Vintage: Ballyhoo, Part 6

Posted in Vintage at 10:47 am by Sam

In our last exciting installment of Ballyhoo, we left off in the middle of a shocking marketing stunt, actually used in the 1920s, that began thusly:

Novelty stunt to be worked with newspaper. The latter has a photographer take five photos of girls each day who are willing to pose in the–

We now return to — Ballyhoo! (But if you’re totally lost about what this is all about, maybe you want to backtrack to Part 1 first.)


–streets! To pose in the streets! Makes sense. First thing that popped into mind. Well, it’s an exploitative stunt, but exploitation 80 years ago seems a whole lot more wholesome than it does today.

The next marketing stunt is a great dating tip. Strew hearts everywhere. It’ll bring out the “love” atmosphere.

I want to see the Silk Chemise stunt worked today, but maybe it can be adapted for different kinds of movies. Like, hang up some humongous purple shorts in the middle of the theater lobby with an “Is this yours?” sign on it. A week later, add a second sign, saying, “This is similar to the shorts worn by The Incredible Hulk in the forthcoming picture!” When people see that, those tickets will sell like hotcakes.

The Bath Scene stunt runs afoul of the changing terminology discussed in Part 5. “Sex feature” wasn’t a synonym for “pornography.” Probably such films were considered exploitative, but as I said, exploitation once felt a lot more wholesome. Then again, maybe that’s just the three generations later in me talking.

So, ok, nobody could have taken the “Gipsy Girls” (old-fashioned spelling there) stunt seriously, but it’s still a funny thought. If you believe dreams have meanings, you probably believe they have important meanings. I can just imagine little Ralphie, eagerly tearing open the envelope, reading the note, and his face instantly falling. “It’s a crummy commercial!”

It’s interesting to me how many of these stunts are gender specific. The stunts often dictate whether you should get a guy for this, or a girl for that. Usually it’s girls. Girls sell. I still don’t quite fully understand why men’s magazines have pretty girls on them and women’s magazines have pretty girls on them. At any rate, this “For Men Only” stunt is all about gender roles and playing off relationships. Pretty girl gives a guy a private note. What’s the missus think about that? She demands to see. They open it together. Ahhh, the poor sod has been ensnared. Now he’ll have to take her to see [name of picture] at [name of theater].

My tone throughout these posts is usually one of amusement at how much culture and advertising has changed over time. But I have to admit, this one, although the wording of the note itself feels pretty old-fashioned, seems brilliant to me, at least in theory, in the way it uses a little psychology to capture the attention of its audience.

I wonder if the reverse would work. “FOR WOMEN ONLY — Be sure to take HIM to see SUPER DEATH FIGHTERS III! It’s the kind of picture men love!”

Nahhh. But, oooh, how about this one? “FOR WOMEN ONLY — Be sure to take HIM to see LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT IN THE RAIN! It’s the kind of picture men love!” I can see that giving women ideas. Poor guys.


The Matched Cards stunt is actually kind of a cute idea. Again, though, it’s pretty tied to its era. Today, the cards would be distributed nationwide inside specially marked packages of Frosted Flakes, Oreos, and Bounty, and somebody would make a fortune setting up a web site where you can log which numbers you’ve found and see if anybody else has logged it.

Printed Kisses…what a fantastic idea. My two favorite stunts this week are still to come, but I think “She has developed this form of greeting to her friends” is easily the best line. It brings to mind a woman wearing glasses and a laboratory coat and peering into a microscope surrounded by bubbling vials and beakers. She jots adds a drop of purple stuff to a concoction. It fizzes furiously, and she jots down some notes on a clipboard as a slow smile spreads across her face. “I’ve got it!” she exclaims. “James! James! Confound it, where is my assistant? James! I’ve done it! I’ve perfected the formula for the perfect greeting! I’ll be rich! James, you imbecile, go out to the store and buy a greeting card and some lipstick! I want to test it out immediately!”

Well, “Winks” is probably my favorite stunt this week. What an absolutely fantastic contest idea. Never mind the ukulele thing. Anybody can play a ukulele. Naughty winking takes real talent!

Actually, this stunt makes me realize how standards of attractiveness change over time. Today, kind of the standard provocative pose would include some kind of “smouldering” expression. A confident outward stare, eyes narrowed. A few generations ago, a broad gleaming smile and an exuberant wink was more common. So, hey, why not get a bunch of women up on a stage somewhere to wink and be judged? I’m not sure where the movie promotion comes into it, but that’s just a minor detail. I think my favorite category is “wisest” wink.

The Impersonation Idea…inexplicable. I am absolutely positive that this reads with wholly different connotations today than it did 80 years ago, but I am totally in the dark for how this actually came across back then.

The Wedding Stunt closes the “Sex Dramas and Romance” section, and what a way to end it. I’m sure it’s every girl’s dream to one day have an advertising stunt wedding. You know what would have been awesome? If an excited couple did this, and the wedding reception was the premiere of some movie like…I dunno, Baby Geniuses. They’ve been spending the last seven months working with the marketing department, and everybody’s all excited about this great wedding/movie event, and the happy couple is already planning to watch “their” movie on every wedding anniversary thereafter, and they have the service, and the producer thanks the newlyweds and presents the feature, and the lights dim, and it’s the WORST. MOVIE. EVER.


  1. Aaron (35) said,

    June 7, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    The bath scene stunt just made me think about using it to promote Psycho. It seemed more like a shower scene as described anyway.

    I love how to advertise a Parisian picture, you put up Japanese lights.

    “Peep-hole to arouse interest” also has different connotations to today’s readers. Especially with the use of the word “arouse”. Ditto the “Love Making Course”.

  2. LaZorra (60) said,

    June 7, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    I still don’t quite fully understand why men’s magazines have pretty girls on them and women’s magazines have pretty girls on them.

    Because men like to look at pretty girls and women like to pretend they are pretty girls.

    Random comments, mostly about items not mentioned:

    1. What the heck is “colored baby spot” in the “Open Fan” lobby display? Sounds like some sort of plague.

    2. It’s interesting to me how the “Street Car Billboard” stunt foreshadows advertising on sides (or sometimes covering the entirety) of buses today.

    3. “Peep-Hole to Arouse Interest” is easily the most amusing title of any stunt listed, and nice and double-entendre-ish. It sounds like an incredible amount of work for promoting a movie, though. Finding an abandoned storefront in a decent area of town, for one.

    4. My mom was reading this over my shoulder, and commented that the “Carnival Night” parade shows just how far society has come. It’s sad, in a way, that high school parades and Japanese lanterns won’t grab anyone’s attention these days. In her words, “if it’s not Disneyland’s Electrical Parade, no one’s interested.”

    5. I love the random quotation marks in “Boy Artist.” A “personal appearance,” indeed. Probably just a hologram. :-p Seriously, though, I wonder if kids that could draw well (and quickly, and under pressure from the “crowds”) were in more ready supply back then — I certainly didn’t grow up with any of them.

    6. I absolutely LOVE how painstakingly the kiss in “Printed Kisses” is described. Wouldn’t “A kiss from [star]” sum it up rather apparently? On another note, the phrase “rouged lips” is wonderful. I think I shall start saying that.

    7. I would think winks would be the opposite of being seen as wise. “Man, I hope I do well on this exam. I stayed up all night studying!” *wink* “Oh, haha, yeah, I was up all night ’studying,’ too.” “No, I mean it!” *wink* Yeah, I can see how that would go.

    8. The line “Use on a feature stressing the matrimonial problem” from “Matrimonial Bureau” cracks me up. Apparently there’s only one problem with marriage, and that’s that it exists in the first place!

    9. I spent a good minute staring at “Impersonation Idea.” I think the most incomprehensible part to me is why they suggest using it for “pictures bearing strongly on the sex angle.” Because there is nothing sexier than a guy in drag, you know.

    It’s interesting how many of these ideas depend on the newspaper giving coverage to them. I can’t imagine a serious paper that would run something like a winking contest today, for instance, or an article on the advantages and disadvantages of marriage outside of the columns. Kind of interesting how things have changed.

    The other thing the stunts seem to hinge on is that people had no way of getting information about movies other than word-of-mouth. In this era of downloadable trailers and detailed movie reviews, it’s hard to believe something like “Wedding Rings” would arouse interest. But if you had no clue about the movie other than the title and stars, perhaps it would.

  3. Sam (405) said,

    June 7, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    “Wedding Rings” is the most interesting stunt there. Do you have any idea how much wedding rings cost? And they’re just giving them out on the streets! I’d call in sick to work and spend my whole day going back and forth, receiving the ads.

  4. Grishny (156) said,

    June 7, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    1. What the heck is “colored baby spot” in the “Open Fan” lobby display? Sounds like some sort of plague.

    I think it means a small spotlight.

  5. Ferrick (140) said,

    June 7, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Or Technicolor spit-up.

  6. wintermute (157) said,

    June 8, 2007 at 11:21 am

    I’m guessing they’d just use brass rings, rather than gold. But that would still be pretty expensive, compared to…. um… a bit of card with a kiss printed on it.

    Also, what is a “wedding bureau”? My first impression is an office able to perform weddings, but that seems unlikely.

  7. Sam (405) said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    I’m sure the kiss cards are probably expensive as well. Stars get paid well for their time, and I’m sure it takes a lot of time to kiss all those cards.

    Eh? What’s that? What do you mean the stars probably don’t kiss each card personally? That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

  8. wintermute (157) said,

    June 8, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Wouldn’t the studio system compel the stars to kiss the cards as part of their regular employment for their standard wage? Maybe the rise of the independent actor is why we don’t see this stunt any more…

  9. Sam (405) said,

    June 8, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    They probably would, but time spent kissing cards is time not spent making a new movie. Unless you made a movie about a star that kissed cards. Then you’d kill two birds with one stone. I bet if I could travel back in time and pitch the idea, I’d be hired on as some studio’s next new hotshot producer.

  10. wintermute (157) said,

    June 8, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    I’m pretty sure that some of the time that a movie star is making a movie is spent not in front of the camera, so they could kiss the cards in this down time, rather than standing around drinking tea, or whatever it is 1920’s actors do when they’re not acting.

    Or they could take the cards home with them at the end of the day and kiss them there. Even paying them overtime, it would probably be cheaper than giving away free wedding rings.

  11. LaZorra (60) said,

    June 8, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    This is the best discussion ever.

  12. joem18b (231) said,

    July 5, 2007 at 1:31 am

    Ballyhoo: Just reading about 7-11 converting 11 of their shops nationwide to Kwik E Marts. The staff in them have Apu uniforms and various Simpson products are for sale. The shop on 42nd Street in NYC was packed after midnight last night, with the Simpson products being snapped up.

    What next? McDonalds stores that can transform into alien machines?

  13. joem18b (231) said,

    July 8, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    A friend in Springfield, Mass., tells me that the town is in competition with 13 other Springfields to host the premiere of the Simpsons movie. Each of the 14 towns has submitted videos to Fox that demonstrate why it is the true Simpsons town. I think we can vote on it, but I haven’t tried to find out how.

  14. joem18b (231) said,

    July 11, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Just for the record, Springfield, Vermont won. Hope you all voted.

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