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Stars And Stories: How Films Became Branded Products

Gerben Bakker

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Between 1890 and 1940, motion pictures changed from technological novelties into heavily branded consumer products. The high sunk costs and short “shelf-life” of movies led film producers to borrow branding techniques from other consumer goods industries. They tried to build audience loyalty around a number of characteristics, but eventually learned that stars and stories were the most effective “promotion machines,” able swiftly to generate massive brand-awareness and to persuade consumers to see a new film. Data from the United States, Britain, and France showing the disproportionate distribution of income and fame among stars confirm their role as persuaders. Ultimately, film producers extended the life of their products by licensing their instant, tradable brands to other consumer goods industries.