Thursday, September 10, 2015

Star subterfuge

The marketing team behind Tom Hardy's new movie has brought deceit to a new level. You might almost call it legendary.

This ad for Legend contains what appears to be an overwhelming onslaught of four- and five-star reviews praising the film. And in most respects, it legitimately is just that.

But the marketing team got greedy. I guess they couldn't find exactly 12 reviews that were at least four stars, so they added a two-star review in there.

Can't see it? It's the one between Tom Hardy's left ear and Tom Hardy's right ear.

Oh, you're meant to think it's just another 4+ review. But Benjamin Lee, critic for The Guardian, tweeted otherwise:

"Incredible way of making my two-star review seem like I didn't hate the film."

What's brilliant about this is that this ad is completely not lying. There are only two stars above the words The Guardian, and that's exactly the number of stars Lee gave the film. It's misleading, for sure, but all is fair in love, war and advertising, right?

What's not brilliant about this is that someone should have anticipated that the subterfuge would be uncovered. And if they knew Lee, who sounds a bit cheeky, then they should have guessed that he might do something like this. (I don't know Lee from a hole in the ground, but anyone who maintains an active Twitter profile is liable to say anything, as we have repeatedly learned.) Either they didn't consider that, or they did a cost-benefit analysis and decided that whatever negative publicity might be generated over a calling out of such manipulation would pale in comparison to the positivity of seeing that impressive fleet of stars.

The one real design flaw is leaving "only" four stars above the head of the Hardy on the left, which is the only place on the ad that calls attention to the fact that less than the full number of stars was given. Of course, that gets us into the whole problem that not everyone uses a five-star scale anyway. Sometimes, four is the maximum number of stars, which is why you'll sometime see (out of 4) appear after the star rating. Since maximalism is the principle at play in such advertising, you'd only do to indicate that the film had received the full number of available stars. That's why you never see (out of 5), because a) 4.5 stars assumes the existence of a five-star scale, b) it's not needed with five stars because there's no commonly used scale that includes more than five stars, and c) if it's only four stars, you don't want to be honest about it only getting 80% of the way there; you want the user to retain the belief that this could be the maximum number of stars.

Of course, beyond any star-related shenanigans, this ad also commits a cardinal sin that I've written about before, using the word "unmissable," which is barely even a word. Unless we're talking about asteroids with a mathematical certainty of hitting Earth, nothing is "unmissable."

In this case in particular, Benjamin Lee would be inclined to agree.

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