Heads will roll after tasteless P.R. stunt

_1409712764Promoting TV today can be a bit like handling a double-edged sword. Take the jokey, social network visuals sent out earlier this week to promote the DVD release and second season return of their hit drama Sleepy Hollow.

The series is a clever update on the Washington Irving “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and features Revolutionary War-era soldier Ichabod Crane launched into modern times. Crane, of course, was chased by the Headless Horseman.

Somebody at Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment came up with #headlessday and sent out these graphic cards with sayings such as “With hair like this, I’d rather be headless…” “and, I knew you’re forget your head if it wasn’t attached.”

Unfortunately for the home entertainment company, the jokey eCards were sent out the same day that a video circulated on the Internet showing brutal evidence of  a second beheading in the Middle East. Captured American journalist Steven Sotloff was apparently murdered by ISIS militants.

If the horrifying images coming on the heels of this promotion seemed familiar, it’s because Fox Television weathered a similar press storm two years ago in promoting The Following. Large boxes with the words “Nevermore” scrawled on the outside were shipped to TV beat writers. Inside was a head-shaped wig stand with a creepy Edgar Allen Poe mask. For many of us, the box arrived just as news of a terrible Sandy Hook school massacre was breaking.

The lesson that day should have been this: the time to send out jokey press releases about dark network drama is “nevermore.”

ThinkJam, the marketing firm behind the promotion for Fox Home Entertainment. sent out an immediate apology and expressed “our deepest sympathies” towards his family. “Had we known this information prior, we would never have released this alert and realize it’s in poor taste.”

Mistakes happen and the timing of this terrible coincidence could not have been foreseen. Still, another captured journalist, James Foley, was seen being beheaded just two weeks prior.  More could follow. The notion of promoting a series or DVD release at any time with a National Beheading Day seems impossible to defend.

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