Vintage: Ballyhoo, Part 9

Posted in Vintage at 9:26 pm by Sam

In the 1920s, advertising was crazier and less restrained. Nothing was out of the question. Everything was worth a shot. In previous weeks in this series, we’ve examined many real advertising stunts pulled during the 1920s to advertise movies, including going so far as to hire the police to pull people over and hand out movie tickets. Here’s another batch of advertising stunts, collected and printed in The Film Daily Yearbook, an almanac of sorts for theater owners and others in the film industry.


If you thought having the police pull people over was crazy, this first stunt will make that look positively dull by comparison. At last we come to the most outrageous stunt in the entire history of this series. That’s right: a poster that advertises a coming attraction! I don’t know what nutjub thought that would ever work as an advertising scheme. Hang up a sign? For people to read?? Bwahahhaahahhahaahahahah!!!

The “New Poster Angle” stunt could serve poor theater owners well — the ones that can’t afford scotch tape or staples to affix their posters to the wall. Throw it on the floor and cordon it off. I jest. This is actually a brilliant idea. It’s a movie poster, yes. It’s a movie poster on the floor. My thought is, hey, project the actual movies that way. It would be a sure-fire attention getter, and you could do it as a tie-up with a linoleum manufacturer.

The “Giant Telegram” is interesting in part, of course, because telegrams are a thing of the past. But even so. I can’t imagine why John Q. Public would care to know about the business arrangements a local theater engages in to lease movies to show. I can’t imagine a more boring thing, and we’re talking about an industry renowned for the glamor and mystique of the insider track. Would you see a movie just because the manager of your local theater went to a lot of trouble to secure a print?

The Ice Cake Stunt is hilarious. “Look! Here’s a bouquet of flowers inside an ice cube! So go see Letters From Iwo Jima!” My imagination has altogether too much fun with the “tie-up” part, which is just to find some other local business and share the ad. So if you want to team up with a bookseller, freeze a bouquet of flowers and a book. Auto repair shop? Bouquet of flowers and an oil filter. Restaurant? Bouquet of flowers and a cannoli. Hardware store? Bouquet of flowers and a toilet seat. What I want to know is, what do you do if you team up with a florist? Does the florist’s contribution have to be a reel of film?


The best part about the “Bathing Crowds” stunt is the first line — it’s for advertising a picture with “bathing beauty atmosphere.”

The “Soft Drink” stunt actually sounds like good cross-promotion, but once again we see that wonderful disregard people had for factual advertising. Today, stars make huge money for licensing their name and image to promote products. If Mountain Dew just up and decided, “Ok, Harrison Ford *loves* Dew,” and launched an advertising campaign based on that, you’d be taken down so fast, Harrison Ford’s lawyers would barely have time to decide which tropical island to retire on. The other Harrison Ford, however, probably never got rich from unintentionally liking Mountain Dew. Especially since Mountain Dew hadn’t been invented yet, but you get the idea.

The great thing about the “Typist Stunt” is how it shows how specialized a skill typing used to be. If you weren’t a secretary, you probably didn’t know how to type, and unless you worked in an office building, there was an excellent chance you never spent much time around typewriters either. A demonstration of fast typing might have been an intriguing curiosity for many people, and the thought of guessing the astonishing number of words talented typists could write per minute might have dropped a few jaws. I’m probably exaggerating, but this is the idea. Anyway, I can’t help but think that it would make a better ad for typewriters than for movies.

The “New Style Drink,” besides again showcasing how advertisers felt free to fabricate the endorsement of movie stars wherever desired, is a great glimpse at the value of money 80 years ago. A coupon for 5 cents off? Man, I don’t know who would bother. Actually, I would, if it were for something I’d have bought anyway. But I’d be annoyed. I’d rather not have any coupon than have the 5 cent coupon taking up space in my wallet until I remembered to use it.

We wrap this week up with another typing stunt, but we’ll have to wait until the next installment to find out what that one’s all about. We’ve got just one more installment left before we’ll have completed the entire collection of advertising stunts. It’s a goodie, so stick around.


  1. Nyperold (116) said,

    September 21, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    I like that it has both “Chinese Atmosphere” and “Oriental Atmosphere”. China has to have its own decor, but for any other Far Eastern country, eh, just slap some Japanese stuff up. It’s all the same, right?

    An Irish or Irish-Jewish theme? Well, color me confused. What difference does the Jewish part make, that wouldn’t also be the same general kind of difference with any other combination of Irish culture and something else?

    Hey, pouring sand on the public walkways, that sounds like a great idea! Especially if the guy’s going to stop, kneel down, and salam every once in a while.

    It’s funny that the Street Car Stunt is called unusual. Two paragraphs before, the article was describing The Sand Trail, which I must say is much stranger.

  2. wintermute (157) said,

    September 25, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    I want to know why more theatres don’t use the police guard stunt, these days.

    Between this and getting them to pull motorists over to tell them about the latest released, I’m forced to wonder if the 1920’s police had any time left over after their advertising work to, you know, investigate crimes…

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