June 11, 2007
Silver Surfer Coins Generate Reaction from U.S. Mint

For those who haven't followed the story, there is another round of controversy from a marketing initiative, this time from promotion surrounding the upcoming Fantastic Four sequel.

I first heard about this from my colleague Geoffrey Long's blog. As these excerpts from the New York Times story detail, the U.S. Mint has spoken out against a promotional stunt in which 40,000 California quarters have the Silver Surfer stamped on the back of the coins.

In short, while it is not illegal to deface coins without intention to defraud, advertising on coins is considered illegal.

The marketing stunt was announced back in May, in which Twentieth Century Fox partnered with Franklin Mint to ship these special quarters across the country in gimmicked silver armored trucks.

The plan was to make it into a contest, in which finding the quarters made one eligible for a contest for a free trip to the international premiere of the movie in London. According to a later E! story, 800 of the coins were sent to each state before Memorial Day weekend. "Unfortunately, the illegal tender's artwork, while creative, was carried out by the Franklin Mint without the cooperation, or even awareness, of the government, an act the U.S. Mint was quick to lambaste."

The story notes that, "while Fox has copped to launching the campaign without government approval, the studio maintains that it was unaware such sign-off was necessary."

At Newsarama, Wayne Beamer writes, "I was surprised nobody from the Franklin Mint or Marvel checked out the legality of it all, although the AP story prominently mentions the Surfer quarter, while commemorative, is being given away, not sold."

I've written in the past about the danger of launching promotions that do not take into account the concerns of legal authorities, such as what happened here in Boston back in February with Cartoon Network's promotion causing a bomb scare.

There is a balance for sure between generating buzz and just failing to go through proper authorities, and many are debating now whether the reaction of the U.S. Mint is a problem for the Surfer promotion or whether it was actually a boon and will generate even more interest in the movie.

I think the idea of using coins to promote the new movie and launching a contest through it was creative and a new version of a longstanding marketing routine (much like CBS' Egg-vertising, for instance), but I also think that advertisers should tread lightly in cases that could help provoke eventual tighter legislation that might cut down on the creative marketing campaigns.