Promotion

Early promotional efforts included colorful posters and banners that added to the already striking effect of what by the mid-1910s had become a standard feature of the movie theater, the electrically illuminated marquee, which announced the current show. To complement newspaper advertising, exhibitors relied on a range of "ballyhoo," all designed to attract attention to the program and, more generally, to the theater itself: trucks with promotional displays, billboards, signs on streetcars, poster displays in store windows, sidewalk stunts, and—perhaps most memorable—extraordinarily elaborate facades constructed to match the film then being screened. In such instances, the front of the theater might be decorated to promote a jungle adventure one day and a prison melodrama the next.

In addition to the promotion of individual films, exhibitors were frequently engaged in the ongoing promotion of their theaters, which often meant establishing and maintaining strong ties both to other local businesses and, more generally, to the home community. Thus a theater might put appliances and other products on display in the lobby, arrange tie-ins with local merchants involving free movie tickets or product giveaways, or even offer free screenings sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce or the retail merchants' association. From the 1910s through the 1940s theaters also developed community relations by opening their doors for benefits, public interest programming, school events, patriotic drives, amateur shows, and even church services. Handbooks like Harold B. Franklin's Motion Picture Theater Management (1928) provided practical guidance about promotion and a range of other topics of concern to the theater manager.

In an attempt to counter falling attendance during the early 1930s, exhibitors relied not only on advertising, but also on sometimes elaborate promotional contests designed to lure customers. These included the giving away of free "premiums," like glassware, fans, and cooking utensils, and contests that encouraged audience participation. Bingo-styled games like SCREEN-O games were common, as were ''Bank Nights,'' perhaps the most widespread of these contests. Bank Night featured a drawing for a cash prize, which required that entrants register at the theater and that the winner be present at (though not necessarily inside) the theater when the winner was announced.

Increasingly after the 1940s, theatrical promotion became less spectacular and more restricted to on-site posters and displays, which were part of national marketing campaigns for individual films. By the 1970s, given the prominence of theater chains and the role of media advertising (eventually including the Internet as well as television and radio), there was no longer neither the incentive nor the need for individual exhibitors to come up with unique promotional schemes.

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