Polish the Turd

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Roger Corman: Stanley, you can't polish a turd.

Stanley Kubrick: Sure you can. You just have to freeze it first.
—Apocryphal conversation in an editing studio

So you've got the job of producing, managing, or marketing something. It could be a consumer product, an album, a film, anything. But whatever it is, it's bad. The concept is fundamentally flawed, the execution is rushed and badly thought out, and no one in their right mind would buy it on its own merits.

Fixing it would require a total overhaul, which you don't have the time or money for, and the higher-ups don't care how terrible it may be, as long as they get their money out of it. Of course, you can't just abandon it — too many resources have been sunk into it. Or it might happen that you're in a marketing agency that has been hired to manage promotion, and as lame as that product is it's your job to make it look good.

So what do you do? You try your best to make it look better than it is and hope that it's effective enough to sell a few million copies.

Incidentally, the MythBusters have proven that you can indeed polish a literal turd to a high shine without resorting to additional coatings if you dry it, pulverize it, reconstitute it and pat it until very smooth. Bless those boys. There's also that giant shiny golden...thing on the roof of Asahi Breweries in Tokyo. Officially it's named "Flamme d'Or", or "Golden Flame" and should represent a "burning heart of Asahi Beer" (even corporate lickspittles can be creative... sort of), but nobody who ever saw the thing has called it anything other than simply "Golden Turd". ThinkGeek also sells tiny golden turds as necklaces.

There are numerous ways of doing this, many of which are Tropes on their own. And yes, all examples are Truth in Television.

Note that the special effects industry uses a similar term, "turd polishing", in reference to ensuring the high quality appearance of something that is intended to look ugly. Therefore, it is not this trope.

Examples of Polish the Turd include:


In General...[edit | hide | hide all]

Male: "Hey, if I buy that body spray, random women will want to have sex with me!"
Female: "Hey, if I buy that shampoo, I'll have a great body like hers!"

Male: "He's wearing just a loincloth, but he's killing lots of people, so I'm more straight for watching it.
Female: "He's hot."


Advertising[edit | hide]

  • Commercials for shoddy children's toys will play up the fact that it's made of a "Space Age polymer". The Space Age, for those who forgot, started in the 60s. They're talking about plastic.


Art[edit | hide]

  • Give your painting an obscure, Latin-sounding title. Or, just title it in a different language.
  • Make it bigger.
  • Put an unaffordably high price tag on your piece. If no one can afford it, they might at least be deluded into thinking it has value.
  • Place a curator's statement next to your painting: bonus points if you describe how the painting fits into the canon of art history.
  • Interpretation.


Comic Books[edit | hide]


Film[edit | hide]

  • Patch together a trailer that makes the film look much more interesting than it actually is. Toss in what few interesting moments the film actually has, some explosions, a gunfight or two, and plenty of eye candy. For padding, add some scenes that didn't actually make it into the film. Once again, make sure never to reveal anything about the plot.
    • For a "comedy", put the film's only three funny lines/jokes/quips into the trailer.
    • For a generic Rom Com, make the trailer a short montage of the film's young, generically-cute protagonists exchanging semi-witty lines over a candlelit dinner, passionately embracing each other, and gazing dreamily at the Manhattan skyline.
    • Present it as an entirely different genre in the trailer.
  • Make the CGI at least halfway decent, then hope nobody notices the awful acting and/or glaring Plot Holes.
    • Make it a 3DMovie. Your audience will be so busy marveling at how they're actually in the film that they won't care.
  • Retitle it when it goes to DVD to sidestep terrible reviews.
  • Retitle it to make it the sequel to an unrelated film you own the rights to.
  • Retitle it to suggest a connection to a famous film you don't own the rights to (for example, Snakes on a Train).
  • Claim that it was "Too [positive adjective here] to show in theaters!" when it goes Direct to Video because no studio will give it the dignity of a theatrical release.
  • Pay Jeff Craig from Sixty Second Preview to say something nice about it...although note that it's a marketing company, not a review publication.
  • Print "The best film of [the current year]!" on the cover. Don't attribute it. Hope no one notices it isn't actually in quotation marks.
    • Bonus points if you do this one in January.
    • Print a non-attributed blurb in quotation marks anyway. Hope nobody notices that you're just quoting yourself.
  • Do not let the critics get their hands on it.
  • Hire a big name actor to appear in one short scene. Make sure his contract allows you to give him top billing.
  • An old technique was to shoot TV commercials that featured audience members who had just seen it raving about it.
    • Hot Shots parodied this with an ad that admitted that its makers were paying off audience members in exchange for raves, which foreshadowed the death of the practice when — as part of the David Manning scandal — it was revealed that Sony had hired actors to play audience members in an ad for The Patriot.
    • Parodied in a 1980s fake commercial from Saturday Night Live, in which every person who attended a stage hypnotist's Broadway show droned "I loved it. It was much better than Cats. I'm going to see it again and again" with identical blank stares.
    • Parodied to a lesser extent in Hot Fuzz, after Nicholas and Danny suffer through a dreadful production of Romeo and Juliet, a journalist asks for Nicholas' opinion, to which he replies in the most emotionless and unenthusiastic voice ever "...highly enjoyable."
    • This is making a reappearance in Australia and the UK.
  • If an actor in your film has been caught up in a scandal, ends up in rehab or does anything else to screw the pooch in terms of his/her reputation or the attention s/he brings to the film, show him/her in the trailer as little as possible and cut him/her out of any promotional work.
  • Celebrity appearance! Bonus points if she's naked.


Food[edit | hide]

  • Health claims are this in a nutshell. Expect "gluten-free" foods that would never normally contain gluten. (Bonus points for appealing to people who probably don't have celiac disease.) "Low-fat" was popular for a long time, oftentimes indicating a lot of sugar and white flour; indeed, 3 Musketeers has less fat (but more calories) than a Hershey bar, and sodas are 100% fat-free. Since As You Know all organisms produce antioxidants, antioxidants are a rich source of health claims. Want to sell margarine? Until people became aware of trans fat, "no cholesterol" was a good way to do so. Cereal companies fortify their products so you don't realize you just bought your kids sugar-coated flour.
    • Related: description of products as "80% fat-free" or similar, presumably with the hope that it won't click that it means that it's 20% solid fat. The average bar of milk chocolate is about 70% fat-free.
  • A lot of ethnic-sounding names tend to do this. You can also do this yourself with your children, saying "florentine" instead of "with spinach".


Politics[edit | hide]

  • Rely on the Fleeting Demographic Rule.
  • Pretend to be a grassroots movement.
  • If you want a war with Alicetonia, describe the Alicetonians as a dangerous threat to the peace-loving people of Bobsylvania.
  • Name your bill something really positive-sounding, like "The Job Creation Act" or "The USA PATRIOT Act".
    • Generally, politicians are very keen on creative euphemisms: the people who would agree with the unvarnished version will agree, and hopefully a lot of the people who would otherwise oppose it will either not think about or not look into what it actually means and just go along with the pleasant sound of it. For a conservative trying to not set off liberals, "cutting red tape" serves as a more pleasant-sounding euphemism for deregulation (or even privatisation). For a liberal trying not to set off conservatives, "cutting Pentagon (or equivalent) fat" serves as a more pleasant-sounding euphemism for slashing the defense budget.


Pornography[edit | hide]

  • The porn inch. Used in any non-lesbian porn to describe male anatomy. This is fairly obvious in cases like Jeff Gannon, who is nowhere near eight inches, unless he's seven feet tall.


Sports[edit | hide]

  • Sell the "potential" of your cheap young talent.
  • Point out the quality of opposing teams coming to your stadium.
  • If all else fails, appeal directly to the fans of said opposing teams, offering them the chance to see their boys in your stadium.
  • Hit them with the ol' "My city's team, right or wrong." Or just call fans of good players and teams, "front runners."


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • A week after the musical Subways Are For Sleeping opened on Broadway to critical disdain, an ad appeared in the New York Herald Tribune trumpeting "7 Out of 7 Are Ecstatically Unanimous About Subways Are For Sleeping", quoting rave reviews alongside the names of New York's major drama critics. This ad was the work of the show's producer, David Merrick, who had explored the phone books and found seven men who happened to have the same names as the theatre critics. The Herald Tribune published an apology (other newspapers had perhaps wisely rejected the ad), but what was done was done.
  • As pointed out at The Other Wiki, Cirque Du Soleil's magic show collaboration with Criss Angel, Believe, was roundly condemned by critics, so the Luxor (its host casino-resort) website instead quotes celebrities who attended the show — one of whom, Holly Madison, was Criss' lover at the time it opened.
  • Seattle's Greg Thompson Productions is the master of creative editing and quote mining. A critical response such as "It's amazing to me that anyone would consider this entertainment" would be quoted as "It's amazing!" The most Egregious example of this practice was the promotion for his wife's one-woman cabaret, 7 Blondes, which he was called on by a local paper.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Advertise the game using stunning cinematics that are about 500 times better than the graphics you'll be looking at for 99.99% of the actual game.
    • Advertise the game using stunning cinematics and say absolutely nothing about the game itself.
  • Release a demo consisting of the earliest parts of the game, cutting out before your sudden gameplay change or early enough to mask that there is almost no variety in the content. Don't want potential customers finding out that Disappointing Last Level sets in about halfway through Level 2.
  • Buy advertising in industry magazines and websites. Even if they don't give you a glowing review in return, the previews will be universally positive and encourage preorders.
  • Draw in the fanboys by stating that a few members of the development team of a more popular franchise worked on the game on either the box or the ad copy. It doesn't matter that they only worked for the company for a week or haven't produced a game in 15 years, you've got instant credibility now!
  • Promote the game as having original music from a huge rock star, while completely leaving out the fact that only one song in the entire game was composed by him.
  • If a game is being released on multiple consoles, advertise and show the features of the more powerful, robust versions. Downplay the differences present on the weaker systems, or don't acknowledge them at all until release. Bonus points for billing the weaker versions as "built from the ground up for" said system.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

- Just a second, Will. I'm refactoring some of my code.
- What does that mean?
- It means I'm rewriting it the way it should have been written in the first place, but it sounds cooler.

  • Schlock Mercenary has commander of Integrity (spaceship of Prangers' Bangers) show great skill at getting out of troubles [1]:

Banger Officer: Nice spin, Commander
Banger Cmdr: Remind me to tell you about the time I got a service star instead of a court martial.

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • About the Voyager episode "The Cloud", SF Debris said it was very well performed despite the terrible script. "It's like a four-tier wedding cake made out of shit. It's an incredible achievement, a masterpiece in some respects. But the point that cannot be missed is that it's made out of shit."


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Butthead: "You can't polish a turd, Beavis." Except Beavis already has, he keeps it in his dresser.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • One of German TV's most successful...everything (producer, singer, show host, etc.) nowadays is Stefan Raab, who is often said could "aus Scheiße Gold machen"...which is about the German translation of the Trope (literal, "make gold out of shit"). He picks up about any possible concept and makes a fortune with it. Sometimes he also does something that isn't bad to begin with, like Germany's 2010 Eurovision winner.
  1. By which we mean it will rivet your jaw open in disbelief; the thoughts it will provoke are "what a terrible movie", "what an incredibly shitty movie", and "No. Just...no."; it's a a tour de force of incredible crap; and it will leave you on the edge of your seat vomiting into your still-full bag of popcorn.
  2. By which we mean it's plastic we left in a warehouse in Iraq in 1952 and only just now managed to retrieve thanks to the war. It was in one of Saddam's abandoned nuclear research facilities, so it's technically full of energy. Also, it's been growing mold. Bon appetit.
  3. By which we mean that a calorie is a unit of energy--which it is. Not actually being smartasses this time.