Late Thursday night, 20th Century Fox apologized for a campaign to promote an upcoming film. Why? The studio knowingly used fake news as part of its strategy.
The film, “A Cure for Wellness” is described as a psychological thriller in which the narrative explores a false illness for which there is no cure. Naturally the team behind the campaign connected the dots to the fake news epidemic. Creating complete websites designed to appear as trusted mainstream news outlets, stories such as “BOMBSHELL: Trump and Putin Spotted at Swiss Resort Prior to Election” and “LEAKED: Lady Gaga Halftime Performance to Feature Muslim Tribute” appeared on the websites. According to the New York Times, “…some were shared thousands of times on social media by users who appeared to believe that they were factual news stories, and others were reposted by partisan websites like Red State Watcher”.
This is a prime example of a campaign strategy that went one step too far. Sure, it’s great to have creative ideas that tap into real life topics of interest and often that’s a building block of buzzworthy marketing strategy . However, it’s a different situation when you start creating false information that seeps into people’s timelines as seemingly true news from what appears to be trusted sources. As Richard Edelman stated in his 6am blog on the topic, this particular campaign went, “…over the edge of decency and intelligence to irresponsibility”.
This is not the first nor the last time a marketing campaign has gone awry, but it could’ve been avoided. Sometimes clever ideas are too clever by a turn. A simple meeting might have created a collaborative judgement that this campaign idea wouldn’t fly. If the marketers had taken a breath and discussed this with both PR and legal teams, the reputation damage could’ve been avoided.