5 Egregious Errors in Movie Marketing Campaigns

‘Mission: Impossible III’ didn’t bomb at the box office, but the promotion for it definitely inspired numerous bomb threats
5 Egregious Errors in Movie Marketing Campaigns

The promotional phase is a crucial part of a movie’s success. Get it right, and you’ll be rolling in money until you realize that’s a one-way street to papercut town; biff it, and the studio will yank it from the streaming service like it never happened. You’d think, then, that someone would be carefully overseeing every detail of the marketing campaign, but they’ve made mistakes that even the flightiest social media intern would catch. Such as…

A French ‘Barbie’ Poster Alluded to Ken’s Sexual Prowess

While keeping plot details locked down tighter than any movie since Psycho, the Barbie promotional campaign has been very clear that this isn’t your six-year-old’s Barbie. She punches sexual predators, she thinks about dying and her feet are on the ground. Part of that is the tagline on the movie’s posters, which reads, “She’s everything. He’s just Ken,” or on one French poster, “Elle peut tout faire. Lui, c’est juste Ken.” There’s just one problem: “C’est” sounds just like “sait,” the French word for “know,” and “ken” is French slang for fuckin’. Read aloud, the poster says, “She can do anything. He just knows how to fuck.”

Clearly, someone did this on purpose. It’s bad French grammar, for one thing. “C’est” literally translates to “it is,” not “he is,” so whoever translated it was specifically going for the “sait” pun. Also, “there’s no way a French speaker wouldn’t have noticed the dirty pun,” according to one French film executive. But that just means whoever did the translation knew what they were doing. It doesn’t mean the studio bothered to take a second look, and their response seems to suggest they didn’t. “The speculation around the Barbie marketing campaign shows that there is a high level of awareness and major excitement from the public surrounding the upcoming release of our film in France,” said a Warner Bros. spokesperson. That translates to, “Hey, shut up.”

An ‘Arrival’ Poster Mixed Up Hong Kong and Shanghai

Arrival is about (among other things, probably) American-Chinese relations, so it makes sense that the designers of a poster released several months ahead of the movie wanted to include a recognizable Chinese landmark, such as Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Tower. Unfortunately, the Shanghai skyline just didn’t quite have the vibe they were going for, apparently. But that’s an easy enough fix in the age of Photoshop, so they just pasted the tower into a shot of Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. Nobody will notice, right? Right?

It turns out people live in those places, and they have a very delicate relationship with each other. The people of Hong Kong weren’t thrilled to be once again conflated with mainland China, so they flooded the movie’s Facebook page with angry comments under the hashtag #HongKongIsNotChina. Paramount Pictures came back with a sincere apology and promise to do bet… Wait, no, they just blamed a “third-party vendor” and expressed their “disappoint(ment that they) didn’t catch the error.” People noted that the word “sorry” was nowhere to be found in there and that Paramount subsequently released an updated poster erasing Hong Kong entirely, further angering Hong Kong residents who didn’t yet know the movie took place in China. Arrival was right: We do need to communicate better.

A ‘Mission: Impossible 3’ Stunt Created a Citywide Bomb Scare

Kids these days don’t appreciate just how much of an earworm the Mission: Impossible theme song used to be. Nor the concept of a newspaper box, for that matter. See, children, back in the ancient days of 2006, if you wanted to know what celebrity just used a racial slur, you had to go outside and put a metal circle into a little machine that spit out a slice of tree that had the day’s trending topics printed on it. That year, Paramount decided it would be a cute little promotional stunt for the upcoming Mission: Impossible 3 to rig up a music player inside a bunch of random L.A. newspaper boxes to play the movie’s theme song when people opened them. Fun!

Except the installation guys got a little lazy. Customers weren’t supposed to be able to see the little red boxes with wires sticking out of them because that would understandably cause them to scream and cry and puke in what we today insist on calling the post-9/11 era. But either someone got the specs wrong or declared “good enough” because you could only see it if you leaned to the right and looked up or something. Whatever the case, people totally saw them and totally reacted as expected. One machine was even blown up because the sheriff’s arson squad considered the threat so legitimate. To be clear, not the threat of getting the Mission: Impossible theme song stuck in their heads.

‘Back to the Future’-Themed Bottles of Pepsi Sold Out Immediately

It’s unclear why the Back to the Future franchise needed a promotion in 2015. Did Peacock even exist back then? It’s impossible to know. Pepsi always needs money, though, so they took advantage of the arrival of “Back to the Future Day” on October 21, 2015, the day Marty McFly travels to in the first sequel, with a limited-edition release of Pepsi Perfect, the beverage he orders on that day. It was really just normal-ass Pepsi, but it came in a bottle that looked like a warped Hydro Flask, so they could charge 20 bucks for it. It was the perf ideal scam.

Maybe a little too ideal. It turned out Pepsi underestimated just how thirsty the public was for 1980s nostalgia and sugar water. They’d only produced 6,500 bottles, which sold out immediately, mostly to people who turned around and put them on eBay for hundreds of dollars while Pepsi kicked themselves for making the further mistake of not realizing they could charge that much. People were so mad that Business Insider, which got its hands on a bottle, donated its acquisition to a fan. You know how sad you have to be to turn Business Insider into a charity?

A ‘Power Rangers’ Poster Seemed to Mock an Actor’s Death

The Power Rangers franchise is pretty cursed, and not only in the modern sense of being unsettlingly cringey/cringily unsettling. Several cast members have suffered untimely and/or mysterious deaths, become fatally violent themselves or starred in Felicity. One of the untimely but tragically all-too-understood deaths was Thuy Trang, the original Yellow Ranger, who died in a car crash in 2001 at age 27. You can see, then, why everyone let out a collective “um” when the official Power Rangers account tweeted a poster featuring the new Yellow Ranger to promote the 2017 movie with the tagline “Driver’s ed not required.”

Of course, the tagline referred to the character’s Zord (that’s a massive robot mecha thing, for those of you who escaped the 1990s), but it was dangerously close to saying something super weird about the death of their original actor. They could have paired any of a number of taglines with any of a number of character posters, and that’s somehow where the Mad Libs took it. The many official accounts that posted the image quickly took it down, which is probably why nobody saw the movie. 

Damn you, random marketing intern!

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