Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

The Tagline – It intrigues them! It hooks them! It draws them in!

Marketing of a film is an important aspect of the film industry. One foolish mistake in the pitch to the public can mean millions of dollars in lost revenue. For this reason, certain marketing strategies which were once casually thrown together are now executed with military precision. Such is the case of the creation of a film’s taglines or catchphrases. These are sentences which are used in publicity to entice the passerby to come into the theater. Traditionally they were seen on diagonal bands pasted across a film’s poster, in plastic letters on the theater’s marquee or spoken (always by a male voice) in voiceover during a theater preview or trailer. They are snappy one liners that tease the public rather than inform. Perhaps the most famous one is “Be afraid. Be very afraid,” from the 1986 film, The Fly . They are not loglines – those are one or two sentence descriptions of the story that succinctly give the essence of the plot, setting or conflict. Loglines are important during the pitch of a script or during the sale of a film to distributors, whereas the tagline comes to the fore during the actual theater run.

Writers and producers fret over loglines because they are so important in getting the support they need to make their films successful. Taglines, on the other hand, are the concern of the advertising and marketing staff. But both loglines and taglines have gone through a gradual transformation during the history of cinema, as writers have become more adept at finding the formulas that work. The New York Public Library currently has an exhibit at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center called the Birth of Promotion, Inventing Film Publicity in the Silent Film Era. There are displays of movie posters, newspaper articles, lobby cards and publicity tie-ins of various types, with taglines in prominent display. In a handout made to look like an industry broadsheet there are some examples of taglines from the days of the silents. Looking at them you can get an idea of how much the craft has changed since those hit-or-miss early days of publicity. Some examples:

He suffered the tortures of love, and in his anguish he tortured love itself.

Rioting Color, Fiery Romance, Swift-moving Plot of Primitive Love and Hate.

A love tornado with a flaming sweep to thrill the most blasé.

Spicy and speedy comedy, with a dash of paprika.

Fire in his heart, Love in his eyes, Magnetism on his lips.

Entertainment as refreshing as an oasis in the Sahara.

Why is he loved? THE GIRLS KNOW. THE MEN KNOW.

What struck me about these taglines is how unfocused and overwrought many of them are. Speaking of love and hate, or entertainment and the Sahara in the same sentences, describing magnetism on a man’s lips or his anguished torturing of love seem designed to confuse the public more than anything else. In their zealous attempt to encompass the whole film, these catchphrases end up being a jumble of adjectives and images at cross-purposes. Compare these with some taglines from more recent films:

“Every journey begins with a single move.” Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

“Lie. Cheat. Steal. All In A Day’s Work.” Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

“More sex! More screams! Less taste!” Scary Movie 2 (2001)

“Good cops. Bad hair.” Starsky & Hutch (2004) 

“On this highway, the roadkill is human.” Monster Man (2003

“The longer you wait, the harder it gets.” The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)  
The modern taglines are terse, usually focusing on one precise image. They often use puns and juxtaposed two images to get an effect, rather the hodgepodges of the twenties. I found these modern catchphrases (taglines) on filmsite.org, go there to find listings of taglines from each decade of film production. Loglines, on the other hand, can be found on the imdb site, on the webpage for each individual film, just under the title of the film and before the name of the director, writers and stars.
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March 16, 2012 - Posted by | cinema | ,

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