change it to “Y” the next. 

Beyond that, most of the advice is the same boring thing reused on every blog trying to rank in the search results. 

It’s only going to get worse with the rise of templated and AI generated content. 

Instead, do what you want. If there’s one piece of advice you should listen to me about, if nothing else:

  • Get creative.
  • Ignore the “best” practices and try things you think will work.
  • Be intentional and have a plan. 

Do those things and your podcast trailer will be lightyears better than the competition. 

P.S. 

A quick shout out to a few people who directly/indirectly helped with this article: 

Dan Misener from Bumper for sharing some information on trailers with me before his recent article went live. 

James Cridland from Podnews for pulling some data after I asked him about it. 

Stephen Follows from StephenFollows.com. We’ve never spoken, but Stephen, your movie articles came in clutch. 

Rick Rubin, producer and author. We have never spoken either but I’ve really been enjoying the recent book. It’s been challenging me to refine my own craft. 

And Arielle Nissenblatt from The Trailer Park Podcast. It’s the podcast that showcases podcast trailers. Again, if you’re looking for concrete ways to improve your podcast trailer game, give them a listen. 

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