Friday, June 1, 2007

Will Uncle Sam Defeat the Silver Surfer?

In trailers for 20th Century Fox’s upcoming Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Galactus' space-born herald is shown effortlessly batting away U.S. Army missiles. Yet a recent advertising snafu on the part of Fox and The Franklin Mint may bring more guns to bear on the Silver Surfer than even he can evade.

Recently, Variety reported that Twentieth Century Fox and The Franklin Mint created a Silver Surfer U.S. quarter and put it into very limited circulation in advance of the release of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. 40,000 quarters – 800 per state – were released into the currency stream prior to the Memorial Day weekend after being dispatched to cities across the country in special silver armored trucks.

The problem is the coins are illegal. Turns out Fox and The Franklin Mint forgot to tell the U.S. Mint about their ambitions for the Silver Surfer and his related, now defaced, coinage. Indeed, The Franklin Mint created the illegal tender – a California state commemorative quarter minted by the U.S. Mint but color-enhanced by The Franklin Mint – without the cooperation, or even awareness, of the government.

According to the E! Online report that broke the story, the U.S. government said in a statement, "The promotion is in no way approved, authorized, endorsed, or sponsored by the United States Mint, nor is it in any way associated or affiliated with the United States Mint." The feds said they didn't know about the promotion until contacted by the media for comment.

All of this might be just an amusing mistake were it not for one small point: It is a federal crime to turn any form of legal tender into a form of advertising.

Fox maintains that it was unaware that government sign-off was necessary. The studio released its own statement saying it did not intend to break the law or "suggest that there was any approval from the U.S. Mint or the U.S. government."

Unaware that government approval was required for the creation of new or modified U.S. currency? Really? Rather than fining the Fox and The Franklin Mint teams responsible for the Silver Surfer’s flight into infamy, perhaps the government should send teams of local high school civic teacher to educate the wayward advertisers on the basics of American currency.

Fox's hope was that potential movie-goers who found the quarters would go to the website and take part in the Search 4 Silver campaign, a promotion that included registering to win a trip for four to the world premiere in London. Nor is this the first time U.S. currency has been defaced for advertising or commercial purposes. Almost ubiquitous now are the legion of bill crawling through cash register bearing the URL of Where’s George, an online currency tracking engine.

And while Fox and The Franklin Mint will have to answer for their offense, the $10,000 in Silver Surfer coins that were distributed throughout the country, along with whatever fine the government levies against them, will no doubt be less than what it would cost to generate the same amount of headline-grabbing publicity that the criminal coins have. Perhaps only if Fox and The Franklin Mint are found to have knowingly violated Treasury regulations – having weighed the cost of compliance against the cost of fines and found criminality the cheaper route to publicity – can a worth-wild penalty be enforced. Else, how can the government police future violations of U.S. currency when the benefits of violation are so profitable?

For our part, we’re just glad to see the Fantastic Four franchise keep pace with its advertising precedent.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer opens June 15. Check your quarters before you get to the ticket booth.

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