Publicity and Promotion

Hollywood creates its illusions through both its films and its publicity, mythologizing in its idealistic images of films and their stars. While sometimes the industry flaunts its promotional muscle, its publicity departments have generally operated in a more self-effacing manner, presenting the glamour of movies and their stars as natural, not created and hyped. Throughout much of the silent period and the classical era (approximately 1930–1955), studios managed to control their stars' images through a variety of means including morality clauses in contracts and careful publicity. This changed in the 1950s with the advent of television, the collapse of the studio system, the federally-mandated separation of the studios from their theater chains, and the court decision that the standard seven-year star contract was unconstitutional. The weakened film industry faced attacks from independent scandal magazines like the notorious Hollywood Confidential that used tabloid techniques to pierce carefully constructed images. To get television-watching audiences back into theaters, the industry touted its big pictures with equally big advertising campaigns, filled with stunts and gimmicks to capture public attention. Meanwhile, the growth of independent publicists, talent agents, and promotional opportunities outside the fading studio system allowed some aggressive would-be stars to make a brief impact. Perhaps chief among these was Jayne Mansfield (1933–1967), whose talent for self-promotion led to her short-lived stardom and added resonance to her performance in Twentieth Century Fox's satire of the advertising, film, and television industries, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957).

Although Hollywood confronted its declining power by diverting most of its publicity resources to select films, the tactics it used to advertise them and to promote its stars did not change much from the silent era. Most of the important promotional tactics that exist today—trailers, print advertisements, press books, posters, promotional tie-ins, star premieres—were in place by 1915, although their forms have changed since then. Some strategies used during the height of the classical era have disappeared: stars no longer travel to theaters across the United States to make promotional appearances in support of new films, and studios no longer run official star fan clubs or mail glamour shots of stars to fans. Changes in studio publicity have responded to new media, such as Internet and television advertising, and to shifts in cinema demographics. As movies increasingly became a medium for young adults rather than families during the 1950s and 1960s, film companies marketed pop music soundtracks on records and then CDs. Even then, this was not so much a change as a shift in emphasis, as sheet music had promoted movies since the silent era.

From early stunts to later sophisticated and standardized publicity, film advertising has capitalized on the audience's desire for the latest novelties and for familiar stars, stories, and comforting images. Promotions helped the film industry survive such catastrophic events as the Depression and the rise of television. Publicity has even constituted a large part of cinema's appeal—from the posters, lobby cards, and promotional memorabilia that have become collectors' items to the contests of the silent and classical era and the fast-food novelties and tie-in ring-tones of today.

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