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Badvertising: Is the bizarre Dune popcorn bucket terrible on purpose?

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“So bad it’s good” is a line that’s been used to forgive woeful creative for eons now, but has it ever been applied to a popcorn bucket before? I’m referring, of course, to the viral popcorn bucket celebrating the launch of Dune Part Two that’s been turning stomachs across social media this week and, if you ask me, the designers knew 100% what they were doing.

The item in question is a standard banded plastic container. The only talking point is the mouth lid, which has been designed to resemble the gaping maw of a giant sandworm, complete with spindly toothy tentacles. As you would expect, the internet erupted in jokes comparing the thing to a demented fleshlight with jokes coming not only from the fringes of the influencer sphere but from the actual cast members of the film itself.

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Indeed, Josh Brolin commented on the bucket, claiming: "I'm not gonna stick my hand in there, like, I'm good. I'll starve." Fellow castmate Dave Bautista, meanwhile, said he felt the "exact opposite", sharing a visual demonstration of how he would heartily reach into the bucket for the popcorn before concluding, along with Timothée Chalamet, Austin Butler, and the rest of the cast, that it's a great talking point.

And that leads quite elegantly into my point; nobody would put any amount of time into deigning such a thing without realising the backlash it was going to cause. The thing even got its own parody on SNL. So, was this awful piece of plastic created to be reviled and ridiculed? Of course it was. The real question is, however, if viral culture is so easily (and obviously) manipulated, does this mean we’re looking at a new era of badvertising?

Awful on purpose?

Let’s be honest, the promotional popcorn bucket is probably the last element of a marketing campaign to worry about; it’s an afterthought. To mine the most potential out of such a throwaway piece of the marketing puzzle, the most obvious move is to churn out something so heinous it will do the groundwork itself. It’s hardly a genius move but it’s one that’s definitely worked, and I can honestly see it boosting the popularity of the film itself, such is the power of TikTok.

This is far from the first piece of badvertising though, granted, many of the most notable examples from the recent past have been glorified April Fool’s Day stunts, but in the light of this obliquely sexual popcorn bucket, I’ve started to ask myself if some of the most reviled campaigns and activations of recent years might have been shit by design.

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Take the notorious “Live for Now” Pepsi ad from 2017, for example. The ad showed Kendall Jenner leaving a photoshoot to join a generic protest and handing a Pepsi to a police officer, which magically resolved the tension and was met with a severe backlash. But that only got more people talking about Pepsi.

In 2020, meanwhile, Burger King unveiled an ad campaign in 2020 featuring a Whopper burger growing mold over 34 days. The intent was to highlight the removal of artificial preservatives from their food and the visual of a decaying burger was off-putting to many, it succeeded in generating buzz and conversation about the brand's commitment to natural ingredients.

Badvertising

Whether aiming to provoke, amuse, or simply shock and tickle the funny bones of audiences who would generally never even dream of sitting down to 3 hours of high-concept science fiction, the Dune popcorn bucket shows the line between bad taste and marketing genius can sometimes be as thin as a plastic tentacle. The key takeaway is that, in a world where attention is the new currency, even negative attention can be spun into gold. All attention is good attention, after all.

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