By Rex Hammock

Content marketing can often seem like new labels applied to old ideas. In a broad way, it can even mean Broadway. At least, that’s what you may think after watching the Netflix documentary ”Bathtubs Over Broadway.”

Steve Young, a former writer for the “Late Show with David Letterman,” was the subject of the documentary directed by Dava Whisenant and co-written by Dava and Ozzy Inguanzo. The documentary is both funny and fascinating in its exploration of the heyday of industrial musicals.

Beginning in the 1950s, marketers for U.S. companies adapted the Broadway musical format to create a platform to launch new products. Like many forms of content marketing today, these industrial musicals could be even more lavish and star-filled than the content they adapted.

For example, composer Hank Beebe estimates that a 1957 Chevrolet musical cost $3 million dollars to produce, six times the amount it took to take “My Fair Lady” to the Broadway stage that same year.

Major car manufacturers used industrial musicals, as did Westinghouse, Coca-Cola, Xerox and American Standard, whose “Bathrooms Are Coming” is a classic. Major Broadway stars often made more money from these industrial musicals than for traditional Broadway shows.

Today, it may be easy to look back on such productions and find them quaint or silly. But during their peak in the 1950s and 1960s, industrial musicals were an effective way to convey information, enthusiasm and loyalty to the audiences they were intended to reach.

Takeaway | As the documentary reveals, what we may first find odd can be a very effective form of content marketing in another context and era. Today’s sponsored podcasts and anything labeled “native content”—and countless other forms of contemporary content—are seeking to achieve the same results.


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