Saturday, September 26, 2015

Louise Brooks, product placement, soap, and the 1931 film It Pays to Advertise #1

The 1931 film It Pays to Advertise is a farce about rival soap companies, an advertising agency, and a ne’er do-well playboy who attempts to make good. Louise Brooks plays Thelma Temple, a dancer appearing in a musical entitled Girlies Don’t Tell.

It Pays to Advertise was based on a popular stage play of the same name from 1914. Updated and set in the advertising and business worlds, the film referenced a number of actual products and their slogans. As a result, one trade journal took exception.

Harrison’s Reports, which billed itself “a reviewing service free from the influence of film advertising,” objected to product placement in film — be it verbal or visual. Over the course of four months (in articles titled “The Facts About Concealed Advertisements in Paramount Pictures,” “This Paper’s Further Efforts Against ‘Sponsored’ Screen Advertisements,” and “Other Papers That Have Joined the Harrison Crusade Against Unlabelled Screen Advertising”) editor P. S. Harrison railed against this business world farce in particular and product placement in films in general.

Harrison wrote, “The Paramount picture, It Pays to Advertise, is nothing but a billboard of immense size. I have not been able to count all of the nationally advertised articles that are spoken of by the characters.” In the next issue, Harrison stated “In last week’s issue the disclosure was made that in It Pays to Advertise there are more than fifteen advertisements in addition to the main advertisement, '13 Soap Unlucky for Dirt,' which Paramount is accused of having created as a brand for the purpose of selling it.”

Taking the high moral ground, Harrison’s Reports spurred a campaign against “sponsored moving pictures – meaning pictures which contain concealed or open advertising of some one’s product.” Harrison wrote to the studios – and Harrison’s Reports noted that a handful responded with pledges to not include verbal or visual product placement. The crusading editor also wrote to more than 2,000 newspapers, and a number published articles and editorials decrying the practice.

Among those papers that joined Harrison’s cause were four of the New York dailies, the Gannett chain, scores of small town papers, as well as the Denver Post, Detroit Free Press, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and Tulsa Tribune. The Christian Science Monitor added to the chorus of complaint when it remarked, “Paramount should have been well paid for the large slices of publicity for trade-marked products that are spread all through this artificial story.”

Because of tepid reviews and negative publicity, It Pays to Advertise did poorly at the box office. At best, most exhibitors reported only fair business. In Los Angeles, according to one report, the film “set a new low.”

And what of "13 Soap -- Unlucky for Dirt"? The name of this fictional brand originated with the original story. I don't know that such a brand actually existed at the time the 1931 film was released, but according to news reports from the time (and this could be ballyhoo -- see tomorrow's blog post), an offer of $250,000 was made to secure the trademark for "13 Soap -- Unlucky for Dirt".

Sometime in the last number of years, a company called LUSH manufactured a hand-made soap called "13 Soap -- Unlucky for Dirt". (Unfortunately, this product has since been discontinued.) According to the company's website, the soap was named for the fictitious product in the 1931 film, It Pays to Advertise, starring Carole Lombard, Norman Foster, Skeets Gallagher, and featuring Louise Brooks. Here is a picture of that product, followed by the company description.

Ingredients: Oregano and Rose Petal Infusion (Origanum vulgare and Rosa centifolia), Propylene Glycol, Rapeseed Oil & Sunflower Oil & Coconut Oil (Brassica napus, Helianthus annuus, Cocos nucifera), Water (Aqua), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Honey, Perfume, Sodum Hydroxide, Manuka Honey, Sodium Stearate, Oregano Oil (Origanum vulgare), Rose Absolute (Rosa damascena), Geranium Oil (Pelargonium graveolens), Sodium Chloride, Geraniol, *Limonene, Colour 18050.

Lush Times: Our beautiful rose and oregano soap gets its name from a 1931 Hollywood film about a soap company; the son advertised a soap that didn’t exist and demand was so high, the dad had to make it. Sounds like typical Lush, except for the advertising part. Sue from Chelmsford and Dawn from Cambridge had been asked by nurses for an oregano soap because they'd heard that oregano kills MRSA bacteria. (University of the West of England 2008.) This lovely soap has been like gold dust; we adore its translucent loveliness, its scent and its very effective cleansing properties.

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