Just as the fairground traditionally had its 'barkers' to talk up the attractions and entice the public in, so the cinema, from its earliest days, has used a variety of marketing strategies to advertise its film releases.
Film distributors employed marketing teams to create and produce publicity material, including press books (also known as press campaign books) which were intended to prompt and encourage cinema managers in the exploitation of the film product.
Each press book would carry information about the cast and the production crew, plot synopses, stories about the making of the film, background information, still photographs from the film and from behind the camera, and details of the availability of posters or other promotional aids such as lobby cards or 'standees' - life-size cardboard cut-outs of characters from the film (e.g. Errol Flynn as Robin Hood), to be placed in cinema foyers.
Press books would also contain other promotional ideas such as competitions, quizzes and crosswords, recipes, and tie-ins with local shops, as well as suggested text for local newspapers. The 'Golden Age' of the press book lasted from the 1920s until the end of the 1940s, when there was plenty of money to expend on such promotional tools, and filmgoing was at its height.
The books were produced in three sizes: Small (11" X 15" max.); Medium (14" X 20" max.); and Large (19" X 25" max.). They have varying numbers of pages, and are printed in black and white or sepia, or in full colour.
Press books are important to the film historian, not only as a source of detailed information about a particular film and its production which may not be obtainable elsewhere, but also as social history, as a history of graphic design, and as a history of costume. Of course, they also illustrate the history of film marketing itself.
The British Film Institute holds a collection of around 25,000 press books, from which this selection is taken.
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