One of the best campaigns by the old Doyle Dane Bernbach agency
carried the theme "Sony. No baloney", which successfully differentiated
the TVs sold by Sony as coming from a company that wouldn't fool
Would that executives at Columbia Pictures, the movie studio now owned
by Sony, had recalled those wise words.
Columbia finds itself embroiled in a flap regarding faked ads for four
films, which used laudatory quotations purportedly from a critic for a
small newspaper in Connecticut. The blurbs turned out to have been
concocted within the advertising and marketing departments at Columbia
Pictures. Under the name David Manning and the newspaper The Ridgefield
Press, the movies and their stars were raved about in pithy, puffy
phrases that seemed too good to be true.
And they were.
For instance, ads for A Knight's Tale had Manning gushing that the lead
actor, Heath Ledger, was "this year's hottest new star!" And ads for The
Animal had Manning enthusing that "the producing team of Big Daddy has
delivered another winner!"
After the fraud was uncovered by Newsweek magazine, and Sony apologised,
the fiasco received intensive coverage in both the entertainment and
You could practically hear the teeth gnashing all the way back to
Madison Avenue at all the attention the phony ads were getting - far,
far more than any real ads have generated lately, except perhaps for the
"whassup?" campaign. (One could imagine how Columbia would have tried
putting that across, maybe having the "whassup?" guys claim that
drinking Budweiser cures cancer.)
Newsweek and many others pointed out how deliciously ironic the phony
blurbing was. Why? The Hollywood movie studios are notorious for
inviting critics from small, unknown publications and websites on
all-expenses-paid junkets that almost always yield wildly enthusiastic
reviews that can be featured prominently in newspaper ads and TV
Some of those critics are even known to be easily steered into saying
exactly what the studios paying for their trips, meals and hotel rooms
want them to. So what was the need for Manning's make-believe
Maybe it was a practical joke gone awry, the result of a junior
executive attaching a friend's name to a typically over-the-top quote
and then adding it to actual blurbs - and smirking every time the gag
showed up. Indeed, Variety identified Manning as "an old college chum"
of one of two low-level Columbia executives who were suspended for 30
days without pay after Newsweek blew the whistle. Variety suggested the
quotes were simply "a sly wink at his old buddy".
Or maybe it was just an ugly reminder of how much pressure the studio
marketers now find themselves under to put over big-budget movies, which
increasingly rely on mass ad campaigns to drive ticket sales. Years ago,
a film could be nurtured to success by building on positive
word-of-mouth among satisfied moviegoers. That's rare today as films
flood thousands of screens on their opening weekends; they require the
appearance of being smash hits immediately to not lose those outlets to
the movies coming seven days later.
Besides, everyone should have realised that the quotes were phony
The usual suspects in movie ads typically use two or three exclamation
points per puffy phrase.