How Cellophane Promoted the Phenomenon of Impulse Buying

Video of the Month from Hagley Digital Archives - "The Impulse Payoff" (1952)
Monday, July 24, 2017

This month we present The Impulse Payoff, a 30-minute film sponsored by the DuPont Company and produced by the Jam Handy Corporation. The film intended to show the benefits of DuPont cellophane packaging in food markets. More broadly, it demonstrated how the right sales techniques and product presentation inspired “impulse” buying among shoppers and positive relations between sales staff and shop owners.

According to Business Screen Magazine on its release, the film was “available to retailers and others interested in packaging from the sponsor.” The producer of the film, Jam Handy, operated out of Detroit and offered a host of media-based sales and training services for clients with motion pictures being their prime medium. The founder and long-time head of the company, Jamison Handy, began producing films for businesses in the 1920s. Among his early clients were auto industry giants Chevrolet and General Motors. His company produced an estimated 7,000 films during a half-century in business making his company among the most prolific industrial film producers of the era.

The Impulse Payoff is a stellar example of the well-crafted message built around a creative premise with elements common in many Jam Handy films. The Impulse Payoff, released in 1952, won an award in the Sales Promotion and Marketing category at the Kentuckiana Film Festival, one of four soon-to-be-forgotten film festivals for industrial (or sponsored) films held in 1953. Jam Handy used the award to tout their work in a full-page ad on the back cover of the November 1953 issue of Business Screen Magazine.

Jim Handy's full page ad announcing the award for the film.

It is difficult to determine when and where this film would have been seen in the years after its release. We found newspaper clippings of it being featured at meetings of the Chicago Candy Club in 1952 and for the Tri-County Food Merchants Association in Hazleton, Pennsylvania in 1956. This gives an incomplete but worthwhile insight of its audience at the time. We also discovered in newspaper archives that interior supermarket scenes were filmed at a market in Port Huron, Michigan. This advertisement assured the customers of the H.A. Smith Food Mart that they would remain open during filming:

The 16mm film of The Impulse Payoff at Hagley is now digitized and available to view online.

Sources and Note:

“Film Company Makes Film at H.A. Smith Store Here,” The Times Herald (Port Huron, Michigan) 4 November 1951

“Chi Candy Club Meets,” Billboard, 18 October 1952

“Eight Business-sponsored Pictures Win Awards at Kentuckiana Film Festival,” Business Screen, November 1953

“Food Merchants Assn. on Tour of Dairy,” The Plain Speaker (Hazleton, Pa.), 1956 June 20

Background about Handy is from Rick Prelinger’s article “Eccentricity, Education and the Evolution of Corporate Speech: Jam Handy and his Organization” published in Films that Work: Industrial Film and the Productivity of Media (2009).

Kevin Martin is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator​ of Audiovisual Collections & Digital Initiatives at Hagley Museum and Library.