Movie

Fake news promotion for ‘A Cure For Wellness’ backfires

If 2016 was the worst year ever, 2017 is shaping up to be the worst year for the media.

A little more than a month into Trump’s presidency and his war on the press is out in full force. Just last week, CNN, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times were barred from a press gaggle at the White House. And the nation’s own battle against fake news was brought to attention throughout the election, where the circulation of fake news on social media was, and still is, rampant. Now the issue has leaked into the film industry, thanks to Gore Verbinski’s “A Cure For Wellness.”

The millennial generation that grew up with social media tends to be more informed than their parental counterparts on differentiating click bait from real news — apologies to any of my family members who thought “Pizzagate” was a real thing.

Fake news falls into the same boat as native advertising, which is essentially paid promotional content formed to match the original content of the media outlet its placed in. All this means is that the line between what’s genuine, honest information and what’s actually a ploy for your money or internet traffic is so blurred now that media consumers find it hard to trust which is which.

While we as consumers find these tactics to be deceiving, marketing departments across the country are jumping on the trend in an effort to combat traditional ad fatigue. Films especially are notable for trying to find original, cheap, and new ways to pique viewer interest. However, given the current climate where trust is low and tensions are high, there is the potential that these creative campaigns can backfire and actually turn a potential audience away from a film.

Cue “A Cure For Wellness.” The film’s 30-second “Shutter Island”-esque Superbowl spot was more than enough to get me to Google the title and ask around for a movie date. But what made “Cure” fall flat on its face was the decision to utilize fake news in an attempt to bolster buzz around the film.

Five fake local news sites, The Sacramento Dispatch, Salt Lake City Guardian, Houston Leader, NY Morning Post and Indianapolis Gazette were registered solely for the purpose of promoting the film by distributor 20th Century Fox. However, the articles that were made for these sites didn’t necessarily scream that they were promoting the film, nor was it announced anywhere — until the film was called out on its B.S. — that these were purposefully fake and promotional websites.

Headlines such as “’Trump Depression Disorder’ Classified As A Disease By The American Medical Association,” as you can imagine, exploded all over Facebook. People who were already riled up over the election results mindlessly absorbed this, and other equally absurd, headlines originating from the specific fake sites.

Extreme rightist and leftist propaganda news sites circulated the articles, further spreading the fire. Subtle references to the fictional medical center showcased in the film were strewn throughout articles and many ended with the hashtag #cureforwellness. But consumers saw only what asserted their own views, and many overlooked any ties to the film or hints at fictitious accounts completely.

Since Buzzfeed caught on to the reality of the situation, 20th Century Fox has since pulled the websites. All the fake sites’ domain names now link directly to the film’s homepage. Criticism from both the industry and the public called the move tasteless and touchy given the articles’ subject matter and the current state of our country’s relationship to the media. You could argue that any publicity is good publicity, but in this case “A Cure for Wellness” hardly even breached the Top 10 of the box office when it was released two weeks ago.

Plenty of films have had successful nontraditional marketing campaigns that piqued viewership and fandom. “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield” are two major films that took off in part thanks to their marketing campaigns that included hidden messages, fake websites and fake documents. Yet, they lacked the inclusion of real people and events that backfired the “Cure” campaign. While it can be refreshing to experience a unique take on film advertisements, it shouldn’t be at the cost of our trust to the media.

Lilly Stuecklen is a junior television, radio and film major. Her column appears weekly in Pulp. She can be reached on Twitter @Stuecks or by email at lsstueck@syr.edu.

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