It Pays to Advertise is a farce about rival soap companies, an advertising agency, and a ne’er do-well playboy who attempts to make good. Louise Brooks plays Thelma Temple, a dancer appearing in a musical entitled Girlies Don’t Tell. Brooks’ part in the film, done to fulfill her contract with Paramount, amounted to little more than a cameo. The Hollywood Reporter wrote “Louise Brooks flashes in and out of the opening scenes and looks like a good bet for bigger roles.”
It Pays to Advertise was based on a popular stage play from 1914. In 1931, reviewers commented that the story was old-fashioned – despite the fact that Paramount attempted to update its scenario through the use of new scenes, art deco sets, snappy dialogue, and a fast-moving script.
The film received few positive reviews. Photoplay wrote that it has “plenty of speed and lots of laughs”, while praising the “perfect cast”. Variety wrote “Subject to the limitation of all screen farces, this revamped stage frolic makes good enough program material with only moderate prospects at the box office.” New York’s The World, however, called it “pretty dreary.” The New Yorker stated “Among the dull pictures of the week we might list that old relic, It Pays to Advertise, which is full of smart-aleck cracks and is altogether a bore.”
The film starred Norman Foster, then husband of Claudette Colbert, and Carol Lombard, who was at the beginning of her film career. The gravel-voiced Eugene Pallette played the soap king; he had also played a supporting role in Brooks’ previous American film, The Canary Murder Case. The fast talking Skeets Gallagher played the wisecracking publicist – then called press agents. Brooks received fifth billing, and was largely left off promotional materials supplied by the studio.
Few publications mentioned Brooks, except to mention her brief appearance. Some publications noted that the role represented a comeback. The Kansas City Star commented, “Carole Lombard is pretty as the Mary Grayson in the cast, but Louise Brooks, who used to be quite a name in the photoplay world, is more attractive as the actress who does the airplane fall and is not seen thereafter.” Harry Evans, writing in Life magazine, stated “Louise Brooks, whom we have not seen on the screen since her momentary appearance in The Canary Murder Case (in which a voice double was used to speak her lines), seems to have been studying, as she gets away with her bit in this one creditably. Her real purpose in the film, however, is to show her legs, and in this phase of stage-craft she certainly needs no double.”
Set in the advertising and business world, It Pays to Advertise referenced a number of actual products and their slogans. As a result, one trade journal took exception to the practice. Harrison’s Reports, which billed itself “a reviewing service free from the influence of film advertising,” objected to product placement in film — be it verbal or visual. Over the course of four months (in articles titled “The Facts About Concealed Advertisements in Paramount Pictures,” “This Paper’s Further Efforts Against ‘Sponsored’ Screen Advertisements,” and “Other Papers That Have Joined the Harrison Crusade Against Unlabelled Screen Advertising”) editor P. S. Harrison railed against the business world farce in particular and product placement in films in general. “The Paramount picture, It Pays to Advertise, is nothing but a billboard of immense size. I have not been able to count all of the nationally advertised articles that are spoken of by the characters.” In the next issue, Harrison stated “In last week’s issue the disclosure was made that in It Pays to Advertise there are more than fifteen advertisements in addition to the main advertisement, ’13 Soap Unlucky for Dirt,’ which Paramount is accused of having created as a brand for the purpose of selling it.”
Taking the high moral ground, Harrison’s Reports spurred a campaign against “sponsored moving pictures – meaning pictures which contain concealed or open advertising of some one’s product.” Harrison wrote to the studios – and Harrison’s Reports noted that a handful responded with pledges to not include verbal or visual product placement. The crusading editor also wrote to more than 2,000 newspapers, and a number published articles and editorials decrying the practice. Among those papers that joined Harrison’s cause were four of the New York dailies, the Gannett chain, and scores of small town papers, as well as the Denver Post, Detroit Free Press, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and Tulsa Tribune. The Christian Science Monitor added to the chorus of complaint when it remarked, “Paramount should have been well paid for the large slices of publicity for trade-marked products that are spread all through this artificial story.”
Due to tepid reviews and negative publicity, It Pays to Advertise did poorly at the box office. At best, most exhibitors reported only fair business. In Los Angeles, according to one report, the film “set a new low.” The film also failed to do much for Brooks’ sputtering career.
“Rodney Martin, scion of soap king Cyrus Martin, pulls a publicity stunt for his friend. Ambrose Peale, by pretending to elope with a chorus girl and infuriates his father. After Rodney informs Cyrus that he wants to marry Cyrus’s Secretary, Mary Grayson, Cyrus kicks him out of the house and threatens to disinherit him. Rebellious Rodney packs up and vows to get a job to support himself. His action fits right in with his father’s plans, however, as Cyrus pays Mary $5,000 for getting Rodney to fall in love with her and go to work. Mary and Cyrus make another agreement in which he is to pay her 25 percent of whatever Rodney makes plus $5000 if she can keep him working for six straight months. Both promise to keep this agreement a secret from Rodney, who recruits both Mary and Ambrose as business partners in his new soap manufacturing company. Having named the soap “13 Soap – Unlucky for Dirt,” Ambrose convinces Rodney to advertise the product. Rodney uses all of his savings to pay for the advertising blitz that ensues, but is unable to make the final payment, or pay their rent. When it appears that a French comtesse is going to buy the French rights to their soap. Rodney writes Donald McChesney, head of the United Ad Corp., a $5,000 check but later finds out the Comtesse is a fraud and was hoping to swindle them out of $5,000. Rodney refuses to ask his father for the needed funds, so Mary secretly covers the bad check with her savings, asking McChesney to hold off billing them for a month. In the meantime, Cyrus offers to buy the soap company from Rodney after hearingg that his longtime partner, Andrew Adams, is trying to buy the business. Cyrus breaks the deal, however, when he finds out 13 Soap is broke and intimates to Rodney that Mary has some capital she could invest. Rodney’s defeat only inspires him to work harder, and when they receive a huge order for soap, he pitches a deal to Cyrus, who refuses to provide the product. Cyrus finds out that Adams is supplying them, however, and promises Rodney he will beat any of Adams’s offers to buy the business. Cyrus reveals his agreement with Mary to Rodney, who, aware that she paid off his bill to McChesney with her own money, realizes that Mary loves him sincerely. Cyrus buys the business and proceeds to lecture Adams on Ambrose Peale’s philosophy of advertising.”
Production on the film took place in and around Los Angeles in late 1930.
Under its American title, It Pays to Advertise, documented screenings of the film took place in Australia, Canada, China, England, The Netherlands, and New Zealand. Elsewhere, this motion picture was known to have been shown under other-language titles including To platí, aby inzeroval (Czechoslovakia).
The film is extant, and lesser quality dupes circulate on VHS and DVD. (Of note: the UCLA Film and Television Archive holds a 4 reel (ca. 8000 ft.) 35 mm. nitrate print.)
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