Early examples of commercials: film fiction as a model
To advertise a product that will solve problems for the buyer, the commercial has to present not only the nirvana of the solution as the happy ending, but also the problem. In this way the commercial is like a love story, drama, gangster film, crime movie or melodrama - you name it. The model is "problem, solution, happy ending". Or, "boy/girl misses girl/boy, one meets the other (plus difficulties), solution & kiss in the end as the sun sets".
An early example of this way of borrowing or re-using/re-shaping the
love story or melodramatic pattern is offered by one of the very first Danish commercial
films, which was produced in 1908. Entitled Den heldige Frier (The Lucky Suitor ),
it is a commercial for "English House", a fashion and clothing company that was
also responsible for its production.
Fiction film as a model for Den heldige frier (The Lucky Suitor ) is evident even in its use of a title and credits.
The crew was among the Danish film pioneers. The director, and probably the cameraman, was a young Englishman, A. James Gee (who had shown his own film shorts in Tivoli as early as the late 1890s; he stayed in Denmark and in the film industry and later became a cinema theatre owner in Ålborg). The actor Hilmer Clausen (the suitor) played in feature films during the following decade, though mostly in minor parts. Later he became the managing director first of a theater, then of a cinema theater. The young woman was Valborg Dietrich. The father was A.W. Sandberg, a press photographer who was employed by Nordisk Films Kompagni as a cinematographer, writer and director in 1914. He became a superb cinematographer who directed and shot numerous films for the company for many years.
The story: A young man meets his beloved outside her house, but she rejects him and the flowers he wants to give her. Left alone on the sidewalk with his little bouquet of flowers, he is in despair; how shall he ever persuade her? But then he sees an ad for men's fashion in his newspaper. English House has special weekend prices for modern gentlemen's suits. He rushes off to the store, buys a suit, a new shirt, a collar and even a hat - an English one! Then he returns to his fiancée's house and meets her and her father. After a short discussion followed by his determined proposal of marriage, both father and daughter give in, and then he shows them as well as the audience the solution to everybody's problem: the receipt for what he has bought, complete with prices and yet another presentation of the name and address of the store. Finally, the slogan says "Moderne kalder paa Smile og/Priserne mindes man med et Suk" ("Fashion calls for a Smile and/Prices you recall with a sigh"):
The formula: 1. A real boy wants a girl he has already met. 2. He overcomes his difficulties with the help of the nice store that is advertising the appropriate suits. 3. Happiness and marriage. This is exactly the narrative three-step structure of the melodramatic productions which made the largest Danish film company, Nordisk Films Kompagni (founded in 1906), so successful during these early years. This commercial also resembles the fiction productions of the time in that some of their scenes were also shot on location in the streets. Lovers would meet and court each other outdoors, while other parts of the action took place indoors. Melodrama and sex were important ingredients when Nordisk and their Danish competitors produced for both the domestic and the international market.