Once upon a time, back before the invention of either fire or the sandwich, if a movie studio wanted to promote its upcoming releases, there were really very few avenues through which to do it.
There were, of course, those wonderfully cheesy trailers that would run in the theaters themselves: "SEE Clark Cable burn down Atlanta all by his lonesome! HEAR Ethel Merman make all the dogs within a thousand mile radius howl in despair! WITNESS a spectacle the likes of which you have never seen since the last time you saw a spectacle like this! BEHOLD Bette Davis' eyes, Betty Grable's legs, Betty Bacall's basso profundo voice, and Betty Boop's breathtaking boo-boop-be-doop! SEE 'The Attack of the Rutabagas That Want to Sell You Amway Products' next week in this very theatre!"
God, I miss those old-fashioned promos! >sigh< But I digress.
There were also billboards to promote the film, sometimes stunning posters on the walls of construction sites or on the sides of bus stations, newspaper ads and, I suppose, radio spots (though I really don't recall hearing about too many of those).
Then came television and the rise of the talk show and suddenly you would find the stars of upcoming features making the rounds of Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin and Arsenio Hall and their now seemingly infinite successors to chat about behind-the-scenes happenings on the set and the truly wonderful time you were going to have when you raced to the theater to see their new films. It's almost gotten to be predictable. If you see Orlando Bloom on with Regis and Kelly in the early morning to promote Pirates of the Caribbean IV: We'll Keep Making Them as Long as you Keep Paying to See Them, you're not likely to lose money by betting that you'll be seeing him on The View, then David Letterman, then Conan O'Brien, pretty much in that order, all in the same day, followed by appearances on Ellen DeGeneres, Jay Leno, then Craig Ferguson on the opposite coast the next day. If it's the right kind of movie, the stars may well also show up to chat with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and even possibly Keith Olbermann along the way. Frankly, the ones who really impress me are the ones who do Regis in the morning, then Leno that same night since the shows are shot 3000 miles apart. Hell, I suppose if you're Mike Meyers or Adam Sandler and you think it'll get a dozen extra tushes into the seats, you might even show up on Sunrise Sermonette. (Is that even still on?)
Movie promotion has taken off in extraordinary ways. These days, it isn't surprising to see entire city buses given over to selling some new film with advertising that literally covers the bus. I particularly liked the buses that sold Horton Hears a Who recently, with an image of a giant Horton apparently crushing the poor bus, and I still talk about the black-and-white banner ad that ran along the sides of local buses a year or two back that said simply, "YIPPEEKIYAY, MO--" and the words JOHN 6:13 down in the corner as a way of promoting the then-upcoming Live Free or Die Hard.
Then, of course, Al Gore (as some less-than-sincere pundits would have us believe) invented the Internet a while back, and promotion became a whole new ballgame. Now, with the help of my friend Harry Knowles, head honcho of Aintitcool.com, and heaven alone knows how many others, the era of guerrilla advertising is upon us.
For months now, I've been receiving regular emails from such sites as Ibelieveinharveydent.com, which allowed me to follow the race for Gotham City District Attorney and even download bumper stickers and buttons in support of Harvey, and whysoserious.com, which kept me apprised of The Joker's various insane doings. And now, on the eve of the much-anticipated release of The Dark Knight, I must commend you all to gothamcablenews.com, and in particular the several episodes of the news program Gotham Tonight which gives you a whole lot of back story that plays directly into the film itself. It's film promotion of the highest order, and is absolutely well worth your valuable time. Trust me, this film is complex on levels you will not believe.
The future of movie advertising is here, people, and, sweet chuckling Jesus, is it fun.