Basking in the success of the latest Quentin Tarantino film, Django Unchained, The Weinstein Company recently beat a hasty retreat on one of the film’s marketing efforts: action figures of the movie’s characters. For the uninitiated, Django is the story of a slave’s mission, with the help of a bounty hunter, to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. The subject matter and the fact that it was written and directed by Tarantino, who is white, already made the film controversial.
The PR plot thickened with the film’s marketing strategy. While dolls aren’t a particularly unusual marketing concept, Weinstein’s 8-inch slaves and slave owners were greeted with outrage. Although surely not the intent, the perception was that the toys either trivialized or glorified the horrors of slavery. The Rev. Al Sharpton loudly protested, and even black leaders who enjoyed the film took umbrage.
Once the complaints started rolling in, the company moved swiftly to pull the action figures from the shelves and issued a forthright apology, saying “We have tremendous respect for the audience and it was never our intent to offend anyone.” They also noted they have created action figures for all of Tarantino’s films – who knew? – and said they are meant to be collectibles, not playthings. Weinstein’s quick management of its blunder appeased critics; the flap has gone largely unnoticed in major media.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Weinstein. Even the best dancers misstep occasionally; correct the mistake, and keep going.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Move quickly. While nobody is perfect, and one certainly wonders how this idea was approved, the actions taken to rectify a situation can make all the difference in averting a PR mess. By stopping production of the action figures and addressing the complaints, the Weinstein Company avoided having an error in judgment turn into a PR disaster. Lesson learned.
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