Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Advertising the Great War on Screen

When the First World War broke out in 1914 American media responded with great interest. There was a substantial public demand for news about the war and newspapers were eager for stories. Film also was soon being used to promote the war coverage by American newspapers. As described in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War , it didn't take long before newspaper editors discovered the advantages of covering the Great War both in print and motion pictures. The way the Chicago Tribune handled this offers a prime example.

Advertisement for the Chicago Tribune's The German Side of the War, 29 August 1915

Cross-Media Approach

By using a cross-media approach, the Chicago Tribune took out a massive advertising campaign in 1914-1916 to promote its own war documentary films. The blazing publicity not only expanded the Tribune's money. Circulation of the newspaper was also stimulated this way. Art work was especially important in these advertisements. As cameramen soon found out when they filmed the First World War, from a photographic point of view the military conflict was very hard to cover. Lighting conditions were terrible at the western front. Also, as most of the activities took place in the trenches, there usually wasn't a trace of the enemy and No Man's Land seemed like a wasteland. As a result, most of the footage was taken behind the firing line and contained repetitive scenes of infantry marching and drilling, military inspections, artillery practice, etc. Gone were the days of the drummer boy, the bugle call and the charge of the Light Brigade. This was modern warfare. It was muddy. It was messy. It was something completely different.

To compensate for the lack of exciting documentary footage the publicity department of the Chicago Tribune relied heavily on professionally drawn illustrations of infantry charges, close-ups of soldiers going over the top and the like. The most interesting advertisements have been selected in these slide shows. Enjoy!

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