Murketing’s Sponsored-Film Virtual Festival: “To Market, To Market”

Posted by Rob Walker on April 22, 2008
Posted Under: Advertising,America,Olde News,Sponsored Film Festival

To Market, To Market.

[ –> Details on Sponsored-Film Virtual Festival are here.]

For reasons that aren’t clear to me, part one is in black and white, part two is in color.

“Like the waters of a mighty ocean, people also represent a mighty force,” announces the narrator of “To Market, To Market,” a 1942 film commissioned by General Outdoor Advertising Company, identified in The Field Guide To Sponsored Films as a “major billboard and poster company.” The point of the film: “to convince ad buyers of the value of outdoor advertising.”

After all, the “mighty force” that people represent, the narrator continues, is “known as consumer power.” “In response to the potential demands of consumer power,” the film goes on, “American initiative and industry have created in the United States, the highest standard of living ever enjoyed by any people.”

But even American initiative faces the challenge of more efficiency and better distribution. “Outdoor advertising” is a help. Um, how? Well, according to this film, it keeps people informed about what’s available. The great “purchasing tide” is always moving about, you see. How better to reach them than outdoor advertising?

“Without people having demands … there could be no market,” the film clarifies.

Sure. Anyway, as depicted in this film at least, outdoor ad companies turn out to be staffed by men who are practically scientists — studying traffic patterns, bending over work tables with their sleeves rolled up, and so on. We hear a lot about data being “tabulated,” and about “complete penetration,” and so on. We see a man with a clipboard hanging around a billboard. In 1933, we’re informed, the outdoor business set up an “audit bureau” that applied “modern scientific and business methods” to the vexing question of billboard effectiveness. (This seems to involve counting how many people pass the billboard, and then cutting that number, rather arbitrarily, in half. Also: Points off if the billboard is set an angle that’s hard to see from the highway – that’s “the space proficiency efficiency rating”) Posters are discussed as well.

Of course, it all sounds like a bunch of hocus pocus and hooey — which it almost certainly is. As with any sponsored film, the key is understanding the film’s intended audience. Sponsored films are often about persuasion — but the point is that often they are persuasion. In this case, the intended audience is people who represent entities that might want to use “outdoor” as a medium. How to convince them? Science, rationality, empirical evidence, that’s how.

The sort of theocratic debate within the commercial persuasion world about whether that business is an art or a science is an old one, and it’s still around. I happen to think “successful” (unit-moving) marketing is more often a matter of chance, and something close to magic, than it is to empirical science.

But then again I’m not in the business, and maybe I’d feel differently if I was actually paying a marketer to do something for me. I’d probably want to see some charts and graphs, hear some authoritative-sounding terminology (ROI, CPM, etc.), check out a PowerPoint, learn about the “proprietary algorithm” that backs up their conclusions, etc. I’d want to feel really, scientifically convinced … before I rolled the dice. That’s what this film is about.

Final note: There are some gorgeous designs on some of the billboards.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Quite often industrial films started out B&W and ended up in gorgeous color. Sometimes this was for budgetary reasons, when they couldn’t afford an all-color production, but more often this was because of the dramatic effect of shifting from shades of grey into Kodachrome. I think that was the reason here — to show off the billboards. It’s a great document of Chicago’s neighborhoods on the eve of World War II.

Written By Rick Prelinger on April 22nd, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

Holy cow! I’ve been sucked into the vortex of archival industrial film viewing. I can’t stop! Somebody help me!

Written By Allen Weaver on April 23rd, 2008 @ 11:32 am

Hey Rick! Thanks much for that.
And Allen — yes, it’s surprisingly addictive.

Written By Rob Walker on April 25th, 2008 @ 8:02 pm

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