The rootin'-tootin' banjo-pickin' high-flyin' cosmic adventure! Except not.
Don't judge a book by its cover - no, literally
. Nor a video, a comic, or even a record. The cover is an essential part of the marketing plan. As is common in marketing
, it can be an entirely inaccurate representation. It's not just the artwork that's misleading, either. The Blurb on the back may be even more disconnected from the story.
Popular characters who appear in little more than a cameo
on the inside can be larger than the main character on the cover. A quiet, contemplative issue can be made to seem like an action-packed frag-fest, and vice-versa. The cover can push for an entirely different demographic
than the rest of the work. This is often done intentionally so customers will purchase the product assuming that it relates to their interests in a visual version
of Follow the Leader
and video packaging are particularly likely to mislead if it's an independent film, or a film in a genre that the marketing people assume most people are unlikely to appreciate. For example, an intelligently-written mystery for the whole family may have a cover that implies it's a comedy, or a family film that happens to have a dog in it may emphasize the dog on the cover. See also Never Trust a Trailer
In non-graphic literature, it is not uncommon for a female character to be portrayed in a Stripperiffic
outfit when they would wear nothing of the sort in the story. Also, virtually any Speculative Fiction book will have either a rocket or an alien of some sort on the cover, and dragons are commonly used
on Fantasy, High Fantasy
and Sword and Sorcery
books, even if there is no dragon in the story at all. (Frank Frazetta
and Boris Vallejo
are particularly noteworthy as artists whose paintings make great book covers, but only occasionally actually relate to the contents of the books.)
This trope also applies to album covers
, especially singles, which often get their own album art, for one or two songs.
A related subtrope is the practice of creating the cover first
, and writing the story based on that. This was common practice for comic books, especially at DC, during The Silver Age of Comic Books
under editor Julius Schwartz, and was responsible for some of the weirdest stories of the time. However, it would sometimes result in a story that went off in a totally different direction and disposed of the cover situation in a panel or two. The website Superdickery
features many strange, silly and inane covers of this kind
This has occasionally gotten lampshade hung
on it, as evidenced here◊
Many of these overlap with Sexy Packaging
and Contemptible Cover
, and often feature Lady Not-Appearing-in-This-Game
. Compare with Never Trust a Trailer
, Wolverine Publicity
, Bait-and-Switch Credits
and Super Dickery
, and enjoy this i09 gallery
For cover illustrations that whiten dark-skinned characters, see Race Lift
. For in-book illustrations, see Unreliable Illustrator
. For magazines that sometimes put a bit of skin on their cover even though the interior is about gaming, sports, or whatever, see Fanservice Cover
Covers lie a LOT. It happens all the time, even if only to prevent spoilers. So only put really interesting examples here now, not every cover that tells a little fib.
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Media in General
- Evangelion 303: Chapter 13's title is The Death of Asuka Langley Sohryu. No, it does not come to pass.
- The header for Knowledge is Power says "Humour/Romance", but there's not much of either.
- The cover for a Secret of NIMH fanfic, Secret of the Stone, depicts Mrs. Brisby wearing her iconic amulet. Not only does she never use the amulet in the story, she is not even the main character.
- Wrestling posters and DVD covers will often feature one of their Divas (and one of the Faux Action Girls at that) holding a prop that symbolically has something to do with the theme of the show, but is otherwise irrelevant; the Diva in question is often barely in the show, if at all. Even if a male wrestler's image is used, he might be shown wearing a silly themed costume (suggesting that the show will be laugh-a-minute) or depicted with inappropriate iconography. Famously, the poster for No Mercy in October 2007 showed Randy Orton holding a white dove on the cover, implying that he was about to turn face. (He didn't.) If he had turned face, that would have been the creepiest foreshadowing ever. Yeah, he was holding a dove, but his face!
- The box for Space Crusade (HeroQuest set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe) depicts an elderly squad commander in entirely white armor with a gold emblem on his left shoulder plate. Not only does this character not exist in the game, the color scheme and emblem are not used by any chapter of the Legions Astartes.
- To be fair, he could be a Star Phantom (though they didn't exist in fluff until many years later), or a Marines Errant apothecary.
- The old boxed sets for the Basic version of the Dungeons & Dragons game invariably showed a party of heroes engaged in glorious battle with a dragon of some description. The Basic D&D rules only provided information for advancement up to 3rd level, meaning that if your Basic-level adventurer met up with a dragon of any sort, the resulting Curb-Stomp Battle would wipe you out within a round or two.
- Lampshaded during this review for Master of Magic one of the reviews states "I knew it was a total flop, one could tell that just by looking at the box". Before the end of the video that same reviewer falls in love with the game.
- The autographed cast picture where everyone was in their costumes was the first spoiler for To Boldly Flee, and taking the cue from Kickassia and Suburban Knights, fans wondered how Doug was going to emote at all with a giant Judge Dredd helmet covering half his face. In reality, he was only in the Dredd costume for ten minutes, so he was free to Puppy-Dog Eyes/Manly Tears away the rest of the time.
- The Nostalgia Chick's "Top 10 'Hottest' Animated Guys" bumper art shows her surrounded by Megamind, Hades, Nightcrawler and the Beast, all dressed as Chippendales Dancers. While those are all characters she admits to liking, the actual list was constructed from a poll of her female viewers, and all but one of those characters (the Beast) failed to place.
- YouTube allows you to upload a photo of just about whatever you want if you decide not to use a still from the video for its thumbnail. This has extremely predictable results.
- The cover image for Tealove's Steamy Adventure was deliberately made to be technically accurate (if you tilt your head and squint) but completely misleading. For example, there's a cave troll in the story. The cover pic features Nepeta from Homestuck, who is also a troll and lives in a cave, but is otherwise nothing like the cave troll from the story. The picture is full of nonsense along those lines.
- Terry Pratchett's Only You Can Save Mankind parodies this wonderfully with the advertising material for the eponymous game: "Actual games shots taken from a version you haven't bought".
- Parodied in The Areas of My Expertise, a book of fake trivia:.
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported as "UNSOLD AND DESTROYED" to the Publisher and is stolen property. Also, you should be aware that the cover was awesome. It featured a painting of a metallic silver dragon flying up either to rescue or eat a beautiful, nearly nude sword maiden as she falls off a cliff. All of this is overseen by the bitter glare of the ever-uncaring Triple Suns. Plus, a very flattering portrait of the Author appeared within the Main Sun.
- For the record, the book's real cover looks nothing like this. Although the dragon cover is printed on the inside of the cover of the paperback edition.
- There's a Filk Song that parodies the phenomenon: "There's a bimbo on my cover".
- Parodied in Bimbos of the Death Sun. Engineering professor Jay Omega once wrote a novel about sunspots wrecking electronics and reducing the intelligence of women worldwide; the novel is well-written Hard Sci-Fi and not the least bit misogynistic. Unfortunately, the third-rate publishing house saddles it with a Frank Frazetta-style Contemptible Cover, featuring a Fur Bikini-clad barbarian woman clinging to the leg of a muscle-bound scientist with a clipboard and computer, as well as the title Bimbos of the Death Sun. As a result, people assume both book and author are much more lurid than they really are, and Jay does his best to make sure as few people as possible know he wrote it.
- In Diary of a Wimpy Kid Greg's mom puts the kibosh on his book club selection because she doesn't like the scantily clad warrior woman on the cover. Greg notes that there are no women in the book's entire series and wonders if the cover artist even read the book.
- The first edition of Bored of the Rings included a rather erotic "excerpt" from the book as part of the front material. Naturally, nothing even remotely resembling the excerpt can be found in the actual text.
- Alan Coren packaged a collection of humorous short stories and essays into a book titled Golfing for Cats, with a huge Nazi swastika on the cover. The reasoning, as stated in the foreword, is that people are interested in golf, cats, and the Third Reich, so putting them all together would be superb marketing.
Live Action TV
- Ernie Kovaks parodied this trope with a series of "more sex and violence" book covers, showing Little Women as ladies of ill repute, Peter Rabbit as a gangster, and a Webster's unabridged dictionary with a picture of a silhouette of a lady behind a window blind, with blurbs all over the cover such as "Unexpurgated!", "Four Letter Words!", and "Nothing Left Out!".
- In As Time Goes By, Lionel's extremely dull autobiography about planting coffee in Kenya is given a "pick-me-up-and-buy-me" cover (as his publisher Alastair puts it). What this translates to is a buxom blonde in half-open safari gear clinging to Lionel's legs while he holds a rifle against a jungle background, which infuriates Lionel and amuses Jean greatly.
- Capcom designed the box art◊ for the Retraux Mega Man 9 in the style of the original covers. The trend continued with Mega Man 10.
- The box art was mocked even before that in Mega Man ZX Advent, where it was a part of side quest where a boy wanted cool pictures of heroes: upon seeing it, he immediately dismisses it as lame and lets you keep it. Upon looking it in your menu, the game states that "this "legendary hero" looks more like some sort of a colorful coal miner".
- The title screen for the Doom mod "Psychic" is a deliberately-bad drawing of a man in a red coat and hat lifting up a cooked chicken with psychic powers, with said psychic powers shown as the word "BRITAIN" pasted all over. The actual mod is very well-done, playing like a cross between Devil May Cry and System Shock.
- The Order of the Stick book Start of Darkness ends with the Monster In The Dark complaining that the picture on the front of the book didn't actually happen like that. Ironically it's not all that inaccurate, though; it just amalgamates different parts of the story into one scene for a general overview.
- The Wotch lampshades the practice in this cover.
- This strip of Schlock Mercenary refers to the trope, although the cover of the book it'll be in (#6) remains to be seen.
- Referencing that strip, the artist intentionally invokes this trope for the actual cover for that book. It features numerous characters who never met in-story, all crammed together, and a ninja, watching while Kevyn does something science-y.
- This Sequential Art strip.
- Deliberately used by Justin Pierce for the last published chapter of Killroy And Tina. The chapter is about Brandon gaining a magic glove that grants him Super Speed, but eventually having to relinquish it. The cover image featured Brandon with gorilla arms, panicking over the fact that prom was scheduled to start in an hour. Pierce said that he went with a completely non-indicative Silver Age-homage because his original cover idea gave away too much of the plot.
- Sven's book in Will Write for Chocolate is about an all-male exploratory mission in outer space, but the book cover features a slinky blond in a leopard-skin bikini.
- Parodied in The Noob. The squid people are the prominent feature of the game's expansion, but the Pointy-Haired Boss demanded it be replaced with a pair of boobs. 3D boobs.
- Nanas Everyday Life has every single strip start with a panel in which Nana is cheerfully waving at the readers with a blue sky and a nice little suburb-ish house in the background. Nana's Everyday Life is the most horrific Black Comedy/Black Comedy Rape webcomic that can be found. Except, it eventually deconstructs Black Comedy as a whole and stops pretending to be funny.
- Regular Show parodies this when Mordecai and Rigby plug in an 8-bit game and compare it (favorably) to the cover illustration.
Dishonest as the practice may be, you gotta admit that it is kinda funny, too.