Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Star Wars Sale Saga!

Above: Newspaper advertisement, Thursday August 21st 1980, The Nanaimo Daily Free Press, Nanaimo B.C., Canada.

Waaaaaay back in May of 2007 I posted a series of photos to my photostream over at the photo sharing site flickr detailing a 1980 Star Wars themed car dealership sale that I had a hand in making happen. I recently unearthed a few more images detailing this momentous moment in marketing memory (at least for me!) so I thought I'd compile and expand the whole shebang into one big nostalgic ball and repost it here. Let the photo-assisted reminescencing begin!

In August 1980 I was an 11 year old Star Wars freak. Since my step-father at the time was the manager of a local Lincoln Mercury car dealership and The Empire Strikes Back had been in theatres for a few months it was inevitable that my two worlds would collide.

I assume that the idea was..."Star Wars is popular with the kids. The kids will get their parents to bring them to the car lot. We'll sell the parents a new 1980 Gran Marquis with unreasonably high financing as the kids meet their movie heroes!" Although I don't remember the details I'm sure I had an influence on this sale happening, since my life had been revolving around Star Wars for the previous 3 years and any way I could get more Star Wars into my life I jumped at.

So a plan was hatched - Hire some Star Wars characters to appear at the dealership, decorate with some Star Wars themed images, provide hot dogs, coffee and donuts and balloons, and most importantly... run a couple of big Star Wars themed ads to get the folk's attention and their feet on the lot.

Above: Full-page newspaper ad, August 1980, The Nanaimo Daily Free Press, Nanaimo B.C., Canada. Click for larger image.

When it came time to put together the newspaper ads I supplied my personal copy of "The Art of Star Wars" book to the ad department of the local paper to use for the reference photos. This was the most treasured book I owned and it came back with tape scars and rips all over the key pages. To say I was unhappy would have been an understatement (insert ominous forshadowing music here), but as I went on to a career as an illustrator it was only the first time in a long history of printers damaging, destroying or losing my art or property.

Copyright infringement was not as strictly enforced in 1980 as it is today, and since someone would have had to go out of their way to contact Lucasfilm in California to alert them about this goofy little sale in a somewhat out-of-the-way mid to smaller sized Canadian city I don't think anyone was too concerned about getting permission to use the likenesses of everyone's favourite intergalactic space heroes.

Quickly enough, the weekend of the sale and the stars of my favourite movie in the ENTIRE WORLD arrived.......

To the sounds of the Main Theme from Star Wars ( my copy of the Star Wars double LP soundtrack was on the dealership's console stereo in the showroom) the main attractions had appeared! Now I knew that they weren't going to be the original actors or costumes from the movie (after all I was 11 not 5), but I was under the belief that the company in Vancouver (Rob Haynes Productions) that was supplying the actors and costumes had high quality outfits and that they would look great. Great was not the word I would have used.

According to a later newspaper peice on the sale the characters arrived from Vancouver (a two hour ferry sailing from Nanaimo) in two special, limited edition Lincoln Continental convertibles. I don't remember and unfortunately don't have any photos of this grand entrance, but the disappointment must have started soon after.

First up : C-3PO (as advertised in the newspaper ad) never showed up. I don't remember now but it might have been an issue of overbooking. Not a good start. Then the characters that did show up looked only slightly more authentic than the homemade Star Wars costumes my friends and classmates had made for ourselves for the Halloweens of 1977, 1978 and 1979.

Darth Vader (or "Darth Vadar" / "Darth VBader" according to the ad and following article) was the most authentic of the three. About 5"10, wearing black dress slacks and a turtleneck sweater. An off-the-shelf Don Post Darth Vader mask. Flat black cloth chest plate. No lightsaber. No cool breathing sounds.

Despite the blurriness of the Kodak moment below you can clearly see the high quality construction and attention to authentic original film detail of the Chewbacca and Stormtrooper costumes. Chewie ( played by a pot-bellied, 6' 3"-ish fellow ) wore a standard gorilla or bear suit (notice the gap between the bottom of the mask and suit!) with another retail Don Post mask that I'd seen in the window of a magic store on my occasional trips to the capital of Victoria.

But the piece de resistance was the Stormtrooper (or "Star" stormtrooper according to the paper) costume....Don Post mask, okay...fine. Actually pretty good. I was impressed at the time. But I guess they figured that the mask was so realistic that the rest of the outfit wouldn't be noticed! Over a loose fitting black jumpsuit, the trooper wore a white ( no markings at all ) soft leatherette bib thing and waist piece. Another couple of pieces on the forearms and leggings. No gloves. Plus black shoes! It looked horrible. I was not pleased.

I don't know how much the dealership paid to hire these guys from the promotions agency in Vancouver, have them come over on the ferry, do the gig, put them up in a motel overnight, do the second day and then back on the ferry to Vancouver - but it couldn't have been cheap.

Hopefully the sale went well, but I'm curious to know if the it was worth the cost. In my mind at the time it had been a real bust. But my loss is your gain as we got some great photos out of the deal!

In what I assume was a gesture of thanks for coming up with the idea, lending my expert assistance and photos / records, etc the folks at the dealership gave me this trophy with the classy inscription "Star Wars Trophy for advertising"...

Needless to say my sister and I didn't attend the second day of the sale and there was not a Star Wars / Return of the Jedi sale three years later.

Luckily as a coda to this sprawling saga I recently found, while trawling through poor quality microfilm copies of my old home town papers, this follow-up article on the sale. I'm not sure if it was part of the advertising deal or just a straight human-interest piece, but in the following Monday's paper those who attended this momentous event in Nanaimo sales promotions history could relive the experience through the eyes of a jaded beat reporter. And those who had missed it could could only wonder (incorrectly) at the marvels they had missed. Be sure to click the image for all the gory details.

Apparently there were other unlicensed SW automobile dealership promotions elsewhere. Check out this link from Star Wars ├╝berfan Gus Lopez and scroll down for a couple of small photos and brief description of an even sadder looking cast of characters riding on a pick-up for a New Jersey dealership event...

And if the whole retro Star Wars thing turns your crank be sure to visit the flickr group "Growing Up Star Wars: 1977-1985" co-started by your's truly. It's chock full of personal childhood Star Wars nostalgia. Don't say I didn't warn you.


Todd Franklin said...

An epic post! Did your LP come back scratched after the event?

Glen Mullaly said...

Thanks Mr. Mayor! I doubt it was scratched much more because...

a: I was the one spinning it, at least on the first day, and I was pretty careful with my stuff by that point.

and b: It was probably well worn from my playing it on our home console stereo constantly!

Anonymous said...

This is FANTASTIC - thanks for sharing the trip back in time. :)

Glen Mullaly said...

Thank you John!