Record #715

Record Type:
Mr Will H. Hays, President, MPPDA
MPPDA (Board of Directors)
Reel 8
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Advertising - general
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"Confidential Memorandum re Motion Picture Advertising" - probably by Wilstach, and circulated by Hays to the Board. Advertising Code must be more effectively enforced because bad advertising is causing loss of support among interest groups, Catholics, etc. and is likely to lead to censorship, tax legislation, loss of confidence by investors and more ammunition for reformers, Protestant Press, etc. in their attacks on industry.


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CONFIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM RE MOTION PICTURE ADVERTISING. December 9 1930. Delivered by Hays to MPPDA Board. For the past six months this organization has been coping with an outbreak of motion picture advertising that has ranged from highly suggestive sex appeals to the viciously offensive either in text or illustration.In every case prompt measures were taken to reach advertising managers and others directly responsible, with the result that for the most part the advertising was stopped in individual instances. In not a few cases Executive action on the part of member companies was necessary to stop infractions of common decency and good taste. But the fact remains that this has been locking the stable after the horse has escaped. The greater harm was done. Every objectionable advertisement has chalked up a mark against the industry which will be used against us in every division of our work. Whether by contagion or example the evil has spread to most of our membership in varying proportions, and the competition that threatens is the competition to see how much a particular advertising or publicity man can get away with in suggestive, immoral or indecent advertising. The situation therefore has developed a running sore, apt to break out within the body of our industry. ... This memorandum, therefore, is an attempt to deal only with the immediately practical phases of the matter. We cannot blink the fact that within the personnel employed by the motion picture industry there are still those who believe that the only road to success is the "dirt" road. Our main problem is the problem of dealing with these factors. I am aware of the claims that here and there individual theatre attendance has been increased by suggestive advertising. At best this is a mere statement that a degenerate or semi-degenerate fringe exists in the population of every city. I know, however, that this is not the element that supports the motion picture industry as a whole ...Considered from the standpoint of its immediate effects, such advertising is an evil to the industry on the following counts: 1. The motion picture industry must lose the confidence of the financial and investment communities if such advertising continues. The attacks from religious, legislative and public sources which such advertising inevitably develops will lead to the conviction in financial and investment circles that the motion picture industry is an outcast industry, constantly endangered by public resentment and by state and national legislation. ... At best suggestive advertising is a sign of desperation. It is like a woman resorting to prostitution to make a living. 2. Suggestive advertising tends to reduce general theatre attendance. I am confident that surveys conducted over a definite period of time would disclose that the casual attendance which any theatre may attract by suggestive advertising is more than vitiated by the loss of family patronage. ... 3. Advertising of this character threatens to destroy the profitable cooperation built up within the industry. The exchange of pictures produced by our member companies, within the circuit theatres of our own membership, is definitely endangered by offensive advertising. Unless this character of advertising is stopped, it is obvious that the producer who lives up to the production code and who stands for decent advertising cannot and will not endanger the good will enjoyed by his own product, by carrying the burden of objectionably advertised pictures for another producer. The suggestive advertisement labels the picture and it is inevitable that what is said about the advertising will be said about the picture. The producer who has cleaned his own house will not consent to be tarred and feathered by the public resentment aroused through a competitor's picture. 4. Nothing can stop the legislative walls from crashing if suggestive advertising continues. Largely because of the character of advertising complained of and of some of the pictures distributed before the adoption of our new production code, we are faced during the coming year with censorship legislation in the states of Alabama, Oregon, Colorado, Idaho, Connecticut, California, Rhode Island, Iowa, Nebraska and West Virginia. In each of these states censorship bills will probably be introduced during the coming legislative session. In other words, we must meet attempts at censorship legislation in three times as many states during the coming year as we were forced to meet in 1929. Of the 44 states which will hold legislative sessions next year, taxation projects, including admission taxes to all places of amusement, will be introduced in at least 30 states, I believe. In the matter of censorship, our burdens are multiplied manyfold by the character of some of the current advertising, and unless this is stopped, and stopped decisively, the legislative walls are sure to crash about us. ... 5. Suggestive advertising will alienate powerful group support from the industry. It must be apparent to every member of the organization that while the industry is, and always will be, subject to the attack of zealots or politically-minded religious groups, the more responsible religious leadership of the country has not joined in most of the wholesale condemnations of the motion picture screen. In fact, motion pictures were specifically exempted in the recent denunciations of stage entertainment by prominent Catholic and Protestant leaders. But the continuance of objectionable motion picture advertising will make it untenable for any religious organization to support the policies of self-regulation built up for the industry. ...CONCLUSIONS The net result of this statement is that our entire structure of public relations and legislative work is being undermined by the present situation with regard to objectionable motion picture advertising. The steps which this situation demands areas follows: 1 Vigorous and definite instructions from our members to their own personnel as to the avoidance of titles themselves suggestive of bad advertising. 2. Urgent instructions from our members to all employees affected warning them to avoid the making of stills for advertising purposes, which taken out of continuity sets the pace for the objectionable advertising that invariably follows. 3. Instructions should be issued that press books must not contain material which textually or by suggestion provides the basis for offensive advertising. 4. Action must be taken to see that local circuit managers or local advertising men will be held to strict accountability for the advertising they produce in local newspapers, wherever such authority is given. It is important that the principle be established that in judging responsibility the method of advertising will determine the motive. No employee should be permitted to plead good intentions if his advertising is obviously suggestive of otherwise offensive. It has become apparent that this organization can no longer remain quiescent in its attitude to the public with regard to this advertising. Unless it is to vitiate its public influence, it cannot accept the charge of indifference to the character of the advertising. It must either plead guilty by its silence to the charge of hypocrisy, insincerity and deception, or repudiate publicly such suggestive advertising. The main hesitancy on this point heretofore has been the fact that such a statement would be interpreted as an evidence of failure of self-regulation within the industry. But as between the two policies open to us, it is becoming obvious that repudiation would be preferable, for the fact remains that the industry as a whole will and must support the position taken by the organization in this respect. Only immediate and effective action taken by our membership can save us from the necessity of such a course.******************[This led to Board reaffirmation of purpose and decision not to use a list of titles, and a resolution authorising Hays to inform a company that a title they had registered was offensive and should not be used.

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