Smoke Riders: The Daredevil Skywriting Pilots of the 1930s

More

This entertaining branded documentary from Chevrolet demonstrates how skywriting works, featuring three pilots flying with total precision to trace a Chevrolet ad in the sky. Sky Billboards, courtesy of the Prelinger Archive, was produced by the manufacturer's in-house production company, the Jam Handy organization, in 1935.  

Chevrolet produced countless short films like this during the first half of the 20th century, on topics ranging from scientific photography to a reimagining of Cinderella's coach as a luxury car. These are interesting early examples of what we now call "branded content," a "new" marketing strategy that involves packaging brand messages within videos that are (supposed to be) compelling in and of themselves. Chevrolet's most recent ad campaign is a return to the stunt-focused content of the 1930s Sky Billboards -- just check out their "skydiving car" viral video and the "anthem" montage of the ads they've produced in the past year: 

While brands and advertising agencies look for new ways to reach audiences in the age of the Internet and TiVo, it's worth taking a look back at pre-television advertising that worked so hard to create compelling, informative content like Sky Billboards. The film seems quaint now, but it's the grandfather of branded videos like this one from Red Bull's Air Race:

For more films from the Prelinger Archive, visit http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger.

Jump to comments

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon About the Toys in Your Cereal Box

The story of an action figure and his reluctant sidekick, who trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet

A doctor tries the ever-popular Master Cleanse. Sort of.

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Video

Just In