Customers for a Product
Notes on the Introduction of Cinerama
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Lynn Farnol, 1953
Mr Lynn Farnol
IN this day when most publicists like to be called "public relations
experts" Lynn Farnol continues to call himself simply a publicist. Whatever
the name, he has been known for many years as one of the most skilful of
the many who have worked in the entertainment fields. For many years he was
associated with Samuel Goldwyn Productions. Since 1950 he has had his own
organization. His promotion of Cinerama is an example of what a publicist
can accomplish in attracting public attention.
THE INTRODUCTION of a new product (and that includes entertainment) involves
some questions: Is the public ready for it? Does it fulfil a need? Since
the scrapping of old goods or processes may be involved, are the new
elements important enough to compensate for the loss?
The sponsors of Cinerama believed in Cinerama. They had faith that it
presented a new sensation in entertainment. They believed that it was a new
way of telling stories, without the old frame of the traditional motion
picture. Much money and much time were staked in that conviction.
A policy was established, as clear cut and as well defined as any ever known
in or out of the motion picture industry. Without making any secrets out of
anything, the technical details of the operation of the new process were not
to be divulged.
in 70mm reading:
The Entire Development of the Cinerama Process
The Birth of an Idea
Adding the Sound to
This Cinerama Show
in70mm.com's Cinerama page
Interest was to be deflected from the mechanical details. Equally urgent was
the policy that interest was to be deflected away from the specifics of the
entertainment that was to be offered. Lastly, Cinerama was to state,
bluntly and directly, that it was not a three-dimensional process.
Thus, by a process of elimination, most of the standard appeals were taken
away from the advertising and from the publicity operation.
The appeal adopted by the advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, and its able
account executive, Peter Schaeffer, and the company's publicity
representatives was a simple one: what Cinerama does to you! It meant,
during the pre-opening days, taking one editor after another to Oyster Bay
to see the laboratory tests. The trip was a long one. Three hours might be
spent waiting to see a five-minute segment of the film. One or two partial
laboratory previews were held. The belief spread that, mechanically,
Cinerama worked and, emotionally, it produced an extraordinary effect.
Publications, with their two dimensions, began to improvise and plan ways of
presenting Cinerama with its illusion of a third dimension. A facetious
editor suggested that it could easily be solved by publishing a curved
By the time opening night came - without the benefit of any formal preview,
and without anyone having seen the whole of the film - a healthy excitement
and anticipation had been built up. There was a sense that new demands were
going to be made on the audience. An audience was conditioned to become a
part of the picture.
The basic premise of the opening night was to depart from the usual and the
conventional pattern of motion picture openings. The audience was a
distinguished one, comprised of many leaders from the business world,
friends of the sponsors, and many leaders of the publication and radio
world, friends of Lowell Thomas. But what made the event unique was that the
opening night press guests included outstanding music writers, travel
editors, science authorities - in fact, leaders in every field touched by
Cinerama as a medium. It was an opening planned not for New York, nor for
New Yorkers, but for national penetration.
It worked, in that the New York Times did carry the story of the
introduction of the new process on the front page, and all of the wire
services carried it not only once, but two or three times. Many national
radio and TV commentators of the caliber of Arthur Godfrey and Edward Murrow
raved about it for weeks after. Within three or four days after the opening,
every city and every town in America had read or heard about the film
revolution. Not only that, but once the first story appeared, it seemed to
create an appetite and a demand for more news and more information.
Thousands of clippings began to pour in from every corner of the country,
and from the distant capitals of the world. A carefully kept file of the 183
potential markets for Cinerama was prepared. For each city in which Cinerama
may play, a complete collection of everything that has been in print in that
area is available. The measure of public interest and information is
immediately and accurately available.
A NEW dimension thrill was stressed in all Cinerama advertising. Emphasis
was placed on what was going to happen to the spectator. Here Peter
Schaeffer, McCann-Erickson account executive, served as his own advertising
Once the opening was accomplished and the story of Cinerama carried across
the country and around the world, the next problem became one of building up
an operational plan and an acceptance of mail order sale for tickets. It is
a practice used in a limited way in the legitimate theatre, and not at all
in motion pictures. McCann-Erickson used coupon advertising and radio spots
to invite orders by mail. Publicity announcements and feature stories
stressing the ease and convenience of buying tickets by mail became
increasingly effective as tricks of the trade were learned.
Once the New York operational procedure became established, it became fairly
easy to adapt publicity and advertising techniques to Detroit, Los Angeles,
Chicago and other key cities. The effort and the pattern continued to be the
same. Make an event out of the opening. Stress the emotional excitement that
is in the film. Avoid a program of parts for the entertainment, and leave
the technical details alone. Because mail orders are the very basis of a
successful operation, stress the fact that Cinerama will not be shown in
neighborhood houses, and carry the announcement of opening and the ticket
sale to the widest possible area, so that an extended circle, including as
many as 20 surrounding cities, might be included.
As an operation of merchandising entertainment, it was sound and it is
sound. Cinerama was launched with a label that was scrupulously honest and
fair to the public. It was presented as a process that might satisfy a great
need and hunger of the public for something new. The public provided its own
answer. They got what they wanted. In precipitating the revolution in
entertainment that it has, much of what the industry regards as its most
valued properties may be made worthless, but something was accomplished,
too - audiences came back to theatres.
And now what? How long the technical mechanical problems will continue is
anyone's guess. It is a reasonable supposition that in due time, they will
be evaluated in terms of cost of installation, in terms of operating costs,
in terms of what they give an audience as a process. Then the question will
be not which of the processes do we prefer, nor how good are films that
convey a third dimension or the illusion of a third dimension, but instead,
another and more important question: What is the industry doing with its new
dimension? What stories are they telling better, now that they have this new
dimension? In other words, what have we to say in Cinerama or any other
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