4 Movie & TV Promotions (That Backfired Horribly)
Because your money is the Drew Barrymore to Hollywood's Adam Sandler, movies and TV shows often come packaged along with elaborate promotional efforts to better lure you in. Whether it's the promise of a literal garbage bag full of cash, or a pizza shaped like a bat-like Rorschach inkblot, the world of pop culture will never run out of dumb promotional gimmicks to employ, even though they go horribly wrong sometimes, such as how …
The Stranger Things Airbnb Drew Attention To The Show's Nazi Ties
The greatest work of fiction to combine both interdimensional monsters and New Coke, Stranger Things recently featured a storyline in which Jim Hopper is held prisoner by the Soviet army, who, unfortunately, were in no way vulnerable to attacks that consisted purely of Kate Bush songs.
Instead of filming on a soundstage, or a green screen, or wherever they shot the Gulag scenes in Muppets Most Wanted, Stranger Things spent the extra dough required to set up shop at Lukiškės Prison in Vilnius, Lithuania. And in the wake of the season premiere, the prison – not unlike the world's last Blockbuster video or a dank closet passing itself off as "Harry Potter-themed" – was available to rent on Airbnb. Weirdly, despite the fact that this prison was an actual filming location in the show, it still recreated other places from Stranger Things, like the Byers' living room.
But the promotion was immediately met with a significant backlash. Why? Because the historic prison, built in the early 20th century, has been home to a laundry list of atrocities and was used by the Nazis during World War II. Especially unsettling is its "proximity to the horrific Ponary Massacre in which 100,000 Jews, Rroma, and political prisoners were murdered" – the first casualties of which were 348 people from Lukiškės.
Naturally, Netflix filming their hit series in a former Nazi prison, which later became an Eggo-filled hotel suite, didn't go over so well with the public. While the room is reportedly "no longer available for booking," there's currently an online petition demanding that: "Money earned from this season should be put back into the Jewish and Rromani communities of Lithuania as reparations for the damage this season is causing" adding that "a public apology from Airbnb, Netflix, and Stranger Things should be issued immediately." Hopefully, we won't find out that other Netflix shows like, say, Is it Cake? were also filmed on the site of some abominable horror.
"Smurf Village" Was Forced To Remove All Smurf References
We've talked before about how Sony decided that the best possible way to promote their 2011 Smurfs movie – other than posters, commercials, and assurances that it was 90 minutes of colorful nonsense that could capably distract small children – was to paint an entire Spanish village blue.
After it blue itself, the town of Júzcar noticed an influx of tourists, whose patronage was welcome during a time of unprecedented economic hardship. So while they were originally supposed to paint everything back to white at the conclusion of the promotion, residents voted to keep their town as blue as Dr. Manhattan's butt cheeks. Not only that, the town really leaned hard into the "Smurf" theme, selling Smurfy merch to visitors, erecting Smurf statues, and presumably limiting its female population to one lone resident.
Seems harmless enough, right? Well, the tiny village, which jumped through all the promotional hoops they were asked too, then drew the attention of the "beneficiaries" of late Smurfs' creator Peyo, who demanded that they receive "12% of the profits of any Smurf-related activity in Júzcar or its local area." Which seems pretty steep. Apparently, this family didn't make enough money from the movie or by tricking '80s kids into eating their berry-flavored garbage cereal and calling a Smurfs' 1-900 number.
Subsequently, in 2017 the town "lost the authorization to market itself as a Smurf town" – a development that was reported in the media as a "Smurder" and a "Smurficide" (seriously). And while the buildings are still blue, they had to remove all references to the Smurfs. Which Smurfing sucks. Perhaps someone should ask James Cameron if Avatar needs its own promotional town?
A Theater Chain Encouraged Fast And The Furious Fans To Break The Speed Limit
You don't need to do much to advertise a Fast and the Furious movie beyond simply the words "Fast" and/or "Furious," but a Cambodian movie theater chain attempted to hype up Furious 7 with a marketing stunt that encouraged people to break the law just like in the movies – and by that, we mean, breaking the speed limit, not hijacking a truck full of VHS-equipped TV sets.
In 2015, Legend Cinemas launched a social media campaign urging movie fans to take pictures of their speedometer with the tagline "I'm the fastest like Fast&Furious7." Since none of these movies include any scenes where Dom Toretto goes 15 miles per hour in a school zone, everyone interpreted this as the company encouraging people to break the speed limit … and then document said infraction and publish it on the internet.
Not surprisingly, this promotion "drew complaints" from the public. Legend Cinemas claimed that people were "misunderstanding" the post (which was subsequently removed), arguing that it "was purely a game" and they "were not encouraging people to commit traffic violations." By that token, they were also presumably not encouraging people to go on and on about "family" after their seventh Corona.
Disney's Flubber Was Pulled Off The Shelves And Buried Under A Parking Lot
Flubber; it's the fantastical substance that bounces, flies, and, in the '90s, possesses the intelligence necessary to perform an entire mambo routine, creating a number of ethical concerns about how the apparently sentient lifeform is treated in the rest of the movie …
Flubber was first introduced in the 1961 Disney comedy The Absent-Minded Professor, which proved to be such a hit that Walt Disney produced his first ever theatrical sequel: 1963's Son of Flubber. Even though the movie included a subplot involving overzealous merchandisers, Disney similarly tried to market "Flubber" to the masses in conjunction with the film's release – although it was less of a scientific miracle that could help you cheat at basketball, and more of a hunk of putty that did absolutely nothing cool.
In addition to the crushing disappointment it likely caused, the toy Flubber was seemingly connected to a series of skin rashes and sore throats in children. At first, the mysterious outbreak was attributed to a virus, but later an FDA investigation lay the blame on Flubber (and also Flubber knock-offs like "Plubber").
The toy manufacturer, Hassenfeld Bros. (which became Hasbro), denied the claims but had further tests done, this time on prisoners who volunteered to be "guinea pigs" for the company – one of whom "developed a rash on his head." One woman even filed a lawsuit for $104,000, claiming that her three-year-old was hospitalized thanks to Flubber.
The product was eventually yanked from the market – so what did they do with all the leftover Flubber? Since there was no Environmental Protection Agency at the time, pretty much all of their ideas would have made Captain Planet weep. The company was reportedly "unable to dispose of it at sea" because the darn stuff wouldn't sink. And they couldn't burn it at the city dump because it produced a thick black smoke. Ultimately, the company just decided to bury it behind their warehouse, and put a new parking lot on top – an urban legend that was eventually confirmed by a former Hasbro CEO. Although rumors that the Flubber occasionally bubbles to the surface are apparently erroneous – but would make for a great Disney horror movie.
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