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Season Five: AOP Goes To The Movies

Airs Saturday Feb. 26th and Thursday March. 3rd

This week, Age of Persuasion Goes To The Movies.

Just in time for the Oscars, we look at great movie marketing, and talk about the landmark movies that completely altered the way Hollywood sells its films (Yes, one of them involves a shark, but the movie that made the shark possible has a little karate in it). We'll also feature some of the most inventive movie ads ever done, and trace the history of movie trailers - which, by the way, were originally created to drive people OUT of theatres, not into them. It's true. Hope you'll join us.

And pass the popcorn.

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All of the TV commercials and print elements we referred to in the episode, as well as some bonus materials, are below. Enjoy. Movie trailers have a very interesting history in Hollywood. Some of the best directors created incredibly inventive trailers over the years. Here's the one Alfred Hitchcock did for The Birds. Surprisingly, he uses humour to sell what is essentially a horror film.

The genius of this trailer lies in the fact it wasn't just a pleasant lecture on birds, it was a cleverly written argument explaining why birds would want to wreak revenge on mankind - setting up the premise of his film.

Going back in history, one of the first movie posters ever designed for a film was for the 1895 black & white silent comedy titled, L'Arroseur Arrosé. Shown below:

L'Arroseur Arrosé 2.jpg

The first documented movie trailer was shown in 1913 for an adventure serial called The Adventures of Kathlyn. Unfortunately lost to the sands of time, the series was the first to use cliffhangers at the end of the episodes, imploring audiences to "See next week's thrilling chapter!":

Adventures of Kathlyn 1913.jpg

Studios found themselves too busy shooting movies to create movie posters and trailers, so in 1919, three enterprising admen formed a company called The National Screen Service to take over the job. Soon, all the studios were using NSS for trailers and posters, and continued to do so well into the 70s:

National Screen Service poster.jpg

The problem with the NSS was that it hit on a formula, and many of the trailers started to look and sound alike. That led to some directors demanding to create their own trailers. David O. Selznick did just that for his movie extravaganza, Gone With The Wind. He not only wanted audiences to see a unique trailer, he also wanted them to know the movie was a faithful adaptation of the best-selling book:

Director Otto Preminger also created a highly unusual trailer for his 1959 film, Anatomy of A Murder. He actually used the courtroom from the movie to "swear in" all his actors:

Jump ahead to 1971. An unlikely movie called Billy Jack would go on to change movie marketing forever. Director/Writer Tom Laughlin sued Warner Brothers for "misdistribution" and won, forcing the studio to make huge television ad buys for the trailer. Laughlin then block-booked theatres to keep the movie playing until the marketing had a chance to work. Prior to this, most movie trailers were only shown in theatres. (By the way, the first kick you see in this trailer so enthralled me as a 12 year-old kid, I became a lifelong martial artist as a result. I still get goosebumps watching it!):

The resulting success of the Billy Jack marketing strategy made another blockbuster possible - Jaws. Universal spent millions on TV advertising, and created such a frenzy, Jaws became the first movie to reach $100 million in domestic box office receipts:

Both the trailer and the movie poster are considered two of the best ever done:

jaws 2 poster.jpg

Jaws remained the highest grossing film of all time - until this movie entered our galaxy:

Star Wars was a movie nobody wanted, and Lucas had a hard time getting theatres to show it. A bit of a... I dunno... mistake in hindsight. It would go on to earn over $1 billion dollars.

Skip ahead to 1999, and the Blair Witch Project. Rumoured to have been shot for just $60 thousand dollars, it eventually grossed over $248 million worldwide.

This movie was amazing because it was mostly marketed online - using a website and a pseudo-documentary. Remember - it achieved that kind of success while pre-dating Facebook, YouTube and Twitter:

To promote The Simpson's Movie, eleven 7-Eleven stores were converted into Kwick-E-Marts and even sold Simpson's products like Buzz Cola and Krusty-Os cereal:


Paranormal Activity is a 2007 film marketed as a social media experiment. Paramount Studios wanted to see if major buzz could be created for a little known, low-budget movie with no stars.

So they teamed up with a high-profile blogger, staged free midnight screenings in eight cities, and put computers in the lobbies to encourage patrons to Twitter and Facebook about it as they left the theatre.

Rumoured to have been shot for only $15 thousand dollars, Paranormal Activity created such a buzz it went on to gross over $100 million.