Record #770

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A. P. Waxman, Warner Bros.
Reel 9
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Advertising - institutional
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Invaluable for its summary of the present public relations situation of the industry. A cut-down version of such a plan may have came into being. Very anthologizable and probably ought to be completely transcribed.

Outline of an industry plan to promote Motion Picture theatre attendance, tabled at an MPPDA Advertising meeting, suggests that the industry combine to promote its best products on an institutional basis. Invaluable for its summary of the present public relations situation of the industry. Also reactions of studio publicity and advertising managersargues drop in attendance caused by loss of family audience because of objectionable content and through pictures of "poor entertainment quality - results in need for industry campaign to advertize better films - cost estimate $1m, to be financed proportionately - preliminary to mid-1930s efforts.


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Long Description:

This includes minutes of some advertising meetings, to discuss a plan initiated in early 1931 by A.P. Waxman of Warner Bros., for institutional advertising. Initially this was headed, "Better Movies for Better Times" - and we should note the line later taken up in 1933 by Warners themselves with the "Better times Special" - the idea was obviously filed away. Waxman's plan, submitted to Hays 9 February 1931, aimed to stress the industry's contribution to prosperity, overseas sales, etc., as a means of stimulating optimism. It was considered at a meeting, 31 January 1931, which was not particularly enthusiastic about Waxman's proposals, which did not clearly separate out institutional from box-office advertising: "It was the general impression that institutional advertising would not do the box office any good but might be helpful to the industry generally." That was what was basically pursued, but there were divisions among them as to what the objective was - RKO in favor of "immediate stimulation of the box office ... the desired results ... should be strictly monetary", Universal saying "what we really want to do is to sell the institution of Motion Pictures, not individual motion pictures" and not wanting to dignify the attacks on the industry by appearing to combat them in the national press. Clearly part of the campaign is being aimed at falling attendances, and at securing a more prosperous sector of the audience than currently attend. So what is being considered here is a fairly upmarket and serious form of institutional advertising.An undated memo laying the campaign out: "At the present time motion pictures are widely discussed and the theme 'the movies' is one of the popular American themes today. The movies, however, are looked upon by the majority of persons as a more or less strange phenomenon of American life. Little attention is paid to the more serious, and at the same time more interesting aspects of the motion picture business. Very few people know the facts concerning the business itself. Most people consider the motion pictures a bad financial risk. The purpose, therefore, of an institutional campaign for motion pictures is not to try to directly affect box office revenue but rather to present to the American people a picture of the industry, supposedly the fifth largest in the country, in a more favorable light than has heretofore been possible. ... Any attempt to advertise motion pictures in the same vein as pictures are now advertised to the public will immediately defeat the purposes of this campaign. Flamboyant publicity, braggart advertising, use of superlatives and sensational copy in motion picture advertising today results in the public discounting all movie ads by at least 90%. This institutional campaign therefore, should take the exact opposite tack. It should avoid any superlatives, any boasting, any sensationalism. It should be plain, matter of fact, serious, sincere propaganda which can be made in itself of exceptional interest without recourse to anything in superlatives. "It is probably advisable, if possible to point out in each advertisement a certain list of pictures that have achieved or are achieving popularity, such as Cimarron, Trader Horn, City Lights, etc., but this listing of pictures should be more or less incidental to the message of the ads. The advertising message should, for example, plainly indicate that all pictures cannot achieve universal popularity, that producers do not deliberately set out to make poor pictures. Such message should point out something about how pictures are actually made, what brain work goes into their construction. It might deal with a discussion of how pictures are booked, even recounting some of the story of block booking, to correct the popular error that exhibitors are forced to play bad pictures against their will. Mr. Kent has valuable arguments on this subject. ..."All of which leads to the proposal, put to a Board of Directors meeting 09-18-1931, for an institutional advertising campaign to promote theatre attendance. - remarkable for its relative frankness about the issues to be dealt with:"The public position of our industry cannot rest purely upon its relations with its satisfied customers. Entertainment is not a commodity like grain or iron. In the treatment of crime as a dramatic motive, law enforcement officers and judicial authorities are within their rights and their powers in such honest exceptions as they may take to our products. On the basis of moral, ethical and religious consideration, the church may justly say to us, 'This is our business as well as yours.' When we treat of sex and social problems, it is inevitable that social service groups, parents' organizations and women's clubs should be vitally interested in the effect of such pictures upon their own educational efforts. The motion picture business is, indeed, everybody's business. "The vast popular interest in motion pictures, the fact that the entire American population and a large part of the civilized world are potentially the industry's customers and that the product of our studios - entertainment - has very definite social, moral, religious and ethical implications, has placed upon the motion picture industry a problem of public relations unprecedented in the past records and unequalled in the present experience of any other industry. "We could not, if we would, maintain the position that our only responsibility is to the public we attract to the theatres, rather than the public we deter. The power of religious, ethical and social leadership has been proved often enough. The red-light district, the saloon, the open gambling house, - these did not pass away for lack of eager customers. It was the public outside, not the public inside, that destroyed these institutions.... Our public relations program has envisaged 120,000,000 people in the United States as possible customers of motion picture entertainment. From the production and exhibition standpoints, the motion picture industry is geared to this great American market. Nevertheless, the fact remains that notwithstanding the courageous pioneering of many of our members in the field of fine, wholesome entertainment, the trilogy that ruled the production mind in many cases was Sex, Crime and Violence. There is a market for dirty postcards, for degrading tabloids and for films that over-emphasize themes of violence and sex. There is a market for such literature and entertainment in any form, and yet the fact is undeniable that the best sellers of every year as compiled from the records of the book publishing trade are clean literature, not dirty literature, and that the outstanding financial successes of the stage have been simple, wholesome, not morbid, dramatic productions."Certainly the standard estimates of theatre attendance either at this period or for previous periods cannot be taken as the index of the complete market for motion picture entertainment in the United States. Attendance figures that include the attendance of motion picture habitus, of customers who attend the theatre more or less regularly, and of selective groups of the population attracted by specific types of picture, do not indicate the total number of potential customers. Whether the motion picture audience, taken on the basis of regularity of attendance, is 40% or 50%, or even a lesser percentage of the total population, is a question that research must determine."... On industry grounds alone, it is evident that the intensive exploitation by the motion picture industry of those elements of the population that respond only to appeals of sex and crime would vastly limit the total market for motion picture entertainment. The motion picture industry, geared to methods of production, distribution and exhibition that demand the widest possible response to film entertainment for profitable operation, cannot afford to exploit only part of this potential market, and leave a great and hostile public outside. The more successful it is in meeting the demand for oversophisticated pictures to the comparative exclusion of other themes, the more thoroughly must it alienate that proportion of the public - the vastly larger proportion - which demands clean, wholesome entertainment."The influence of hostile opinion from the legislative and investment standpoints need not be argued. Every media of information and entertainment that overplays sex, crime or violence is subject to the revulsion of public sentiment now clearly evident. Even the press is threatened in this regard. Recently the Chicago Tribune and other important newspapers found it necessary to organize a defensive and educational movement to combat the growing demand for legislation that would curb the powers of the press, as a result of the excesses committed by certain types of newspapers. Responsible book publishers, likewise, are considering the organization of a movement for self-discipline within their own industry. What has happened to the stage, as a result of the same influences, is indicated in the Government report published August 17th, showing a reduction of nearly 50% in theatre admissions. "The final Motion Picture Production Code adopted in 1930 was a distinct and progressive step in the system of self-regulation built by the organized motion picture industry. It is proving its value as an instrument of self-discipline. Nevertheless, the fact remains that some pictures produced under the Code cannot be completely justified as desirable or wholesome entertainment. Maximum progress would not be possible if there is to be competition to see how much basically undesirable material can be utilized under the restrictions of the Code. Public opinion properly judges the industry by its intentions as well as by its acts. Code operations must be further strengthened if the whole is not to be jeopardized by the failure of any of its parts. "Nor can the industry rest upon the adoption of the Production Code as the complete measure of its public responsibilities. The Code affects treatments rather than themes. It cannot create new source material for the screen. "The problem, therefore, clearly recognized at the meeting of motion picture Executives on the Coast in April 1931, was: 'That the question before the industry was not merely what kind of pictures are successful, but what kind of successful pictures shall be made in order that a balanced entertainment service may be offered by the screen?'"... Whatever differences of opinion may still exist with regard to that proportion of the public that would support wholesome entertainment as against sophisticated pictures and worse, the fact is undeniable that our problem is not with regard to the satisfied public, but with regard to the dissatisfied public deterred from theatre attendance by pictures of objectionable character."... Rarely has the business faced a more entertainment-conscious and entertainment-hungry public than at present. Unemployment, financial and industrial depression have emphasized the greater needs of popular entertainment. As against those elements of the population eliminated temporarily from motion picture patronage by economic circumstances, there is a new movie-going public recruited from the higher income earning classes-a public which better pictures would transform from casual to regular patrons of motion picture entertainment. "The public for higher grade entertainment need not be created. It exists. The problem is to sell that public the idea that motion picture theatres provide that character of wholesome, inspirational entertainment demanded by parents for their children, by the American family unit, and by the more selective elements of the population. True, in due course the actual production of such pictures in itself would win back for the theatres attendance lost through objectionable features and tend to transform casual movie-goers into regular customers. But such processes must be slow without a complete organizational effort being put into it. "So thoroughly preoccupied at times has the screen seemed with themes of sex, crime and violence, so reprehensible has some of its advertising and so suggestive and misleading have been certain of the titles featured that the growing number of really fine pictures has been necessarily obscured in the public mind."... Much can be accomplished by the continuance of this educational effort on the present scale. Vastly more can be done by a campaign of well considered advertising, publicity and group promotion combined, that would bring together the public hungry for better pictures and the better pictures now produced and to be produced by the industry. "The MPPDA proposal is dependent on the production of at least 20 'better movies' in the next season, which will have to be distributed in a way that makes them accessible to the markets the advertising campaign is aiming to reach."Generally speaking, in addition to seasonal influences the factors which have been making for lower attendance may be outlined as follows: "1. The economic depression, which has particularly affected the mass theatre public, part of which has been temporarily eliminated, and part of which has been turned from regular customers into 'picture shoppers.' "2. Pictures of insufficient entertainment merit that have discouraged regularity of attendance on the part of large elements of the population. "3. Pictures based on objectionable themes which greatly limit the appeal of family attendance. "A fourth element of 'sales resistance' to motion picture entertainment cannot be included in the reasons for lost attendance. It is the hundred of thousands who rarely or never go to motion pictures because they have never been sold the fact that good as well as poor productions come from our studios."... The campaign proposed is based upon the following themes: "a. That economic depression, which forces the public to consider the distinction between necessaries and luxuries, makes it desirable to sell motion picture entertainment as an investment that pays the largest possible dividend in improved morale, self-confidence, etc. It was on this basis that the motion picture industry was classed as 'essential' during the war. "b. That the poor entertainment quality of many pictures exhibited during recent months makes it necessary to win back lost theatre attendance by dramatizing the greater entertainment appeal of the 1931-32 movies. "c. That the preponderant impression of 'sex' and 'crime,' which has driven away large elements of family attendance, makes it imperative to exploit pictures that not only have entertainment value, but inspirational, social and education values as well. "d. That many higher elements of the population socially and intellectually can be attracted to increased theatre attendance by a campaign that would focus attention on the better pictures."... It would be a campaign contributed by the organized motion picture industry to bring the national morale back to normal by featuring the ideals of inspiration, daring, courage, and achievement, which the super-movies of 1931-32 will bring to the nation. The country has called on the screen for such inspiring entertainment and the motion picture industry has responded with pictures like these -"This is not in any sense a 'prosperity' appeal, now thoroughly discounted by the present public temper. It is the intention, however, to inject at the start definite elements of timeliness and public service into the campaign. Motion picture entertainment has a conspicuous place in the maintenance of national morale ..."The following standards are proposed as the bases for judgment and acceptance of pictures to be specially exploited in this campaign: "1. Pictures both of strong entertainment merit as well as of definite social value-inspirational, historical, semi-educational, etc. "2. Pictures chosen for their generally accepted family entertainment value. "3. Good entertainment pictures per se, without socially objectionable elements or controvertible social issues. "The MPPDA to choose the films with their preview groups, and administer the scheme. Proposal for a $1m budget, raised by the companies either on a proportional basis or by special appropriations form companies for each of their films - this issue not yet resolved. "In further explanation of the philosophy of this industry campaign and the need for such a cooperative effort, it is evident that the key to a greater and permanent market for motion picture entertainment lies not only in the production of better pictures, but in the proper exploitation of them. Recent events have proved that pictures which combined both social and entertainment merit have succeeded despite, not because, of the way they have been advertised. "They have succeeded despite the destructive effects of much of the advertising which could only sell the public the idea that sex, crime and violence are the dominant themes of motion picture entertainment. They are succeeding in ever larger measure, notwithstanding that many of them have been advertised in such a way as to misrepresent the real theme. "They are succeeding despite the fact that many theatres are still doing their best to exploit the appeal of sex or crime, whether they have it to sell or not. The wonder should be that wholesome entertainment pictures have succeeded at all. "The inadequacy of present methods of advertising in the effort to extent the field for better pictures can be supported by example after example. The Association has just received assurances that a current campaign for a splendidly wholesome picture that proved its immediate success is to be greatly modified, not only because of the objections of the Association, but because of the obviously mistaken character of the advertising. ... The picture in question has succeeded on its own merits, handicapped by a bad title and by worse advertising. Only the tremendous power of word-of-mouth advertising saved it." "... A campaign as suggested herewith is presented on the basis of sales merit. "That, however, it would have equally great significance in our whole public relations program is evident, particularly from the following consideration: "1. Legislation. Some of the pictures of the past year have furnished the best possible tinder for a conflagration not only of state but of municipal legislation. We can defend ourselves against unfair criticism, against dishonest criticism, against exaggerated criticism, but we cannot defend some of the product and much of the advertising of the industry. "Affirmative action as implied in the advertising plan under discussion, emphasizing the good pictures, would doubtless change the background and affect many of the legislative proposals now made in good faith. It would enable us to obtain the support of many influential elements and turn protest against the industry into applause for its action ."2. Newspaper relations. So great is the popular interest in motion picture entertainment, in its industrial leaders and in its personnel, that from the standpoint of local newspaper representation, Hollywood has become a larger center of news distribution than Washington. With more than 200 regular or casual correspondents competing for news, it follows that the opportunities for good or harm to the industry are equally great. "The Association has just completed a study of the situation at the urgent request of production heads in Hollywood. It is evident that the relations between our studios and the newspaper representatives could not be worse and that the opportunities for harm could not be better. The influence of unfavorable publicity from Hollywood on our production morale is serious, and whether the present plan is adopted or not, additional attention will have to be given to that situation in Hollywood."... 3. Scientific Studies. The industry is faced at the present time with the planned publication of a number of scientific conclusions based on investigations that have been in progress as to the psychological and other effects of certain types of motion pictures. These investigations have been made by eminent authorities in the educational field under a project financed by one of the leading Foundations, on the basis of child welfare. "Vast embarrassment may result to many of our producers, in consequence of the fact that specific pictures, previously condemned on the basis of opinion only, are now scientifically passed upon with relation to their social effects. It is unnecessary to say that we are in intimate touch with this situation, although there are conclusions that may require action in advance. "Obviously, an affirmative industry campaign based on socially good and desirable present entertainment pictures, would make the character of pictures investigated and described in the 'scientific findings' of the report, more of academic than real importance. The lack of such a campaign, on the other hand, would lead to the conclusion that the industry is still devoted to the type of entertainment condemned in these reports, and that action, therefore, legislative or otherwise, is necessary. "An institutional campaign on whatever basis, without the product to support it, is bound to fail. An industry campaign in support of assuredly good product is bound to succeed if effectively organized and developed. "I now see signs of getting such product. Therefore, I recommend that an industry campaign be approved in principle and that we be authorized to proceed with the immediate appointments of committees to develop the details of a plan and the method of financing. "We must find out if such a plan came into being - I suspect it did, but in a cut-down version?????

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