WITHOUT the level of technology we have today, how were movies promoted in the past? There were no blogs, Facebook, Twitter or even toy merchandising to create hype about movies back then. But producers still found ways to promote their offerings - ways that the ongoing exhibition at The Cathay Gallery reveals.
Seducing moviegoers: Efforts to evoke public interest depicted at the exhibition include photos of elaborate floats (above) for bigger films such as 'Cleopatra' (1963), and memorabilia such as a gun in a Bible (next) for the 1976 movie, 'God's Gun'
This year, in celebration of its 75th anniversary, Cathay Organisation, one of Singapore's leading leisure and entertainment groups, has put up a temporary exhibition - Box Office Hits: The Magic Of Movie Marketing - in The Cathay Gallery to show the evolution of movie marketing, juxtaposed with the resident exhibition that showcases the evolution of Cathay Organisation over the decades.
Lindy Poh, curator of the exhibition, says: 'It was important for Cathay to showcase the evolution as a self-aware acknowledgement of how fluid, nimble and creative the Cathay team has been over the years. The objects or events that appealed to people of that time reveal the trends of the time - the popularity of a-go-go and cha cha competitions to promote movies, for instance.'
The exhibits consist of freebies that were used to promote movies, such as paper napkins and wax cups with the movie titles and pictures of the actors printed on them; old posters; memorabilia such as a gun in a Bible for the 1976 movie, God's Gun; as well as photos of events held to create awareness and evoke public interest. These include costumed promoters, such as moving mascots for Tempest (1979), human billboards and elaborate floats for bigger films such as Cleopatra (1963).
Ms Poh describes some of the other differences between movie marketing of the past and the present that are highlighted in the exhibition. 'The extent and investment in marketing and merchandising has also changed,' she says. 'It is no longer an aspect that kicks in after a movie is done, but is factored in at a really early stage of movie production. Some estimates tell us that about 5 per cent of expected box-office takings was spent on marketing and merchandising. Now the percentages are phenomenal.'
But even though movie marketing of the past was not as large-scale as the huge advertisements on MRT trains or the infinite number of plush toys of various Pixar characters sold everywhere we turn today, movie promotion during that time was still creative - and, above all, more personal than it is now.
Ms Poh says: 'I have met people who saw the exhibition who thought it was more personal, more imaginative, more 'real'. For myself, it was an eye-opener to see what was done - the promotion efforts were disarming and quirky.'
As the exhibition traces the evolution of movie marketing and the growth of Cathay throughout the past 75 years, it is also a reflection of how the audience has changed during that time. Ms Poh says: 'Movie marketing has evolved because audiences have evolved - effective marketing picks up on how people relate to products, services or events at particular periods of time. The exhibition is not an extensive one but it does track certain shifts in popular culture.'
The Cathay Gallery (#02-16 at The Cathay) is open Mondays to Saturdays, 12pm-8pm, and closed on Sundays and public holidays.