Fake News Intentionally Created by 20th Century Fox to Promote Movie

Below is an article that tells us how fake news happens. Note that this was not some hacker, some criminally minded person, or some random person out to play a practical joke. It was 20th Century Fox creating these fake news websites to get attention for their movie. Maybe they thought it was a clever joke, but the problem is we weren’t in on the joke. And we don’t think it’s funny, now that we know of their deception. I have highlighted segments in grey. Grey (Italics) are my comments.

When fake news and marketing don’t mix: 20th Century Fox apologizes for movie’s ad campaign

It may have worked in Blair Witch era, but experts say today’s media environment isn’t right for hoax sites

By Solomon Israel, CBC News Posted: Feb 18, 2017 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Feb 18, 2017 5:00 AM ET

Experts say the backlash to an ad campaign by film studio 20th Century Fox offers an important lesson in modern marketing: advertising and fake news don’t mix in today’s media environment.

A marketing campaign for A Cure For Wellness, director Gore Verbinski’s new thriller about a mysterious Swiss health spa, created a small constellation of fake local news websites with headlines like “Psychological thriller screening leaves Texas man in catatonic state.”

Other fake headlines had only tenuous thematic connections to the film, such as “Trump orders CDC to remove all vaccination-related information from website,” or “BOMBSHELL: Trump and Putin spotted at Swiss resort prior to election.”

Photo & Caption

A Cure for Wellness fake news

An archived version of the website for The Sacramento Dispatch — which is not a real news media outlet — shows fake news headlines meant to promote the 20th Century Fox film. (Archive.org)

According to a report from Buzzfeed News, various stories from the fake news websites were shared across social media by readers who may not have known they were hoaxes. (That was the whole intent, wasn’t it?) The websites were taken down following Buzzfeed’s report, and now redirect visitors to the official website for A Cure for Wellness.

20th Century Fox issued an apology for the campaign after the story was picked up by other major media outlets. (But by that time it had achieved the desired affect. More attention from media backlash might have been part of the plan too.)

Branding problem for Fox Entertainment

On top of the ethical issue of deceiving people with fake news, 20th Century Fox may have really upset the people who were misled, according to Peter Darke, a marketing professor who studies consumer trust at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

“We know that consumers who are manipulated in this way respond negatively when they realize that the whole purpose of this tactic was simply to grab their attention,” said Darke.

‘Because of the current journalistic climate that we’re in, there’s just no appetite for this whatsoever.’

– Vincent Georgie, professor of film marketing

That breach of trust is especially egregious, said Darke, because the parent company of 20th Century Fox, Fox Entertainment Group, also owns Fox News.

“Consumers can easily make the link between a Fox movie and Fox News,” he said.

Ken Wong, with the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, is less certain that moviegoers will make that connection. Still, he said the ad campaign was a bad idea.

“I think it is typical of marketing in its most amateur form, where the only attempt at appreciation is to try and be cute or to garner attention without any due regard for the longer-term consequences of how you’re garnering that attention,” Wong said.

Bad timing

20th Century Fox deserves some credit for its creative campaign, said Vincent Georgie, who studies film marketing as an assistant professor at the University of Windsor. But the studio went too far by failing to explicitly signal to readers that the fake news websites were part of a promotional campaign.

“Conceptually, it’s kind of interesting,” said Georgie. “But it was executed in a way that you don’t know it’s a joke. And that’s the problem with it. If the audience is not in on the joke at all, it’s not perceived as a joke — it’s actually perceived very negatively and very seriously.

“Because of the current journalistic climate that we’re in, there’s just no appetite for this whatsoever.”

The rest of the article makes a brief reference to the influence of fake news on the U.S. election and discusses how fake news was used to promote the independent, low budget movie The Blair Witch Project.

Here are some examples of what 20th Century Fox admitted doing as taken from the Buzzfeed News article, A Hollywood Film is Using Fake News to Get Publicity .

BuzzFeed News contacted Regency Enterprises, one of the film’s producers with the information connecting the sites to the film. A spokesperson confirmed they are working with the fake sites and provided a statement.

“A Cure for Wellness is a movie about a ‘fake’ cure that makes people sicker,” it said. “As part of this campaign, a ‘fake’ wellness site healthandwellness.co was created and we partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake news.”

Note that at least five sites were created and allowed to run fake stories.

The five sites pumping out fake news and promotion for the film are Sacramento Dispatch, Salt Lake City Guardian, Houston Leader, NY Morning Post, and Indianapolis Gazette. They use similar designs, and also all have the same Google analytics ID embedded in their source code. Many of the sites’ domain names were registered on the same day: The Sacramento and Salt Lake City sites were registered on Jan. 14, and the Indianapolis and Houston sites were both registered back on Sept. 27.

The sites also run many of the same fake stories. For example, a false story, “‘Trump Depression Disorder’ Classified As A Disease By The American Medical Association” appears on all of the sites. Notably, the story ends with a call to action for the public “to tweet #cureforwellness to raise awareness of the growing epidemic.” That’s the hashtag for the film.

Here is more.

The sites are also willing to capitalize on potentially deadly natural disasters and political polarization to generate traffic and engagement. A story from today falsely claimed Trump denied California federal funds to help with the situation in Oroville, where over 180,000 people have been evacuated due to the potential breach of the Oroville Dam. The story has already generated over 20,000 Facebook engagements and is generating a lot of anger towards Trump from people on Facebook.

I think Vincent Georgie has said it very clearly, that there is no public appetite for this kind of manipulation.

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