: You can if you freeze it.
— Related by Lewis in the NY Times article "What They Say About Stanley Kubrick" (1999)
So you've got the job of producing, managing, or marketing something. It could be a consumer product, an album, a film, anything but whatever it is, it's bad, or at least mediocre
. The concept is fundamentally flawed
, the execution so rushed and so badly thought out
, that no one in their right mind would buy it on its own merits.
Fixing it would require a total overhaul, which you don't have the time or money for, and the higher-ups don't care how terrible it may be, as long as they get their money out of it
. You can't just abandon it — too many resources have been sunk into it, or your marketing agency has been hired to manage promotion, and as lame as that product is, it's your job
to make it look good.
So what do you do? You try your best to make it look better than it is
and hope that it's effective enough to sell a few million copies.
Incidentally, the MythBusters
have proven that you can indeed polish a literal turd to a high shine without resorting to additional coatings if you dry it, pulverize it, reconstitute it and pat it until very smooth. Bless those boys. There's also that giant shiny golden...thing on the roof of Asahi Breweries
in Tokyo. Officially it's named "Flamme d'Or
", or "Golden Flame" and should represent a "burning heart of Asahi Beer" (even corporate lickspittles can be creative... sort of), but nobody
who ever saw the thing has called it anything other than "Golden Turd". ThinkGeek also sells tiny golden turds as necklaces.
There are numerous ways of doing this, many of which are Tropes on their own and yes, all examples are Truth in Television
Note that the special effects industry uses a similar term, "turd polishing", in reference to ensuring the high quality appearance of something that is intended to look ugly.
Therefore, it is not this trope. Do not confuse either with turds from Poland.
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- Find a better, more famous author to "collaborate". Make sure the famous author's name takes up most of the cover. The actual title of the book will be half as big. The name of the unknown hack who did all the work will be in really, really tiny letters at the bottom.
- Can't find a famous author? Then use a character created by a famous dead author, such as Lawrence Sanders.◊ Even better if there are no copyright problems if it's been long enough that the copyright has expired.
- Slap an exciting-looking cover on it. Relevance to the actual product is optional. Make sure explosions, big guns, and fanservice are prominently featured. Reveal as little as possible about the actual plot.
- Claim that the suck is stylistic, even if it's not.
- Claim it's for kids. This is especially useful for genre novels.
- Babes. Put a hot girl in front of a product and you've got a winner; for both sexes.
Male: "Hey, if I buy that body spray, random women will want to have sex with me!"
Female: "Hey, if I buy that shampoo, I'll have a great body like hers!"
Female: "He's hot."
- Euphemize, euphemize, euphemize! You're not selling a movie ticket, you're selling a riveting, thought-provoking cinematic Tour de Force that will leave you on the edge of your seat!note It's not selling white bread, it's potassium-bromate-treated, high-energy LactoFlour produced as per the ancestral Babylonian recipe transmitted from father to son over five millennia (complete with all-natural Microflora-based leavening agents!), guaranteed to fuel your body for up to eight hours!note It's not calorie-laden, it's a great source of energy!note
- Use phrases like "up to" and "starting at". These are mathematically correct.
- Use faint praise. For example, "good neighborhood" is real estate jargon for "this house sucks, but it's adjacent to good ones." For food, it's Adjacent to This Complete Breakfast. Similarly, after the Internet and news media exploded over a serious factual error on FOX's quiz show Million Dollar Money Drop, FOX promoted the show saying "the airwaves and Internet were on fire" and that it was "the most talked-about show of the season."
- Do not use any reviews on the case if reaction has been mixed, or strongly negative (as in "not one reviewer thought it was good").
- Attempt to throw in pseudo philosophy.
- Get the Sensation tactics work especially well with this.
- "Creatively rearrange" negative reviews. Mixed reviews work best for this. Keep the positive bits, and edit out the negative comments.
- Use a back-handed compliment. For example, trailers for Blind Side in 2010 included the quote "Sandra Bullock's best performance ever!".
- Turn on the critics who panned your show. This almost never succeeds at making the show Critic-Proof, but the temptation to try it is often irresistible.
- Sound engineer: "You can't polish a turd..." Lighting engineer: "...but you can roll it in glitter."
- Bribe a critic to write a good review. A somewhat less controversial alternative is to pay a critic to retract a negative review, or not review it at all or don't let them get hold of it.
- Say "from the creators of" or "from the people who brought you" and name a popular and successful title that has creators in common, even if these creators didn't do much more than greenlight the project or write a check for the turd being polished. If truly desperate, try "from the studio that brought you..." If you're willing to take it Up to Eleven, write "Has been watched by the producers of..." (Yes. That really happened.)
- That last one might be done for humor, though: Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear was promoted as "From the brother of the director of Ghost" (which was true, BTW)— and it was not an example of turd polish.
- Laugh Tracks!
- Hire a bunch of puppets to pretend to be ordinary consumers while singing your product's praises in public.
- Soak it in water and work it with your hands.
- In fiction, make it a Darker and Edgier version of an existing product.
- When all else fails, lie outright about the product.
- Say "it makes a great gift", indirectly admitting that you know nobody wants it for themselves.
- Give it a pretentious, one-word title.
- Embrace controversy! If your work is an offensive turd sure to get the Moral Guardians in an uproar, play up the offense at the self-righteous to lock in a certain demographic rather than play up the artistic merit of the work. Sexist? Portray your critic as a Straw Feminist ruining the fun for the boys.
- Invoke an Appeal to Authority, with bonus points if it's an appeal to irrelevant authority. Have a celebrity who has no real substantive background on the issue support your product or position. Say Dr. So-and-so supports you without revealing he's Not That Kind of Doctor. Find the crank in a field when the consensus is overwhelmingly against you.
- Use the symbols of authority and learning regardless of whether you actually have the support of authorities or academia. Make all kinds of technical drawings for machine parts. Throw up anatomical posters and neat graphics of physiological processes for snake oil. Don a lab coat - especially if you can get an actor or actress to play Hospital Hottie or Hot Scientist. Show off somber men and women in military dress, then drape a few flags in the background.
- Two simple words: Artistic License. When you don't have to obey the laws of science or can ignore historical fact or can make it unrealist in another way, you can make it much more interesting.
- Use Sock Puppets to sound more persuasive in your book, or on your blog or website.
- Appeal to religion.
- Use guilt-mongering in ways that would put any Jewish Mother to shame.
- The Propaganda Machine.
- Appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator.
- We're Still Relevant, Dammit.
- Sure, some people may say it sucks, but... buy it and make up your own mind!
- Commercials for shoddy children's toys will play up the fact that it's made of a "Space Age polymer". The Space Age, for those who forgot, started in the 60s. They're talking about plastic.
- Point out that the product is "patented" in an attempt to make it sound like the product in question is a novel invention which has been vetted by the patent examiner. In reality, being granted a patent does not require you to prove your invention works, only that the patent examiner can't prove it won't work. And in practice, people have managed to acquire patents for "inventions" which are obviously not the least bit novel and/or have absolutely no chance of working at all, but flew under the patent examiner's radar by using a Chewbacca Defense on the application. This is also how patent trolls came to be, as well as some of the more outrageous examples on Disney Owns This Trope.
- If nobody in their right mind would buy your product for themselves, say it's "the perfect gift for anyone". Particularly common for household "inventions" aimed at people Too Incompetent to Operate a Blanket.
- Tell people it Never Needs Sharpening
- If it's a medication or herbal supplement, show a happy couple on the beach, a mother playing with her children, or something like that, and focus on that instead of any unpleasant side effects...or even what the drug supposedly does.
- Point out that it's free of asbestos, gluten, calories, or whatever other buzzword.
- Say it will get you laid.
- Tell people they can have it for Just Pennies A Day.
- Tell people they can play for free...but not the version they'd really want to play.
- Give away a free gift that they can keep, even if they return the product during a 30-Day Free Trial (which you're banking they won't).
- Try to discredit your competitors.
- Tell people that only a fool wouldn't recognize how awesome it is.
- If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em!
- Call yourselves the "fastest-growing" in your field. If you went from 1 customer to 3, that's a 200% increase!
- Give your painting an obscure, Latin-sounding title or just title it in a different language.
- Make it bigger.
- Put an unaffordably high price tag on your piece. If no one can afford it, they might be deluded into thinking it has value.
- Place a curator's statement next to your painting: bonus points if you describe how the painting fits into the canon of art history.
- All else fails, death gets you a good rap if you have enough reliability to disappear without actually dying. Even better if you announce you were working on a new project before it happened.
- Patch together a trailer that makes the film look much more interesting than it actually is. Toss in what few interesting moments the film actually has, some explosions, a gunfight or two, and plenty of eye candy. For padding, add some scenes that didn't actually make it into the film. Once again, make sure never to reveal anything about the plot.
- For a "comedy", put the film's only three funny lines/jokes/quips into the trailer.
- For a generic Rom Com, make the trailer a short montage of the film's young, generically-cute protagonists exchanging semi-witty lines over a candlelit dinner, passionately embracing each other, and gazing dreamily at the Manhattan skyline.
- Present it as an entirely different genre in the trailer.
- Make the CGI at least halfway decent, then hope nobody notices the awful acting and/or glaring Plot Holes.
- Make it a 3DMovie. Your audience will be so busy marveling at how they're in the film that they won't care.
- Retitle it when it goes to DVD to sidestep terrible reviews.
- Retitle it to make it the sequel to an unrelated film you own the rights to.
- Retitle it to suggest a connection to a famous film you don't own the rights to (for example, Snakes on a Train).
- Claim that it was "Too [positive adjective here] to show in theaters!" when it goes Direct-to-Video because no studio will give it the dignity of a theatrical release.
- Pay Jeff Craig from Sixty Second Preview to say something nice about it...although note that it's a marketing company, not a review publication.
- Print "The best film of [the current year]!" on the cover. Don't attribute it. Hope no one notices it isn't actually in quotation marks.
- Bonus points if you do this one in January.
- Print a non-attributed blurb in quotation marks anyway. Hope nobody notices that you're just quoting yourself.
- Do not let the critics get their hands on it.
- Hire a big name actor to appear in one short scene. Make sure his contract allows you to give him top billing.
- An old technique was to shoot TV commercials that featured audience members who had just seen it raving about it.
- Hot Shots! parodied this with an ad that admitted that its makers were paying off audience members in exchange for raves, which foreshadowed the death of the practice when — as part of the David Manning scandal — it was revealed that Sony had hired actors to play audience members in an ad for The Patriot.
- Parodied in a 1980s fake commercial from Saturday Night Live, in which every person who attended a stage hypnotist's Broadway show droned "I loved it. It was much better than Cats. I'm going to see it again and again" with identical blank stares.
- Parodied to a lesser extent in Hot Fuzz, after Nicholas and Danny suffer through a dreadful production of Romeo and Juliet, a journalist asks for Nicholas' opinion, to which he replies in the most emotionless and unenthusiastic voice ever "...highly enjoyable."
- This is making a reappearance in Australia and the UK.
- Also parodied in College Humor's "Ice Age in 4D", in which the reactions of each audience changes as the 3-D Movie moves up a dimension. Notably, the first guy consistently talks about the movie, while the other people become increasingly irrelevant.
- The 'raving audience' tactic is now repeated with Twitter and Facebook reactions to the film which were positive, sadly allowing @bomlovr1987 to have an undeserved minute of fame for their rave review of what everyone else thinks of as terrible.
- If an actor in your film has been caught up in a scandal, ends up in rehab or does anything else to screw the pooch in terms of his/her reputation or the attention s/he brings to the film, show him/her in the trailer as little as possible and cut him/her out of any promotional work.
- Celebrity appearance! Bonus points if she's naked.
- The dark comedy Wag The Dog features Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro as a Hollywood producer and political strategist, respectively, who have to hoodwink the American public about a presidential sex scandal. They fake a war and use everything at their disposal to Polish The Turd and make a fake war seem real, emotional, heroic, and touching. For example, they introduce a war hero character. A military prisoner is selected for the role. He turns out to be an insane rapist who dies before the public can see him. DeNiro and Hoffman make him a martyr figure who makes the whole USA cry Manly Tears.
- Schedule its release for the Dump Months, and hope that it gets overshadowed by your studio's Oscar Bait and Summer Blockbuster movies.
- Health claims are this in a nutshell. Expect "gluten-free" foods that would never normally contain gluten. note (Bonus points for appealing to people who probably don't have celiac disease.) "Low-fat" was popular for a long time, oftentimes indicating a lot of sugar and white flour; indeed, 3 Musketeers has less fat (but more calories) than a Hershey bar, and sodas are 100% fat-free. Since As You Know all organisms produce antioxidants, antioxidants are a rich source of health claims. Want to sell margarine? Until people became aware of trans fat, "no cholesterol" was a good way to do so. Cereal companies fortify their products so you don't realize you just bought your kids sugar-coated flour.
- Related: description of products as "80% fat-free" or similar, presumably with the hope that it won't click that it means that it's 20% solid fat. The average bar of milk chocolate is about 70% fat-free. Or if it is 80% fat-free, it is 80% carbohydrates. Food companies have a nasty tendency of substituting fat with carbs since carbs are cheaper.
- Another trick is to advertise how little fat/calories/etc. the food contains per serving, by setting the serving size unrealistically small. A couple examples:
- Ore-Ida has started advertising the fact that their fries have 120 calories per serving. What they don't mention is that they defined "1 serving" as 12 fries. To put this in perspective, a small order of fries at McDonalds is double that.
- One bottle of VitaminWater contains 2.5 servings of it.
- A typical child eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast will probably eat about 60 grams of it. Yet this is about 2 servings worth of Frosted Flakes.
- A lot of ethnic-sounding names tend to do this. You can also do this yourself with your children, saying "florentine" instead of "with spinach".
- Boast on the front of the box that at least one of the ingredients is "real." Bonus points if the ingredient chosen is actually the third most important in the formula, if not lower.
- "All natural." First, all claims about the health benefits of any particular "all natural" food are shaky at best. Second, the FDA has allows foods containing synthetic additives, colorings, and sweeteners to call themselves natural. The word natural is meaningless in the food industry.
- Some of the more "modern" restaurants have taken to putting less food on the plate at higher prices. The food is arranged on the plate in supposed "aesthetically pleasing artistry," which apparently justifies the higher price.
- A confection might look incredible and be shaped in a what's basically a miniature statue, but it will still just taste like hardened sugar.
- Any variation of, "Nothing is stronger." Drugs measure their effectiveness with two different measurements; efficacy and potency. Efficacy measures the strength of an effect, so drugs with the same efficacy will do the same maximum amount of whatever they do. Potency details the concentration of the drug needed to reach maximum effect. Confounding these words makes for some easy spurious claims.
- Alternatively, do you sell the expensive Brand X version of a generic drug? Say "Nothing is stronger." It's technically correct; the generic can be no more effective since it's the same drug and will have identical efficacy.
- Dodge FDA regulations in the United States by making no specific claims to treat any organic disease. Make broad, ambiguous, science-like claims such as your product "Boosts immunity," or some such nonsense. You no longer need to prove your product has an effect, have no obligation to disclose any side-effects, and can't be sued should problems occur since you aren't stepping into the world of medicine per se.
- "All natural." Hemlock is all natural. Drink up, Socrates!
- Use spurious authorities. One brand of cold and cough remedy advertises it was "Developed by a school teacher." Whether or not the remedy works is one question. Why on earth a school teacher is qualified to create a health care product and sell it is a better one.
- For an added bonus, when facing legal action as a result of the potentially toxic concentrations of several main ingredients (when used as directed), and the fact that the "clinical trial" was two guys hired by the marketing department; double down and start a viral advertising campaign about "The Remedy the Medical Industry Doesn't Want You To Know About".
- Appeal to crank, discredited, or irrelevant sciences. Some healthcare products are currently appealing to quantum mechanics. They're not only getting the physics wrong, but the physics they're invoking just doesn't matter when you move up from pions (not ions) to physiology.
- Alternatively, dress up non-scientific belief systems as science. Believing in qi is one thing, but as it has never been measured or observed, claims of its scientific validity are spurious.
- Or learn basic magic and sell snake-oil with special effects. Everything done by "psychic surgeons" has been replicated by magicians palming chicken organs. This technically doesn't disprove psychic surgery. Likewise, faith healers have been caught using stooges in the audience and similar simple trickery.
- Turn it up until no one can hear how bad it is though the distortion.
- Auto-Tune it. For a subsequent live performance, lip-sync to the Auto-Tuned track.
- Better yet, Auto-Tune it during the live performance.
- Pay radio companies on the sly to promote it.
- Get whoever is hot right now to do a verse/hook, or get whichever producer is hot right now to do the beat — then hope people can stomach the rest of the song.
- There is a saying amongst Finnish guitarists, roughly translated If your playing sucks, you do not have enough distortion. Sufficient amount of fuzz, distortion and/or overdrive can cover bad fingerwork.
- Get a great producer in for a mediocre (or worse) band, in hopes that the good production will disguise the less impressive songwriting and performances. The trope was referenced by name in this context in this review of a Lostprophets album, which praised the production in spite of panning the album.
- Make a music video of a mediocre pop song full of attractive men and women gyrating in gratuitous displays of Fanservice for the camera.
- Put out sloppy demo recordings as 'previously unreleased tracks' in a nice box set and hype the hell out of it. A good example is Nirvana's With The Lights Out. Especially common with deceased artists, but also happening with a lot of deluxe editions as well.
- Get someone to write a generically-marketable song for you, instead of singing your own music.
- Make a cover of a well-known song, perhaps one from a different (and maybe more respected) genre.
- "Sample" (or reference in your own lyrics) such a song.
- Why do you think karaoke machines drown your voice in heavy reverb?
- Rely on the Fleeting Demographic Rule.
- Pretend to be a grassroots movement.
- If you want a war with Alicetonia, describe the Alicetonians as a dangerous threat to the peace-loving people of Bobsylvania.
- Use euphemisms, like "collateral damage" instead of "civilians killed erroneously".
- Name your bill something really positive-sounding, like "The Job Creation Act" or "The USA PATRIOT Act".
- Generally, politicians are very keen on creative euphemisms: the people who would agree with the unvarnished version will agree, and hopefully a lot of the people who would otherwise oppose it will either not think about or not look into what it actually means and just go along with the pleasant sound of it. For a conservative trying to not set off liberals, "cutting red tape" serves as a more pleasant-sounding euphemism for deregulation (or even privatisation). For a liberal trying not to set off conservatives, "cutting Pentagon (or equivalent) fat" serves as a more pleasant-sounding euphemism for slashing the defense budget.
- If you're in charge of a one-party totalitarian state, not a multi-party democracy where selling policies to voters is essential, pretend you're the latter anyway.
- Play up your stance on a hot-button moral issue (abortion, same-sex marriage, animal rights, what have you). Treat it as the most important thing you (or the party you represent) stand for, even if it is not.
- Blame the misfortunes of your city/state/province/country on any number of Acceptable Targets, such as the wealthy elite, the poor always clamoring for more, etc. If you run out of Acceptable Targets, go after less acceptable ones. (Can easily overlap with the above point.)
Real Estate, C Vs, Letters of Recommendation, and Resumes
- The Real Estate example is cited over and over without its actual meaning being explained. The famous lines from The Simpsons example shows a gross exaggeration of the subtler way these turds get polished.
- Words that are objective are signs that a house really is nice and will sell for a high price. For example, "granite counters." This is a desirable trait and it is either present or not. "Maple floors." Either they are there or they are not. Corian is a brand name; it's there or it's not. A high number of words or phrases which do not have a subjective meaning are indicative of a house which really is of high quality and therefore will likely sell at a better price.
- Subjective but positive words are like damning with faint praise; the claim cannot be objectively measured. "Good neighborhood?" Not only is it subjective, but it doesn't talk about the house in question. "Well-maintained?" Subjective and code for "it's old." "Cozy?" It's small. "Charming?" Whatever it means, it sounds positive. Words which sound nice but cannot be pinned down to a specific, objective meaning are indicative of an all natural colon extrusion being put through the fantastic, charming, space age, one-of-a-kind surface refinishing system.
- Wired Magazine visits the topic by reprinting a discussion from Freakonomics.
- Cirricula Vitae and Resumes are read in a similar light by experienced admissions personnel or hiring managers, but written by amateurs who fall into the naive trap of loading up positive-sounding terms. For example, claiming to be a "hard worker" or a "people person" will make most decision makers yawn and move onto the next one. Every single person applying to a position will claim to be a hard-working people person. Objective achievements that demonstrate your value to the organization you want to join will carry you much further than empty, subjective self-aggrandizement...most of the time.
- Depending on what you hope to do, Letters of Recommendation or Personal Statements range from a formality to a crucial part of getting where you want to go. The logic here is the same.
- Sell the "potential" of your
cheap young talent.
- Point out the quality of opposing teams coming to your stadium.
- If all else fails, appeal directly to the fans of said opposing teams, offering them the chance to see their players in your stadium.
- Hit them with the ol' "My city's team, right or wrong." Or just call fans of good players and teams, "front runners."
- A week after the musical Subways Are For Sleeping opened on Broadway to critical disdain, an ad appeared in the New York Herald Tribune trumpeting "7 Out of 7 Are Ecstatically Unanimous About Subways Are For Sleeping", quoting rave reviews alongside the names of New York's major drama critics. This ad was the work of the show's producer, David Merrick, who had explored the phone books and found seven men who happened to have the same names as the theatre critics. The Herald Tribune published an apology (other newspapers had perhaps wisely rejected the ad), but what was done was done.
- As pointed out at The Other Wiki, Criss Angel BeLIEve was roundly condemned by critics, so the Luxor (its host casino-resort) website instead quotes celebrities who attended the show — one of whom, Holly Madison, was Criss' lover at the time it opened.
- Seattle's Greg Thompson Productions is the master of creative editing and quote mining. A critical response such as "It's amazing to me that anyone would consider this entertainment" would be quoted as "It's amazing!" The most egregious example of this practice was the promotion for his wife's one-woman cabaret, 7 Blondes, which he was called on by a local paper.
- Advertise the game using stunning cinematics that are about 500 times better than the graphics you'll be looking at for 99.99% of the actual game.
- Advertise the game using stunning cinematics and say absolutely nothing about the game itself.
- Release a demo consisting of the earliest parts of the game, cutting out before your sudden gameplay change or early enough to mask that there is almost no variety in the content. Don't want potential customers finding out that Disappointing Last Level pops up about halfway through Level 2.
- Halo 2's campaign mode was a very infamous case of this when the game was originally released in 2004. The incredible graphics, gameplay, and the level presented in the E3 2003 demo had to be scrapped, because developer Bungie realized mere days after the showcase that the Xbox could not run the game in its current form. As a result, they had to start from scratch, and since Microsoft didn't give them enough time to properly remedy the campaign mode, Bungie admitted to slapping together the single player the best they could, for better or worse. As upset as gamers were at the time, Bungie felt even more torn up.
- Though not necessarily considered a horrible game, Brütal Legend could be seen as falling into this part of the trope. All the previews and demos showed off the action-adventure parts of the game, but the real time strategy battles which made up just as much of the game (if not more) as the action-adventure parts were completely absent. Some reviewers and players were more than a little unhappy with such an important part of the gameplay being kept hidden away and may have lead to the ultimately mixed reception that the game has.
- Buy advertising in industry magazines and websites. Even if they don't give you a glowing review in return, the previews will be universally positive and encourage preorders.
- Draw in the fanboys by stating that a few members of the development team of a more popular franchise worked on the game on either the box or the ad copy. It doesn't matter that they only worked for the company for a week or haven't produced a game in 15 years, you've got instant credibility now!
- Promote the game as having original music from a huge rock star, while completely leaving out the fact that only one song in the entire game was composed by him.
- Alternatively, neglect to mention whether him being a famous rock star actually makes him a good composer.
- If a game is being released on multiple consoles, advertise and show the features of the more powerful, robust versions. Downplay the differences present on the weaker systems, or don't acknowledge them at all until release. Bonus points for billing the weaker versions as "built from the ground up for" said system.
- Play up Rated M for Money rather than gameplay - gore and digital breasts can sell a lot of discs before word gets out about how bad the game is. This was done infamously by EA in a marketing campaign which showed how the violence in a game seriously offended "Your mom." note
- Similar to movies, if the initial launch does horribly, re-release the game under a new title. We're looking at you, The War Z, aka Infestation: Survivor Stories.
- Two words: Jiggle Physics.
- About the Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Cloud", SF Debris said it was very well performed despite the terrible script. "It's like a four-tier wedding cake made out of shit. It's an incredible achievement, a masterpiece in some respects. But the point that cannot be missed is that it's made out of shit."