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Profit Margins: The American Silent Cinema and the Marginalization of Advertising

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Georgia State University Georgia State University Communication Dissertations Department of Communication Profit Margins: The American Silent Cinema and the Marginalization of
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Georgia State University Georgia State University Communication Dissertations Department of Communication Profit Margins: The American Silent Cinema and the Marginalization of Advertising Jeremy W. Groskopf Follow this and additional works at: Recommended Citation Groskopf, Jeremy W., Profit Margins: The American Silent Cinema and the Marginalization of Advertising. Dissertation, Georgia State University, This Dissertation is brought to you for free and open access by the Department of Communication at Georgia State University. It has been accepted for inclusion in Communication Dissertations by an authorized administrator of Georgia State University. For more information, please contact PROFIT MARGINS: THE AMERICAN SILENT CINEMA AND THE MARGINALIZATION OF ADVERTISING by JEREMY GROSKOPF Under the direction of Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley and Ted Friedman ABSTRACT In the early years of the twentieth century, the unique new medium of motion pictures was the focus of significant theorization and experimentation at the fringes of the American advertising industry. Alongside the growth of the nickelodeon, and the multiple shifts in the American cinema s business model in the transitional era, various individuals at the margins of the advertising industry attempted, and most often failed, to integrate direct consumer-goods advertising regularly into motion picture theaters. Via techniques as diverse as the glass slide, the commercial trailer, and the advertising wall-clock, cinema patrons of the 1910s witnessed various attempts by merchants and manufacturers to intrude upon their attention in the cinema space. Through research in the trade presses of the cinema, advertising, and various consumer goods industries, along with archival ephemera from the advertising companies themselves, this dissertation explores these various on and off-screen tactics for direct advertising attempted in silent cinemas, and their eventual minimization in the American cinema experience. Despite the appeal of the new, popular visual medium of cinema to advertisers, concerns over ticket-prices, advertising circulation, audience irritation, and the potential for theatrical suicide-byadvertising, resulted, over a mere fifteen years, in the near abandonment of the cinema as an advertising medium. As a transitional medium between the 19 th century forms of print and billboarding, and 20 th century broadcasting, the silent cinema was an important element in the development of modern advertising theories. INDEX WORDS: Advertising, Silent cinema, Transitional era, Film exhibition, Film spectatorship, American cinema, Magic lantern, Trailer, Animation PROFIT MARGINS: THE AMERICAN SILENT CINEMA AND THE MARGINALIZATION OF ADVERTISING by JEREMY GROSKOPF A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences Georgia State University 2013 Copyright by Jeremy Wade Groskopf 2013 PROFIT MARGINS: THE AMERICAN SILENT CINEMA AND THE MARGINALIZATION OF ADVERTISING by JEREMY GROSKOPF Committee Chairs: Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley Ted Friedman Committee: Alisa Perren Cynthia B. Meyers Electronic Version Approved: Office of Graduate Studies College of Arts and Sciences Georgia State University August 2013 iv A moving-picture audience ought to be an inspiration to an advertising man. I have sat in a moving-picture theater full of kids and grown-ups and have thought, 'If I only knew how to reach these people, I would know all about advertising.' - Don Herold, September 1915 v ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Regardless of attribution of authorship, a dissertation is a community effort. What is contained within these pages has been immeasurably improved by intellectual and emotional support from numerous people. In the former category, my committee with special thanks to Kathy has helped to massage this project from nebulous concept to functioning dissertation. Archival support from Lynn Eaton at Duke, and Dennis Daily at the Penrose Library in Colorado Springs streamlined my research significantly, and both led me in very useful directions. David Boutros from the State Historical Society of Missouri was invaluable during a moment of longdistance research. The impact of prior teachers is also apparent in these pages, especially that of Matthew Bernstein, who guided me through my thesis and who taught me so much about researching and writing. Perhaps more valuable than information, to a dissertator, is the emotional maintenance which helps one to survive the process. All of my friends, both local and distant, have assisted me through this process in some way. However, Ian Peters deserves special mention for performing admirably as both occasional research-monkey and frustration-sponge, not to mention the countless hours of entertainment. My now two-year old daughter Ivy should also be singled out for praise for both improving my productivity and helping me to remember that, even in academia, there is such a thing as down-time. And she s cute too. And, of course, my wife Jennifer who helped me survive my dissertation only a few years after finishing her own was both advisor and ally in one, for which she deserves both the final and most appreciative thanks. vi TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS... v CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION: THEATERS, COMMUNICATION, AND ADVERTISING IN THE AMERICAN SILENT CINEMA... 1 Topics and Terms... 6 Technological Failure and the Study of History Literature Review: Media Studies Literature Review: Advertising History Literature Review: Silent Era Cinema Advertising Scaffolds and Structure CHAPTER 2. A NOVEL AND IRRESISTIBLE MAGNETISM : ADVERTISING LOOKS AT CINEMA, Medium Specific Psychology and the Passive Cinema Spectator The Captive Audience and Receptive Mood The Combative Spirit and Film s Stagnation as an Ad Medium The Happy Captive and Twentieth Century Advertising CHAPTER 3. THE FRONT COVER MEDIUM : MAGIC LANTERN SLIDES, TEMPORALITY, AND ONSCREEN ADVERTISING What Was a Lantern Slide? A Brief History of the Early American Slide Advertising Industry, Why Slide-vertising? Why Not? Slide Psychology vii Technological Slides Spectacle and Practicality Conclusion CHAPTER 4. SCREEN SUGAR PILLS : THE COMMERCIAL TRAILER AND THE MARGINALIZATION OF ONSCREEN ADVERTISING What Was a Trailer? A Brief History of the Advertising Trailer, Why Trailer Advertising? Why Not? Case Study - The Alexander Film Company and the High Class Trailer Conclusion CHAPTER 5. WATCH THIS SPACE: PERIPHERAL ADVERTISING THROUGH TECHNOLOGIES Rethinking the Theater and Its Relationship to Advertising Frames Public Service Tech Clocks Active Audience Rhetoric and the Cinema as Venue Conclusion CHAPTER 6. INTEMPERATE PROCLAMATIONS : EXHIBITION, TICKETS, AND THE BIG CHILL OF CINEMA ADVERTISING Participating Sponsorship as a Model of Cinema Exhibition The Incredible Shrinking Field of Cinema Advertising Cinema Advertising as Media Development viii Gone Today, Here Tomorrow Implications for Further Research WORKS CITED APPENDICES Appendix A: Advertising Slide Companies Appendix B: Advertising Trailer Companies Appendix C: Offscreen-Advertising Companies 1 CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION: THEATERS, COMMUNICATION, AND ADVERTISING IN THE AMERICAN SILENT CINEMA In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a much remarked turn in the American cinema experience occurred. Often described (erroneously) as an intrusion upon a previously uncontaminated medium, direct consumer goods advertising in motion picture theaters began its meteoric rise in the United States. The formation of Screenvision and the National Cinema Network (soon to become National CineMedia [NCM]) for the purposes of pre-film slide and trailer advertising in the late 1970s, the boom in product placement in the wake of Reese s Pieces star turn in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial in 1982, and the accelerating use of cinema advertising at the turn of the 20 th century following advertiser s fears of the fading effectiveness of television, 1 have combined to produce a sense that a venue once dedicated solely to onscreen entertainment has been colonized by the ever expanding American advertising industry. This sense of newness is common not only among spectators, but also among scholars and advertising practitioners and proponents. Kim B. Rotzoll, author of one of the earliest studies of cinema advertising after its rebirth, mentioned in passing that there was some [cinema advertising] present in the 50s, but appears to have been aware of no other precursors. 2 Advertising Age columnist Matthew Grimm gave the appearance of an even shorter lifespan for cinema advertising when he asserted, in 2003, that turning the big screen into a cross-category ad 1 Deron Overpeck, Subversion, Desperation and Captivity: Pre-Film Advertising in American Film Exhibition Since 1977, Film History 22.2 (2010): , 224; Kerry Segrave, Product Placement in Hollywood Films: A History (Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Company, 2004), 140; and Michael T. Ewing, Erik du Plessis, and Charles Foster, Cinema Advertising Re-Considered, Journal of Advertising Research 41.1 (January/February 2001): Kim B. Rotzoll, The Captive Audience: The Troubled Odyssey of Cinema Advertising, Current Research in Film 3 (1987): 82. 2 medium did not happen until the mid-1990s. 3 Marketing scholar Herbert Jack Rotfeld, in 2006, declared vaguely that cinema advertising for unrelated products or services is relatively new in the USA. 4 In that same year, Joanna Phillips and Stephanie M. Noble s research into audience sentiments about cinema advertising revealed, among many preconceptions, the same sense that the intrusion of advertising was recent, with one respondent claiming that prices for the movies keep going up, and now there is advertising that you got to put up with. 5 In the eruption of studies of the promise and problems of cinema advertising that has appeared in advertising oriented journals, the reader frequently encounters the assumption that cinema advertising is a new field. 6 Marginalized in many analyses, then, is the fact that the techniques currently enjoying such a wave of popularity among advertisers are actually more than 100 years old. Product placement dates at least as far back as the Edison Company s ubiquitous train films of the 1890s. 7 The pre-film digital advertising slides and trailers circulated by Screenvision and NCM have roots at least as far back as the physical advertising slides circulated by Boston s Preston 3 Quoted in Joanna Phillips and Stephanie M. Noble, Simply Captivating: Understanding Consumers Attitudes Toward the Cinema as an Advertising Medium, Journal of Advertising 36.1 (Spring 2007): Herbert Jack Rotfeld, Misplaced Marketing: Movie Theaters Suicide-by-Advertising with Income from Abusing Customers, Journal of Consumer Marketing 23.7 (2006): Joanna Phillips and Stephanie M. Noble, Simply Captivating: Understanding Consumers Attitudes Toward the Cinema as an Advertising Medium, Journal of Advertising 36.1 (Spring 2007): 88. Emphasis added. As the article was published in Spring of 2007, I presume that the response was given sometime in A small sampling: Keith F. Johnson, Cinema Advertising, Journal of Advertising 10.4 (1981): 11-19; Jason Dunnett and Janet Hoek, An Evaluation of Cinema Advertising Effectiveness, Marketing Bulletin May 1996: 58-66; Alain d Astous and Francis Chartier, A Study of Factors Affecting Consumer Evaluations and Memory of Product Placement in Movies, Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising 22.2 (Fall 2000): 32-40; Pola B. Gupta, Siva K. Balasubramanian, and Michael L. Klassen, Viewers Evaluations of Product Placement in Movies: Public Policy Issues and Managerial Implications, Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising 22.2 (Fall 2000): 41-52; Michael T. Ewing, Erik du Plessis, and Charles Foster, Cinema Advertising Re- Considered, Journal of Advertising Research 41.1 (January/February 2001): 78-85; Joanna Phillips and Stephanie M. Noble, Simply Captivating: Understanding Consumers Attitudes Toward the Cinema as an Advertising Medium, Journal of Advertising 36.1 (Spring 2007): Jay Newell, Charles T. Salmon, and Susan Chang, The Hidden History of Product Placement, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 50.4 (December 2006): 580, 590. 3 Lombard in and the film-trailer advertisements of Houston s Southern Film Service in Concerns over the effectiveness of given techniques feature equally well-worn tropes. The attitudes which Joanna Phillips and Stephanie M. Noble connect to Reactance Theory (combative behavior resulting from the sense of curtailed freedoms), Equity Theory (decreasing attendance due to a sense that the cost of a ticket exceeds the pleasure derived if advertising is added to the cinema experience), and Expectancy Disconfirmation Theory (displeasure resulting from the cinema experience failing to meet preconceptions) 10, were being voiced, albeit in different terms, about cinema advertising throughout the transitional era (roughly 1908 to 1917). 11 In this study, I contend that advertising and the cinema not only have a long history of interrelation, but that, until Depression era radio, they were mutually defining institutions. Cinema advertising of the transitional era, as an overt foil for many cinema commentators, played a formative role in the American rebranding of cinema as a highbrow entertainment. Simultaneously, the marginalization of these practices from the mainstream theaters established a cultural hostility to direct advertising in new media which would require years of broadcasting experience to overturn. 8 Display Ad, Moving Picture World 2.15 (11 April 1908): Display Ad, Moving Picture World (7 March 1914): Joanna Phillips and Stephanie M. Noble, Simply Captivating: Understanding Consumers Attitudes Toward the Cinema as an Advertising Medium, Journal of Advertising 36.1 (Spring 2007): Periodization of the American silent cinema generally reduces the era to three hazily dated phases: the cinema of attractions, the transitional era, and the feature film era. During the time when cinema was an attraction, the fact of film mattered more than the content, as the very act of seeing a film was noteworthy. In the feature era, most of the practices we recognize from pre-world War II American cinema, except for the use of pre-recorded sound major studios, feature films, vertical integration, the Hays Office, etc. were already in operation or shortly to be born. The transitional era in between thus encapsulates the institutionalization of the cinema, as the original practices were abandoned, sometimes in multiple phases, resulting in the mature industry of the 1920s. For a detailed study of the vagaries of periodization, see: Charlie Keil and Shelley Stamp, Introduction, and Ben Brewster, Periodization of Early Cinema, both in American Cinema s Transitional Era: Audiences, Institutions, Practices, ed. Charlie Keil and Shelley Stamp (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2004). See also: Tom Gunning, Cinema of Attractions, Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, ed. Thomas Elsaesser (London: British Film Institute, 1990), 58-59; Tom Gunning, D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: The Early Years at Biograph (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991); and David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985). 4 For cinema studies, this dissertation on the direct advertising tactics used in transitional era cinema including slides, trailers, and offscreen materials like advertising clocks reveals a new breadth of local cinema experiences which were slowly pushed into the margins by the vertically integrating industry. For an era in which the tension between mass and class audiences was a driving factor for innovation (leading, for example, to the creation of feature films and palatial theaters), cinema advertising was a key way in which cinema theaters were differentiated. Though cinema advertisers were eternally chasing the affluent, cinema advertising itself became a marker of lower class and independent theatrical experiences. Opinions about poor quality cinema advertising cracked slides, cheap animation, and light polluting clocks became entangled with the notion that advertising was inherently lowbrow. The entire field was increasingly condemned as a boorish intrusion on the refined American cinema of the future. By examining the history of transitional era American cinema advertising, through the lens of supportive and critical rhetoric, this study reveals how the American film industry intentionally divorced itself from commercialism. This dissertation thus contributes to our understanding of the ways in which the business pure and simple of American cinema was distanced from alternative exhibition practices in order to strengthen its new institutional standing as an art. For the history of American advertising, this study of silent era cinema advertising erases the dissonance in canonical advertising history caused by juxtaposing the proliferation of direct advertising via periodicals and billboards at the turn of the century, with the hesitation about direct advertising on radio throughout the 1920s. What appears to be simple hesitation in the face of a new technology is revealed to be the legacy of the failure in the cinema. As Kenneth Lipartito has said, in the history of technology and ideas, 5 failures contribute to the construction of the frameworks of meaning that guide decisions in an open-ended technological world. They fit into a narrative about technology that helps to shape the range of choices we can make. 12 Cinema advertising is thus an important failure, in which the faltering dream of an advertising supported cinema sowed seeds of doubt about the suitability of direct advertising in new media. The American silent cinema is, thus, a missing link in the history of the advertising industry s relentless 20 th century expansion a largely failed attempt to colonize the first moving medium, which, by the very fact of its failure, directly influenced developments to follow. Much like the concepts of pre-recorded sound, 13 color photography, 14 and widescreen aesthetics, 15 cinema advertising is not an era but an idea, threaded through the history of both the American cinema and advertising industries now present, now absent, but always in the air as an option. The cultural antagonisms bound up in the history of cinema advertising audiences vs. advertising, exhibitors vs. studios, the film industry vs. the advertising industry, and advertising agencies vs. non-print media are still with us, as are many of the preconceptions which developed around the experimentation. In the interplay between onscreen and offscreen space, audience captivity and audience hostility, downtown and neighborhood theaters, and the many attempts to culturally define the cinema, advertising in American film theaters shaped future conceptions of what modern advertising and the cinema experience could be. 12 Kenneth Lipartito, Picturephone and the Information Age: The Social Meaning of Failure, Technology and Culture 44.1 (January 2003): James Lastra, Sound Technology and the American Cinema: Perception, Representation, Modernity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000); Richard Abel and Rick Altman, ed., The Sounds of Early Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001); and Rick Altman, Silent Film Sound (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). 14 Richard Misek, Chromatic Cinema: A History of Screen Color (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010); and Joshua Yumibe, Moving Color: Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012). 15 John Belton, Widescreen Cinema (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992); and H
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