Specifically, these would be posters (for a movie, series, video game, novel, comic, etc.) you saw before you knew or saw anything else about the actual IP. The poster would have been your first exposure to the marketing. In my case, one prime example would be the poster for Fear Dot Com (2002). Upon watching the film, I was left disappointed, feeling like it didn’t deliver on its premise’s potential.
That said, I still recall the poster’s impact when I first saw it and praise its design. Apart from the eerily distorted picture and tagline “Want to see a really killer website?”, the image itself just unnerved me (the character’s mouth, misshapen eyes, not knowing if this was a face or mask, confused on if it was even human, etc.). In my opinion, it excels in every way at executing a horror poster’s intended purpose.
I would personally articulate this purpose in four main steps. Feedback is welcome on what you agree with, disagree with, and/or what you would also consider important to the process:
1) Draw the consumer’s attention via the image before they have any information.
2) Intrigue the consumer to process the information on the poster.
3) Convey the concept. Give just enough information for the consumer to form a vague understanding of the intended premise & experience while keeping enough unknown to not undermine the intrigue.
4) Balance everything in the poster together effectively (not so ambiguous that it looks boring, not so busy with detail that it overwhelms or confuses the viewer), enough that the overall impact is compelling & attractive enough to ultimately get the consumer’s money and their butt in the seat.
Two more examples from my experience would be the first posters I saw for 2007’s 30 Days of Night and ’09’s Daybreakers. Very similar in design, the simple red backgrounds, menacing vampire faces/figures, pitch black blood splatter and somewhat confusing but intriguing titles were enough to suck me in (pun 100% intended). Both posters accomplished a lot with so little to leave a lasting impression, and I walked away with many questions as to what their stories could be about (To clarify, I knew nothing about 30 Days of Night‘s comic on which the film was based at the time).