The Art of the Sell — TV Guide listings ads

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

tv guide ad

The primacy of one particular periodical in my pop culture–obsessed youth can’t be overstated. There was a time, tender young souls, when knowing what programs were going to appear on television required the consultation of regularly published reference materials. At one point, TV Guide had the highest circulation of any magazine in the U.S., the satisfying little slab of pages offering mostly cheerful puffery about small-screen celebrities and, most importantly, a complete listing of everything airing on television across an entire week. The descriptions in the listings were merely perfunctory, giving only the barest idea of what might be happening in any given episode. Discerning readers knew to peruse the ads.

The major networks snapped up column inches positioned around the prime time listings to tout the latest episodes of their priority series. The ads were structured with a common format: images of the stars lumped together, pithy plot summaries, and always — always! — the promise of grand entertainment for those tuning in. In addition to providing urgent promotion, the ads were a barometer of the respective shows’ popularity. As series withered in the ratings, the ads for them grew smaller and less prominent, until that already canceled series just burning off episodes were lucky to get a tiny corner in a different ad, touting other shows airing on the same night. Well before ratings information was readily available to anyone who clicked their way to it, I was keenly aware of the sad fate befalling some of my favorite shows by the ad space they were afforded.

TV Guide is still published, but I haven’t picked up a copy in ages, confident the digital grid that greets me at a button push will provide more than enough information for me. And the DVR is going to catch everything I’m likely to watch anyway. I do miss flipping  pages, my anticipation juiced by the cheery, simple marketing efforts. Mentally planning my week of television viewing was almost as good as sitting in front of the set and soaking it all in. Actually, I think sometimes the planning was even better.

The Art of the Sell — “Star Wars” trailer

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

A long time ago, a studio’s marketing team was charged with convincing the general public that an adventure story set in outer space was worthy of their time, attention, and spending money. According to Hollywood lore, Star Wars was a movie practically no one believed in, including the writer-director’s closest compatriots. (Steven Spielberg was a notable exception, declaring the inevitability of a huge box office haul for the film after screening an early cut.) The 20th Century Fox executives surely cringed at the realization that one of their strongest selling points, the central involvement of “George Lucas, the man who brought you American Graffiti,” was going to be undercut by a collection of images that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the nostalgic hit.

Well after the complicated particulars of the Star Wars saga have cemented themselves into the cultural firmament, with pending ninth feature film in the main series representing a remarkably small sliver of the fantastical creation’s sprawl, it’s difficult to properly contextualize how bizarre the visuals must have seemed when the trailer to the original film started appearing in theaters. How did audiences puzzle out the laser swords, the clanking robots, and the hulking, furry beast in the cockpit of a spaceship? No matter how widely Star Wars references would someday be applied, there was once a time when a promotional effort was so utterly detached from the mythos that an announcer would be called upon to portentously describe the first film as “The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe.”

 

The Art of the Sell — Hulk Sells Honeycomb

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

Sometimes I’m prepared to expound at length about the nuances and intricacies I think I spy in an ad campaign. Sometimes I’m just amused that, incredibly, the Hulk was employed to see Honeycomb cereal in the nineteen-seventies, and I want to share it.

The Art of the Sell — Bear in a Cage

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

Whatever its virtues and flaws, Ari Aster’s Midsommar is one of my favorite film releases of the year. The reason is simple: It resulted in this wonderfully inspired promotional effort on the part of A24. It’s less of an enticement for the uninitiated than a gift for those who’ve already watched the horror film, but as member of the latter group I will attest that this quick, catchy minute is a pure delight.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Art of the Sell” tag.

The Art of the Sell — John Waters “No Smoking” PSA

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

Back in the nineteen-eighties, movie theaters had to work a little harder to remind patrons that they weren’t allowed to smoke. None accomplished it with more panache than those lucky art house theaters blessed with a short reel of director John Waters addressing the crowd directly. Waters explains the policy clearly, but, contrarian to the core, he also expresses his disapproval at the prohibition, marveling that anyone could go the length of a movie — especially the high-falutin’ fare about to offered at the art house — without indulging in a smoke. All the while, Waters puffs away, all the better to taunt jonesing moviegoers.

I don’t smoke. I’ve never smoked. But even I have to concede the power of the sadistic seduction offered by Waters. He almost has me reaching instinctively for some phantom pack in my pocket.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Art of the Sell” tag.

The Art of the Sell — Stranger Things and New Coke

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

As someone who experience formative years during the nineteen-eighties, culturally guided by Steven Spielberg’s films and Stephen King’s fiction, I am fully prepared to acknowledge my enduring affection for the Netflix series Stranger Things is tightly bound to the expert evocation of a number of my experiences from the era in which it is set. I can point to a myriad of skilled storytelling tactics employed by the brothers Duffer and their collaborators, but I must concede that the well-deployed trappings of the age leave me cheerfully spellbound. And I’m especially smitten when precisely the right era signifier is front and center in promotional efforts, which leads me straight to the latest mini-campaign in the long lead-up to the third season.

Among the odd cultural touchstones set to factor into the upcoming season of Stranger Things, a misbegotten brand relaunch evidently looms large enough to inspire a tie-in effort. In the middle of the eighties, Coca-Cola responded to a marketplace so newly competitive that the term “cola wars” was coined by showily revamping the recipe of its flagship product. New Coke debuted in 1985, prompting the publisher of Beverage Digest to tell CBS News, “This has got to be the boldest  consumer products move of any kind, or any stripe since Eve started to hand out apples.”

The prominent inclusion of one of the most famous U.S. brands in a buzzy streaming series didn’t involve paid product placement, but synergy is its own enticement. Coca-Cola collaborated with the creators of Stranger Things to brew up a special teaser, combining a treacly, very-eighties jingle with relevant clips culled from the upcoming season of Stranger Things. And it is a work of multi-faceted marketing perfection.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Art of the Sell” tag.

 

The Art of the Sell — “Marty” trailer

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

I have a strong affection for the unique era of movie trailers represented by this promotional assemblage for the drama Marty, which would go on to become one of the rare smaller scale films to claim the Academy Award for Best Picture. As with other trailers from around this time — the mid-nineteen-fifties — it includes a remarkable number of the film’s key scenes, including the closing shot (though it’s highly decontextualized here). What I really stirs my affection is the structure, which counts of Burt Lancaster, a producer of the film, addressing the audience directly in full beaming movie star mode explaining why Marty is such a special picture. He’s chummy and gregarious, his oak tree certainty providing full reassurance that Marty is a film that absolutely must be seen. It’s unimaginable that this sort of approach would be palatable today (imagine how insufferable it would have been had the 12 Years a Slave trailer hinged on producer Brad Pitt giving it his celebrity imprimatur), but I’m a little wistful that it worked once upon a time.