Sony suspends ad execs

Sony Pictures Entertainment has formally reprimanded and suspended two advertising executives for their participation in the creation of the fake film critic whose “quotes” were used to promote Columbia Pictures’ films.

The bogus blurbs, written by “David Manning” of the very real The Ridgefield Press in Ridgefield, Connecticut, were spotted by Newsweek senior writer John Horn, who was writing an article about studios using lesser-known film critics and their glowing reviews to promote the studio’s films. Horn told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday that he was examining, in particular, the quotes for the Columbia Pictures’ film The Animal, starring Rob Schneider, which the studio had not screened for the press.

The fictional Manning praised the film as “another winner from the producing team of Big Daddy!”

All the critics were real, except for Manning, Horn said. When he called The Ridgefield Press, he was told there was no Manning working for the paper and that all their film reviews were written by a father and son. Manning also gave critical praise to other Columbia Pictures’ films such as the recent A Knight’s Tale and last year’s Hollow Man.

While the studio will not confirm the names of the individuals who have been sent off for 30 days without pay effective Thursday, company insiders told Variety that the two suspended were senior vice president of creative advertising Josh Goldstine and director of creative advertising Matthew Cramer.

According to Variety, the studio’s publicity department would select favorable quotes from critics for use in their promotional campaigns and send them on to the advertising department. They did not review the final copy. This was how Cramer came up with the phantom quotes, sources told Variety. It is reported that Cramer came up with the name from his old college roommate, David Bradley Manning.

Sony’s worldwide marketing and distribution chief Jeff Blake said in a statement that “a new system of checks and balances [will be put in place] to ensure the accuracy of quotes contained in future advertising campaigns and to prevent this [from] happening again.” With this system, the publicity department will be able to review quotes in the final advertising copy.

The announcement by Sony came within hours of a class-action suit filed by two moviegoers, Omar Rezec of Sherman Oaks and Ann Belknap of Sierra Madre, in Los Angeles Superior Court against Sony, alleging deceptive, unfair and unlawful business practices and false advertising in connection with the ads. They claim they were duped into seeing A Knight’s Tale based on Manning’s quotes.

Martin V. Heram, a managing partner of The Ridgefield Press, says his company has no plans to proceed with any legal actions for the fabrication, but Jack Sanders, the executive editor of the paper, told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday, “We are all sort of amazed that [Sony] has not even called to apologize.”