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Polish the Turd

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Jerry Lewis: You cannot polish a turd.
Stanley Kubrick: 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 so fundamentally flawed, or the execution so rushed and so badly thought out, that no one in their right mind would buy it or watch it or read it or listen to it or enjoy 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. Maybe you'll try presenting Negatives as a Positive, as in Never Needs Sharpening or Asbestos-Free Cereal. You can use Exact Words to give some False Reassurance. If you're really good, you can manage to avoid making it sound like it's Damned by Faint Praise.

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.

We might need to change the expression to "You can polish a turd, but it's still a turd."

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, that is not this trope. Do not confuse either with turds from Poland. Also has nothing inherently to do with Solid Gold Poop, although it may be subjected to this treatment.


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    Tropes used to polish turds: 
  • Adjacent to This Complete Breakfast: Do you want to make your Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs look healthy? Place them alongside toast, bacon, eggs, cheese, pancakes, fruit, vegetables, orange juice, milk, etc., and say that they're an essential part of the complete breakfast.
  • Advertising by Association: Find anyone associated with the production who was involved in something people liked, and slap the name of that thing all over your advertising. This works particularly well, because it leaves ambiguity for how involved they were. "From the Writer that Brought You" doesn't tell you how many times the initially decent script got rewritten into unrecognizability, "From the Producer that Brought You" can mean that they simply sent in a check and didn't show up to the studio afterward, and "From the Studio that Brought You" can mean sharing anything from half the production staff to some members of the camera crew and marketing department.
  • 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...or that he was, but he lost his medical license years ago for whatever reason(s). Find the crank in a field when the consensus is overwhelmingly against you or, if you can't even find one of those, just hire an actor and dress them up in a labcoat and stethoscope.
  • Artistic License: When you don't have to obey the laws of science or can ignore historical fact or can make it unrealistic in another way, you can make it much more interesting.
  • Asbestos-Free Cereal: Treat some inconsequential trait about the product as something cool or unique.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Appeal to religion. Make up interpretations or embrace an obscure fringe group if you have to.
  • AstroTurf: Hire a bunch of puppets to pretend to be ordinary consumers while singing your product's praises in public.
  • Blatant Lies: If all else fails, outright lie about the product.
  • Consumer Conspiracy: Tell people it's a big secret (when it's not), or that whatever industry "doesn't want you to know about it."
  • Covers Always Lie: Slap a flashy cover on it (relevance to the actual product is optional), and reveal as little as possible about the actual plot.
  • Crunchtastic: Make up a positive-sounding but basically meaningless adjective to describe your product. Nobody can accuse you of false advertising when you use words you coined yourself.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: For example, "good neighborhood" is real estate jargon for "this house sucks, but it's adjacent to good ones."
  • Exact Words: Euphemize, euphemize, euphemize! It's not calorie-laden, it's "a great source of energy!" or use phrases like "up to" and "starting at". These are mathematically correct.
  • Fanservice: Put a hot girl or a hot guy 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!"
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: Throw in some pseudo-philosophy.
  • Get the Sensation: Use ridiculous metaphors to show what using the product feels like. Don't say what it actually does.
  • He Also Did: "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, write "Has been watched by the producers of..." (Yes. That really happened.)
  • Here Comes the Science: Baffle them with science...or at least something that sounds like science.
  • Laugh Track: Use canned laughter after every "joke" in your "comedy". If the fake audience is laughing, it must be hilarious, right?
  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Manipulate statistical data, or use outdated or inaccurate data to promote your idea.
  • Lite Crème: Just slap some Weasel Words on your product to make it seem healthier or more natural than it really is.
  • Lowest Common Denominator: Appeal to it. You’d be surprised what you can get away with when you account for the uneducated/stupid/lazy portion of the population.
  • Made in Country X: Remind customers of the importance of supporting local businesses to win over patriotic individuals. If the product is made in an "undesirable" country, downplay it by emphasizing that the product was designed in a "good" country, or that a small part of the manufacturing process is made locally (after the remaining 99% of the work is done in a third-world sweatshop).
  • Never My Fault: For works of fiction, blame the audience! It's not a bad work and it's not bad that key elements were changed or a fan-favorite was Killed Off for Real; fans are just entitled manchildren who don't like it because things were changed, are selfish elitists who are mad it didn't give them exactly what they wanted, or are "ists" because they didn't like certain casting choices. Depict low audience scores as some sort of calculated Trolling campaign or "review-bombing" to try and act like only "toxic" fans didn't like it, thus implying "everyone else did." Cap it off with a Dear Negative Reader or two and a few clickbait articles cherry-picking reasons why anyone who didn't like it is wrong. Do everything and anything to blame anyone else, in order to cover up and downplay the flaws of the work.
  • Never Needs Sharpening: Does your product have a serious flaw? Spin it to appear positive! For instance, 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."
  • Non Indicative Names.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Pander to those longing for the "good old days."
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: Embrace controversy! If your work is an offensive turd, make sure to get the Moral Guardians in an uproar, and 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. Racist? Pretend that the talk is only coming from Malcolm Xerox wannabes. Anti-religious? Play your critics as hatchet-faced fundamentalists. Homophobic or Transphobic? Your critics must be sex-fiend perverts. A lazy rehash of a franchise you squeezed the life out of 20 years ago? Add a Race Lift, Cast Full of Gay, or all-female cast and portray any critics as right-wing bigots. Even if any or all the above "critics" are Astroturfing bot accounts controlled by your studio, the accusations will still make anyone reluctant to call your turkey anything but a masterpiece.
  • Not Screened for Critics: Don't let critics get hold of it. Alternatively, pay them to not review it, pay them to retract negative reviews, or just bribe them to write glowing reviews.
  • Poe's Law: Say something so outrageous that people will feel compelled to see if it's for real.
  • The Propaganda Machine.
  • Quote Mine: "Creatively rearrange" negative reviews. Mixed reviews work best for this. Keep the positive bits, and edit out the negative comments.
  • Read the Fine Print: Put all those unpleasant "terms and conditions" and legal mumbo-jumbo that might make people think twice about your product or service in extremely tiny writing that most people aren't going to notice, let alone read and understand, before signing on.
  • Sock Puppets: Create fake accounts that support whatever you write on your blog or website.
  • Stylistic Suck: Say it's intended to be that way.
  • Take That, Critics!: 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.
  • Too Incompetent to Operate a Blanket: Show how hard it is to do something the normal way, then show how your product makes it super easy to do. Even if that thing is something no reasonably capable person would ever have trouble with.
  • Totally Radical: Get the 18-35 demographic by tapping into the latest fads and topics. Who cares if the show looks dated, you can always update it!
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: Claim it's for kids. This is especially useful for genre novels.

  • 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 that has been vetted by the patent examiner. In reality, being granted a patent does not require you to prove your invention works better than previously known ones, just that it's different and that it works at all. 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 but flew under the patent examiner's radar by using a Chewbacca Defense on the application; more than one Perpetual Motion Machine has gotten a patent, to name but one type of example. This is also how patent trolls came to be, as well as some of the more outrageous examples of Disney Owns This Trope.
    • Even worse, the brag of "patent pending," meaning the meaningless process isn't even completed yet.
  • 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.
    • In the United States at least, this is half-right at best. Medication must by law disclose adverse effects and what it's for. As long as you don't claim to treat a specific disease, you dodge this regulation and can make utterly spurious and unprovable claims while claiming no adverse effects. The FDA does not review these claims. Manufacturers are not responsible for proving anything for an herbal supplement before putting it on the package as long as they don't claim to treat a specific disease. For example:
      • Use meaningless claims like "Boosts immunity." This phrase is utterly context-free and meaningless. No real medication uses it. An actual drug like filgrastim that supports the immune system tells you exactly what they are (granulocyte colony stimulating factor) and come with their adverse effects listed. "Boosts immunity" is a meaningless term that could in some way be said of a tall glass of water.
      • Similarly: "It's good for the heart." This claim is vague enough to be true of a glass of water. An actual drug like metoprolol makes a specific claim, like "is a selective beta-blocker with a negative inotropic effect." Naturally, this confuses a consumer, because a doctor or mid-level practitioner does not have the time to explain what the heck that means before the patients in the waiting room are backed up.
      • Herbal products which make health claims are regulated as foods, not as drugs. Just like a cheeseburger has to tell you what's in it, but not that it's going to raise your cholesterol, herbal products disclose ingredients but don't disclose adverse effects and can make vague, "truthy" claims. For example, statins are anti-cholesterol life-savers derived from a compound found in red yeast rice, with similar pharmacological properties and adverse effects. There is some evidence red yeast rice with the right compounds is basically a weak statin. Some patients may prefer an herbal to a man-made medication. Don't expect the red yeast rice supplement (in the US) to disclose that it has same adverse effects as statins, or if it even still has the pharmacologically active ingredient. The law as of 2021 does not require them to. So even though some red yeast rice may actually lower your cholesterol, you can't be sure (in the US) of what you're getting.
      • None of this replaces actually talking to a health care professional, of course. Don't get your medical advice from TV Tropes note 
  • 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, or literally chop up the payment process into several arbitrary chunks of smaller "easy payments."
  • 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!
  • English seaside resort Skegness had a famous advertising slogan: "Skegness is so bracing!". "Bracing" being a euphemism for "cold".
  • Ad Turds has a whole archive full of imperfectly polished turds in advertising.
  • Compare it to something that not a lot of your potential customers would be using, anyway, and hope they don't know the difference. For example, when cable or satellite companies compare their Internet speeds to ADSL. They're right in that ADSL is much slower than what they're most likely offering. But what they don't tell you is, most residential homes aren't going to be using ADSL anyway. The only people who might be using ADSL are people in remote areas that can't get cable or fiber Internet (or else they would), low-income households that can't afford to get anything faster (or else they would), or people that use the Internet sparingly and thus don't really need (or even want) high-speed Internet. So when a broadband provider compares its speeds against ADSL, they're really comparing apples and oranges.
  • Appeal to people's insecurities and fears. Bonus points if you can make them feel insecure or worried about something that perhaps they didn't before.
  • Tell people it will make them more popular.
  • Tell people it will make them rich.
  • Tell people it will make them live longer.
  • Imply that people who don't use your product are incompetent, unattractive, stupid, etc.
  • Tell your prospective customers what a caring and socially-responsible company you are, even if you are neither one of those things.
  • Tell people it's New and Improved.
  • Tell people that they'll be doing some good by buying your product. For example, a shoe company might say they'll donate a pair of shoes to a child in Darkest Africa for every pair they sell. Or a pet food company might say they'll donate 10 meals to a number of animal shelters or rescue organizations for every bag of dog/cat food they sell.
  • Tell people your product or service starts at X amount (but they'll have to pay more for the version they really want), they can have it for just pennies a day, or that the payment can be split up into X "easy payments."
  • If your product is going to have its basic design shared with others, but is the first one to have that design, you can say that it is "unique" and a "clean sheet design" before the others arrive.
  • Tell people your product (or an offer associated with it) is Not Available in Stores.
  • Say that the product has been "scientifically tested." This is advertising lingo for "none of our claims have been demonstrated in any tests our product has been given."

  • Give your painting an obscure, Latin-sounding title or just title it in a different language.
  • Make it bigger.
  • Intentionally naming something "(untitled)" can give a piece an air of mystery as if it were some forgotten, recently-discovered cryptic relic.
  • 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.
  • Interpretation. Describe it as post-modern.
  • 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.
  • Everything's better with lens flares. Photography, digital art, you name it.

    Comic Books 

  • 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, which will fall afoul of Trailer Joke Decay.
    • 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 is willing to expend the resources to dignify it with 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.
  • Mention vaguely that it won (or was at least nominated for) an "Academy Award." Do not specifically note that it was for Best Supporting Sound Splicer.
  • 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 (2000).
    • 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 CollegeHumor'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 their reputation or the attention they bring to the film, show them in the trailer as little as possible and cut them out of any promotional work.
  • Celebrity appearance! Bonus points if she's naked.
  • Schedule its release for the Dump Months, and hope that it gets overshadowed by your studio's Oscar Bait and Summer Blockbuster movies.
  • Market it for its "camp" value, even if it was made seriously.
    • When Paramount was losing money on Mommie Dearest (1981), the studio found out that some viewers were watching it for its unintentional humor value, so it came out with an ad with a coat hanger on it and the tagline "Meet the biggest MOTHER of them all!"
    • A weird variant (if not subversion...) happened with The Lonely Lady. A disastrous test screening and the studio wondered what to fix. The publicist responsible was John Wilson, founder of the Golden Raspberry Awards, who knew it was both an unsalvageable disaster (in his book, Wilson said that trying to cut out the laughs led to about 17 minutes of film) and a forerunning favorite to his "awards". He persuaded the studio to re-instate the rough cut with only a couple of minor alterations, knowing full well that the film would gain far more of a cult reputation if it were So Bad, It's Good instead of just mediocre and forgettable, as the studio's re-edit would have been. Wilson even convinced them to retain one of the most ridiculous scenes, which the studio wanted to excise, and later justified when questioned by another person by saying "if they cut it out, they'd be ruining a perfectly awful movie!"
  • When the movie gets released and starts bombing, find whatever Overly Narrow Superlative you can to justify it being #1 at something. Opens in 7th place but it's the only film in its genre to be released that week? "#1 horror movie in America!" Bombs in its home country but does okay in territories where nobody speaks its language? "#1 movie in the world!"
  • When all else fails, you can always go for ballot-stuffing. Sites like IMDb, Metacritic, Flixster, Rotten Tomatoes, and Letterboxd include user scores, which are pretty easy to throw armies of unpaid interns or bots at. For some idea of how well this can work, The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure's IMDB score jumped up from averaging 2/10 to averaging 8/10 over the course of thousands of breathless, copypasted, 10/10 reviews. IMDB listings that filter out clear bot or troll accounts (for instance, accounts that have only reviewed one film), such as the Bottom 100, showed its true grade at the 2/10 range - and indeed, now the site seems to outright discard those fake 10s.
  • On the receiving end of complaints about the lack of diversity in your cast? Make sure there's at least one Token Minority.
    • Alternatively, claim "historical accuracy" or "realism", even if the plot is set in, say, contemporary New York or a fantasy world full of fairies, elves, trolls and dragons.
  • You have the most generic script imaginable? Add LGBT+ characters, preferably of diverse races. It's now a serious and unique drama/thriller/action flick/whatever!
  • Release it Direct to Video, and claim it was too [positive adjective] for theaters.
  • Don't want to go through the trouble of re-releasing and sending your movie through the MPAA rating process? Just release a Director's Cut or Unrated Edition. Even if it's just a few minutes' worth of "extra" material no worse than what did get into the film.
  • Film isn't good enough for awards season? Remember: you don't need to convince general audiences or critics that it's great, just enough of the people who do the award nominations. Just ask Doctor Dolittle, which ran 16 nights of free screenings on the studio lot, with complimentary dinner and champagne. The result: nine Oscar nominations (including a Best Picture nod) and two wins, despite terrible reviews and nearly bankrupting its studio!

  • Health claims are this in a nutshell. Expect "gluten-free" foods that would never normally contain gluten, or "GMO-free" stuff that ''actually'' doesn't contain genes, such as bottled water or salt. 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.
      • Tic-Tacs are advertised as "sugar free" in the US. You see, one serving of Tic-Tacs contains less than half a gram of sugar, which means that the manufacturers can, per FDA regulations, round down to zero grams of, i.e. no, sugar per serving. Tic-Tacs are, in fact, mostly sugar, and they get away with this because the manufacturer's suggested serving is one Tic-Tac.
      • This was parodied in Parks and Recreation, with a health food bar that advertised itself as containing 8 grams of fat per serving. It also considered each bar to contain four servings.
  • 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.
    • Other nicely meaningless terms include "artisan" and "gourmet".
  • 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.
  • Promote your food as having "necessary vitamins", like B17, and sell it as a cancer-fighting/heart-healthy/what have you health food! Who cares if "B17" aka Amygdalin will digest and turn into cyanide? Your customers won't know the difference!
    • Don't point out that the scientific community, medical community, and nutritionists do not recognize the term B17 and do not consider amygdalin a vitamin. Also do not mention that no known chemical pathway of human metabolism uses amygdalin. And of course, studies that found amygdalin useless against cancer and toxic due to being converted to cyanide in the body are either to never be mentioned or to be turned into part of a Big Pharma conspiracy. You are, after all, there to prey on people desperate to save themselves or a loved one from cancer, not to teach good science and offer ethical treatment, comfort, and genuine care.
  • Touting candy as being "fat-free". Yeah, a five-pound bag of sugar is "fat-free," too!
    Seanbaby: "Are you insecure, candy? Because you don't see gravy bragging about being sugar-free. I think this label is only there so your doctor can laugh when he asks how you got diabetes."


  • 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.
    • Example from the United States, late 2020: Metformin, one of the cornerstones for treating diabetes mellitus, is typically dosed at 2,000 mg a day for an otherwise healthy diabetic. (Ask your physician, not TV Tropes, about what and why.) A monthly supply of the generic costs $4-8 USD at your generic big-box retailer/discounter with a built-in pharmacy. Glucophage, the brand name, costs an average of about $140 USD. Chemically, they are bioidentical. So technically, nothing is stronger, because the $4 dollar metformin is exactly as strong as the $140 dollar metformin. (That sound you heard is the jaws of the rest of the world hitting the ground after seeing a minor example of the perverse incentives in the American system.) When you can mark up more than 1,000% with just a brand name, expect every mealy-mouthed marketer to come up with every possible way to take an all-natural, non-GMO colonic extrusion and give it a high-gloss, gluten-free shine.
  • 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.
  • Are you required by law to read off a long list of possible side-effects, each more unpleasant and/or downright horrifying than the last? Show happy people living their lives, and/or Scenery Porn that has nothing to do with the medication you're advertising. If you imply that those side-effects are rare (regardless of what the clinical studies might say), or that it leads to a better quality of life, enough people will ask their doctors to prescribe the drug.
  • Aggressively market to doctors. Give them gifts with your logo on them, even totally out of left-field ones like a swing CD note , and give them other incentives to prescribe the medication your company made.
    • In the US, do not do this as of 2002, or at least don't get caught. If you happen to be a Corrupt Corporate Executive today, and you have no human decency, do be sure you check the local laws of all your developing markets. You can exploit the human frailties of doctors and officials in some countries on the cheap.
  • If you're in the US (or another country that doesn't provide universal healthcare), pay insurance companies on the sly to cover your brand-name medication, and only your brand-name medication. Even if a generic version (assuming one exists) would work just as well.
    • Just as well, not better. See "Nothing is stronger," above.
    • The actual process is more complex. The insurance company must cover both the generic and the brand name. A higher copay on the brand name incentivized consumers to use the generic. The pharmaceutical companies then started giving manufacturer's coupons to consumers covering the difference. So if the generic drug costs $10 USD a month, and the brand name $100 USD a month, the insurance might ask for a $20 copay on the brand name. So by giving the customer a coupon, the manufacturer takes advantage of their brand name recognition. The insurance covers $80 USD for the generic. The brand name manufacturer profits, the individual consumer gets a brand name (they feel better, but it's pure placebo in most cases), the insurance company adjusts prices, and consumers collectively lose.
  • Have a doctor advertise your product. Who cares if they're not actually a doctor, or are Not That Kind of Doctor? They can play one on TV because consumers will trust anyone in a white coat and scrubs.
  • Your remedy doesn't work, but it does have unpleasant side effects? Claim that if the user has the side effects, it means that their body is "healing" or "cleansing" itself.
  • Can’t cite any studies proving your product actually works (because it doesn’t)? Testimonials! A satisfied customer gushing about how much their life improved after trying your product is even better than evidence.


  • The Russian concept of pokazuha (Показуха, literally "window dressing") is all about this trope. It is basically "art of making things that suck grand to make appear attractive" and pretending to show things to be way better than they really are, e.g. There is no obesity problem in USSR while the state was on the verge of famine.
    • An interesting inversion of this is the Russian concept of reverse cargo cult, i.e. recognizing things suck but claim they suck elsewhere even worse (while they don't). Yeah, the whiteman's airplanes are too bamboo and chaff like ours, but they are better pretending they actually fly, so we as honest aborigines should be proud of that. An oft-cited example in the USSR was the state of public health care (which had only the redeeming asset it was free in USSR) and claimed it was even more pathetic in US and Europe.
  • Rely on the Fleeting Demographic Rule.
  • Pretend to be a grassroots movement.
  • Inexperienced? No way, you're an "outsider." This also provides a useful way to handwave away (valid) criticism as the angry cries of the sinister elite/rich/establishment/etc. who have the most to lose from your unorthodox candidacy. "Frankly, I'm GLAD they're worried!"
  • 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.)
  • Provide entertainment for the populace or at least make sure The Trains Run on Time.
  • Ask people to thank you for taking a deeply hated action that's shown no benefit.
  • Have a policy that's unacceptable to most of the public? Say that your policy is really about something else, something that grabs onto people's emotions.
  • Play to people's fears: fears about a previously marginalized group gaining power and inverting the traditional power dynamic, those foreigners over there, subversion of traditional "family values," etc.
  • Use gerrymandering to your advantage.
  • When grilled by the press, never give a straight and precise answer. Always fall back on buzzwords and claim that change is happening "in the fullness of time, at the appropriate juncture."

    Real Estate, CVs, 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. "Large" and "small" are subjective, but 2500 square feet is 2500 square feet no matter where you go. A high number of words or phrases which do not have a subjective meaning are indicative of a house that 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 that 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.
  • Doctor turned comic writer Richard Gordon recalls a reference for employment from a senior GP who once used him as a locum. The killer line was
    Doctor Gordon carried out his duties entirely to his own satisfaction.

  • 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. (Merrick had been planning something of this sort for years, but it could not have been pulled off before the 1960 retirement of longtime New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, whose name was unique.) 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.

    Theme Parks 
  • Heavily decorating and theming "Off-The-Shelf" rides such as "Wild Mouse" roller coasters, drop towers, wave swingers, and otherwise.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Advertise the game using footage taken from another game.
  • 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.
      • This was particularly sad because Brütal Legend had tremendous potential as a multiplayer game thanks to the RTS elements, but keeping them hidden away crippled the possibility of public matchmaking for the game's players.
  • 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.
  • Find handful of moderately, but not too popular youtubers or review channels and simply provide them with gift copies and pre-release access. The combination of the gifting and legal papers signed to get it will be more than enough to make them praise your game, offering free marketing buzz right before premiere, increasing your sales.
  • 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 if they only worked for the company for a week, never did anything for the development of your game, and/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 the game Dead Space 2 seriously offended "your mom", to which the reaction from the gaming community at large was "Thanks for making all gamers look like immature boys who worship gore, jerks, not like we aren't already stigmatized for that perception." Worse, the game is rated M, meaning the intended target audience is old enough that they should no longer care what their parents think.
    • The industry now mixes the above tactic with the manipulation of outrage, operating under the idea that there is (almost) no such thing as bad publicity.
      • The Game Theory video series did a July 2015 episode listing games which used this tactic with a discussion of the media publicists who used these tactics. Notable offenders include Carmageddon, Grand Theft Auto, Burnout 2, and Hatred.
      • The Hatred devs have revealed their game's trailer's shock tactics were intentional in an interview with Polygon. Hatred has received mediocre reviews from critics and users, but it sure sold well for such a cheap title.
  • 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.
  • Have well-endowed characters' breasts jiggle.
  • If the game has any sort of Karma Meter, no matter how simplistic and shallow it is, play it up as a subtle and detailed morality system that will change the game in reaction to the player's choices and so on.
  • On a related note, if the game gives you any form of making decisions in the story, talk about how all the player's actions and decisions have astronomical impact on the story and no two decisions ever play out the same. Even if the choices only lead to the same resolutions.
  • Since Steam only allows users to review individual games and doesn't display any ratings for bundles, some poorly-reviewed games, such as the PC ports of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 and Batman: Arkham Knight, have been reissued as single-game bundles to conceal the lack of value.
  • Apple store developers will occasionally use odd methods to inflate a poorly-received product's score. For instance, the notorious Dungeon Keeper Mobile redirects people who rate it 1-4 stars to a service page and makes them jump through several hoops, causing people who just want to register their dislike for the game to give up in disgust and do something else. Five-star reviews, on the other hand, just get published.
  • Got a female character? Great! Put her in a Chainmail Bikini or other sexy costume (whether it's logical attire or not). Don't have one? No problem! Just stick a sexy female character in the ads or on the cover anyway!
  • Is your game falling behind in development? Advertise with awesome concept art. Daikatana made people pretty excited with concept art of the three main characters and nothing else, several years before anything was even slightly playable.
  • Hire a celebrity to play a minor role. Whether they have any actual experience or skill at voice acting doesn't matter, all you need is the name recognition.
  • Is your game a Wide-Open Sandbox? Give a measurement in square feet of just how large your sandbox is and emphasize it in every preview. Don't, of course, show that most of the game world is barren and lifeless outside two or three towns, or how nightmarish attempting to actually navigate it is, or even that 80% of the map is water or unscaleable mountains.
  • Promote the theoretical maximum potential of what the game's engine could theoretically do, rather than what you can actually do in the game.
  • Call the game a "love letter" or an "homage" to classic or proven hit titles. Doesn't matter how well they actually implement the elements from said titles, whether it's a blatant carbon copy or you have to really stretch to find actual similarities between then.
  • Give your game easy-to-use modding capabilities, and don't forget to hype it in your marketing campaign. As long as the modding tool works, it makes no difference what your game is or how empty or broken you will deliver it for the release. Mods will fix it all and do so for free, so no need to underpay some intern for debugging or providing actual content for the game! A true win-win scenario for your company.
  • Did your studio use an established IP to make a sequel that shares only the title and character names with the game series so far? Just say it is taking the franchise into new, uncharted territories. Even better, describe changing the whole gameplay as "bold steps in game design" and "badly needed modernisation", especially when you are ripping-off currently popular gameplay elements and implement them in the most bland and uninspired fashion.
  • Speaking of, is your game a shameless ripoff of a popular game? Take the Enchanted Portals route and claim "it's been favourably compared" to the game it's mimicking, downplaying that it's only been compared to that other game and that most (though not quite all) comparisons have been unfavourable.

In-Universe examples

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.

  • In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg's school does this to foods to encourage healthy eating. For example, bland carrot sticks become Xtreme Sportz Stix despite being carrots with no real sports connection.

    Newspaper Comics 

    Video Games 
  • The Working Joes in Alien: Isolation look like the unholy spawn of The Crash Dummies and the Blue Man Group, and basically seem to act like Clippy piloting a mannequin, because Seegson Synthetics was way behind the Weyland-Yutani Corporation's line of Synthetics and simply couldn't catch up. Thus, they spun it with the claim "with the Working Joes, you always know exactly what you're dealing with" to feed into general mistrust of human-looking androids and try and claim it's a feature. Nobody is fooled, these things only seem to be found in Seegson-owned operations, and even Amanda comments that "no wonder Seegson is losing the tech race" the first time she sees one of these things.

    Web Original 
  • 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."
  • JonTron mocks the infamous Bubsy 3D for this, noting how they listed the most basic of "features" a platforming game could have, such as running, jumping, swimming, and extra lives, as selling-points on the back of the box.
    JonTron: Okay, hold the phone! Having 1-Ups in your game is not a selling point! Let alone a bullet on the back of the box! You can just tell they were really stretching to say even one good thing about this game.
  • Rerez points out how the heavily advertised its speech capabilities to cover up the fact that the thing was far less impressive graphically and gameplay-wise than even the Game Boy:
    Duke Nukem 3D was used heavily in's marketing to highlight the consoles amazing speech capabilities. Sure, it speaks! So what?! I didn't get this to have a conversation, I got it to play games!

    Western Animation 
  • Butt-Head from Beavis And Butthead: "You can't polish a turd, Beavis." Except Beavis already has; he keeps it in his dresser.
  • Marge is educated on this by Lionel Hutz during her stint as a real estate agent on The Simpsons. Is the house tiny? Some would call it "cozy!" Is it dilapidated? No, it's "rustic!" It's on fire?! "Motivated seller!"
  • An episode of Johnny Bravo brings us "The Shovelizer", an exercise machine that is nothing more than a rusty shovel. Testimonials to its effectiveness are glowing with everyone being too stupid to realize that the only reason they're losing weight and gaining muscle is that they're just moving around a lot more.

Alternative Title(s): Polishing A Turd