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Some Nutty Publicity Stunt

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If aliens are marching into Times Square, or a garishly-costumed superhero is fighting a bad guy atop the Empire State Building, most onlookers will take the event at face value. But others, even if they live in a world where strange things are known to happen on a regular basis, will dismiss it as "some nutty Publicity Stunt," an advertising campaign, or perhaps location shooting for a science-fiction movie.

Frequently observed as an aspect of living in a Quirky Town. Occasionally, characters might intentionally invoke the trope as a way of maintaining the Masquerade, but in most cases, people don't need any "help" to dismiss the weird stuff.

Sister trope to Is This a Joke?, but in that trope, the character believes the strange events to be a joke directed specifically at her, or perhaps at a smallish group of people. The effects in Some Nutty Publicity Stunt are usually too widespread, elaborate, or large to be written off as mere pranks.

The inverse of You Just Ruined the Shot, in which actors are mistaken for the real thing. See also All Part of the Show, in which the strange events are thought to be part of some specific public performance, and Your Costume Needs Work, which is when a person thinks a particular character is wearing a costume but isn't (includes everything from monsters to celebrities).


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    Anime and Manga 
  • A first season episode of Digimon uses this, when one of the kids falls into the river and his Digimon has to save him and the crowd from an evil squid-Digimon.
  • In Dragon Ball Z the characters once summoned Porunga in the middle of a city, knowing that most people would just assume it was some experimental hologram from Bulma's Mad Scientist dad.
  • Used more than once in Negima! Magister Negi Magi, both in the Magical World and during the Mahora Festival.
  • Rebuild World: When Akira is defending Sheryl’s relic shop from the Cyborg Zelmo, Zelmo realizes that Akira’s Powered Armor is being manipulated by a third party as People Puppets. Zelmo not realizing the Virtual Sidekick Alpha’s existence, believes this must be because the company that made Akira’s armor has a veteran hunter remote controlling Akira’s as part of a sales boosting stunt, and pops jamming smoke that would have disabled such a link.
  • Used briefly in ∀ Gundam. When Queen Dianna unseals The Dark History, huge holograms showing the wars of past eras pop up in cities across the Moon, causing confusion and panic in the citizens. Except for the Fat Bastard leader of the Goldfish Poop Gang, who just glances at the holograms and goes "Eh, must be some sort of movie-promotion." His team eventually manages to convince him otherwise...

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman provoked what may have been the first comic book appearance of this trope in Sensation Comics #2 (1942). Stealing a car from some Axis agents, they start shooting at her. As Wonder Woman deflects the bullets of one bad guy's tommy gun (with one hand) while driving off, the other says "I saw her on the stage! Let her go, she's probably doing some publicity stunt!" Which shows you how they lost the war. Makes more sense than most since Wonder Woman's first public appearance, in the previous story, was on the stage, showing off her "Bullets and Bracelets" trick.
  • Invoked extremely often in Marvel Comics, particularly those written by Stan Lee. Bystanders who see fantastical superhero action inevitably exclaim "Ah, must be some publicity stunt!" or "They must be filming some nutty new sci-fi movie!" The curious implication is that the populace believes New York City to be positively infested with publicists and filmmakers (Truth in Television?). Based on the sheer number of appearances, this might be Stan Lee's favorite trope.
    • After the first appearance (and then disappearance) of Galactus in Fantastic Four #50 (1966), this is J. Jonah Jameson's theory of the event. A bystander remarks, however, "I've learned that the best thing to do is read Jameson's editorials and then believe exactly the opposite!"
    • One bystander reacts to the first appearance of Ms. Marvel in Ms. Marvel #1 (1977) by saying "It's an act! A publicity stunt! Like that gag at the World Trade Center with the styrofoam King Kong!" Ms. Marvel's thought balloon lampshades the trope a bit: "Can she believe that? Are people really so cynical — or is such an attitude peculiar to New York?"
    • Occasionally, even the hero, who should know better, puts forth the theory. Thor, in Journey into Mystery #91 (1963), had already seen plenty of weird stuff by the time he saw a bank float into the sky, only to say "What's happening below? Some kind of advertising stunt?"
  • Stan Lee was using this trope as early as 1952 in Mystery Tales #6, in the story "Skull-Face" (excerpted here by Bully the Little Stuffed Bull). It's the story of an inventive publicist for a horror movie called Skull-Face. His plan is to "make the whole world 'Skull-Face' conscious!" And it works! A little too well, actually, as the publicity campaign somehow revives or creates the "real" Skull-Face (perhaps in a variant of Gods Need Prayer Badly?) Skull-Face attacks the publicist, who calls the police... who, knowing him, dismiss the call: "That guy'll do anything to get in the papers! Forget it!"
  • Common in the Disney Ducks Comic Universe.
    • One story has Donald and Fethry Duck fleeing down the street from a demon before sucking it into a ghost trap-like device. The onlookers decide that they're watching an advertisement for a new vacuum cleaner.
  • Invoked in Worlds Finest #186, where Superman and Batman travel back in time to Colonial New England (It Makes Sense in Context), then pass off their superhero costumes as actors promoting an upcoming theater company.
    Superman: See? "S" for "Shakespeare"!
  • A Martian Manhunter story in Detective Comics #306 (August 1962) involved a gigantic bear menacing the city. An unimpressed bystander says "Relax... It's probably a publicity stunt for the circus!"
  • An early She-Hulk story has newly introduced villain the Man-Elephant holding forth on the streets of New York while some onlookers theorize that it's a promotion for The Elephant Man.
  • In Uncanny X-Men #200, a rumor spreads throughout Paris that George Lucas is filming a big budget sci-fi movie in the city after a crowd witnesses Rachel Summers using her powers. As a Brick Joke, when Sentinels attack San Francisco in Uncanny X-Men #202, a confused civilian can be heard asking if George Lucas is shooting a movie.
  • In The Transformers (Marvel) during the Starscream Triumphant story, Scorponok and the Dinobots go to Tokyo to fight Starscream. They're immediately mistaken for props for a new monster movie, much to Grimlock's irritation.
  • Wonder Woman: A passerby wonders if the Adjudicator's appearance next to the Washington Monument in #291 is some kind of publicity thing for the new Star Wars movie, but he's not terribly convinced.

  • In Last Action Hero, some of the characters from the "Jack Slater" film universe have escaped into the real world, including Jack himself, who's played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jack and an old villain wind up having a fight at the premiere of the latest Slater film, and the real Arnold remarks that he didn't know the producers were planning a stunt. He is impressed by the quality of his "lookalike", though.
  • In A Very Brady Sequel, Jan tries to show off her imaginary boyfriend, George Glass, by carrying a mannequin into the cafe. It falls apart more easily than she expects, resulting in onlookers reacting to the date as a performance arts piece.
    Jan: (embarrassed) Oh George, pull yourself together!

  • Invoked in Animorphs #27. The Animorphs smuggle Erek the android out of a crowded mall by claiming that he's a new kitchen robot, and that the gorilla stealing him (Marco) is a guy in a gorilla suit promoting a new King Kong movie.
  • Josh's initial reaction to the town's hotel being haunted in A to Z Mysteries is this. His friends are quick to point out the owner of the hotel's lack of humor.
  • Fate/strange Fake: A few civilians witness True Rider in action, but assume from her outfit and horse that she is a performer promoting a store.
  • This is what Vernon Dursley thinks in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when he sees wizards running in wizard dress while celebrating the defeat of Voldemort.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Adventures of Superman episode "The Human Bomb", Clark pretends that he believes the Hostage Situation is a publicity stunt so he can go change.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Bells of Saint John": The TARDIS appears in front of a crowd, and the Doctor collects money in a fez from civilians who think it is some sort of magic trick.
    • "The Day of the Doctor": The TARDIS is flown in by helicopter to the middle of London, attracting huge crowds. Osgood tells Kate that their cover story is English conjuror Derren Brown, "again".
  • Happens at first in Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger when the battles start leaving the delusion world.
  • In the series premiere of Under the Dome, Norrie and her parents are driving through Chester's Mill when a warning comes on the radio about the dome. Norrie dismisses it as "some sort of viral marketing", but she reconsiders when a truck in front of them crashes into the invisible dome at high speed and is crushed by the impact.
  • One episode of Wizards of Waverly Place had Justin use this excuse on a crowd after a group of aliens land on Waverly Place and demand Jerry's new delicious milkshake machine (It Makes Sense in Context...sorta). The crowd buys it hook-line-and-sinker, and Zeke even comments that Their Costumes Need Work.

  • Kakos Industries: One of the reasons a Zombie Apocalypse unleashed by the company gets out of control in "Wake the Dead" is because, on top of various acts of incompetence by the people that let it loose, none of the directions for any of their stored zombie viruses mention that if a virus is used on Halloween it will spread like wildfire because no one will believe it is real.

    Tabletop Games 


    Western Animation 
  • The Beagles, a 1966 cartoon from the creators of Underdog, featured two canine musicians (Stringer and Tubby) who get put in outrageous publicity stunts by Scotty, their agent.
  • In one DuckTales (1987) cartoon, the police refuse to help Uncle Scrooge get King Kong off his money bin. Instead, they give him "one hour to remove that unauthorized balloon ad or whatever it is."