- Selling the Silver Bullet: The Lone Ranger and Transmedia Brand Licensing by Avi Santo
Avi santo’s selling the silver bullet provides a unique and captivating history of transmedia brand licensing through the lens of one of the most enduring transmedia stars in the history of American media: the Lone Ranger. Santo unpacks the Lone Ranger’s eighty-year history by tracing the ways the character’s image and likeness were sold to the American public, dispersed throughout American culture, and changed with the evolving media landscape. His research draws particular attention to the labor of the peripheral workers who sold, branded, and rebranded the hero. Through this lens, Santo is able to historicize the emergence of various practices—from brand management to character licensing—while also situating them within the context of modern franchising practices. In doing so, Santo sheds light on industrial branding practices that resemble modern franchising logics and calls attention to the ways they existed long before the language of media franchising was common vernacular among industry professionals and media studies scholars.
Santo paints a clear and engaging history of branding and marketing practices that in recent years have become increasingly pervasive. Through careful critical analysis and meticulous historical research, Santo posits that these logics—forged during the first half of the twentieth century—were perfected only through a combination of strategy and trial and error. This continues some of the research being done by production studies scholars such as Derek Johnson and Tim Havens on industrial labor and intermediaries and pushes it further by providing a historical context.1 Santo’s research reaches as far back as the early twentieth century to construct a substantial prehistory of the current postconglomeration era.
The first few chapters provide a clear chronology of early brand licensing. In the introduction, Santo contextualizes the project and brand licensing before moving into a pre–Lone Ranger [End Page 76] history of the field. Chapter 2 offers a nuanced history of licensing starting pre-1930s and ending with the creation of The Lone Ranger and Lone Ranger Incorporated (LRI), which owned the property until it was bought out in the 1950s. He moves through the early concept of licensing, providing unique insight into the industry and complicating the notion that product extension is in any way simple or automatic. Chapter 3 builds on and complicates some of Jonathan Gray’s work on paratexts and intertextuality by describing the different ways that LRI negotiated the Lone Ranger’s image and likeness into local markets.2 The chapter illustrates the ways the text and the paratexts conversed to tell the story of how the Lone Ranger found his horse, Silver. This bit of backstory unfolded not on the radio program but through merchandising campaigns in partnership with several local grocery stores. In the chapter, Santo argues that it was LRI’s ability to negotiate advertising and marketing partnerships on the local level that allowed the program and the licensed merchandise to compete on the national market.
As the book progresses, Santo shifts his narrative style to break away from strict chronology and instead establishes clear themes that allow him to speak to the past and current moment more broadly. Chapter 4 complicates commonly held assumptions about copyright, trademark, and authorship through the lens of LRI’s legal history, while chapter 5 pushes licensing into the television era and situates increased anxiety about maintaining uniform brand identities across licensed Lone Ranger products within the context of national containment policies of the 1950s. In these chapters, Santo pushes readers to move beyond the viewing of these practices as ones that stifle creativity and instead look at the ways they led to innovative promotional campaigns that mirror world-building practices discussed by transmedia scholars today. Santo continues to use the Lone Ranger as a lens to complicate and challenge commonly held assumptions about the nature of copyright, trademark, and authorship. He traces LRI’s legal history up until its ultimate sale to the Jack Wrather...