UPDATED: Twentieth Century Fox conceded on Thursday that using a series of fake news sites and bogus stories to promote its new film, “A Cure for Wellness,” was a mistake. The studio apologized for a campaign that was widely criticized on social media and beyond.
“In raising awareness for our films, we do our best to push the boundaries of traditional marketing in order to creatively express our message to consumers. In this case, we got it wrong,” a statement from the studio said.
“The digital campaign was inappropriate on every level, especially given the trust we work to build every day with our consumers,” the statement continued. “We have reviewed our internal approval process and made appropriate changes to ensure that every part of a campaign is elevated to and vetted by management in order to avoid this type of mistake in the future. We sincerely apologize.”
The controversy surrounded about half a dozen websites created by backers of the film, under names like Sacramento Dispatch, Salt Lake City Guardian, Houston Leader, NY Morning Post, and Indianapolis Gazette — to post stories about purported news events, many of which involved President Trump.
Among the fictional tales designed as click-bait for readers: Trump secretly meeting with Vladimir Putin, Trump banning vaccinations, and Trump refusing to send aid to a California disaster area. There was no hint the stories were made up. Embedded in the pieces were suggestions that readers send objections about the purported actions, using hashtags like #ACureForWellness. That raised the spectre of tricking consumers into repeating the “A Cure for Wellness” taglines, without knowing they were even connected to a film.
Once the stories about the subterfuge were exposed by news organizations, Fox and Regency took a pounding from critics on social media. Hollywood marketing experts interviewed by Variety protested the dissemination of false reporting at a time when the news is already being roiled by controversy over what news accounts can be believed. One authority called the stunt “monumentally stupid.”
Fox and its partner, Regency Enterprises, have not explained who conceived and approved the fake news promos to try to draw attention to “A Cure for Wellness.” The studio did not immediately explain the “appropriate changes” that have been made to prevent such occurrences in the future.