Smoke Riders: The Daredevil Skywriting Pilots of the 1930s

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.

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.

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

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

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Video

Just In