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Walt Disney Japan’s social media promotion campaign for Frozen 2 has become mired in a controversy around stealth marketing after it emerged that manga artists had been commissioned to tweet about the movie, but didn’t reveal they’d been paid to do so.
The episode began early in December when Twitter users noticed that seven manga artists had posted illustrations of characters from Frozen 2, all praising the film using the same phrasing.
On Dec. 5, Walt Disney Company Japan issued an apology for the tweets, but suggested the problem had arisen due to a lack of communication rather than deliberate deception.
However, some of the manga artists this week suggested on Twitter that they had been expressly told by the advertising agency that had hired them not to disclose they were being paid to promote the film.
On Dec. 11, one of the manga artists, Kosame Daizu, tweeted a series of messages to his more than 100,000 followers apologizing and taking responsibility for the promotional tweets. Some of his followers pointed out that it sounded like he had been forced to send the messages.
On the same day, Disney Japan issued another statement, taking full responsibility for the campaign and saying the artists were not at fault. It apologized to fans and the artists, saying it would take measures to prevent a recurrence of such problems.
Disney appears to have hired a company from the ad giant Dentsu group, which in turn asked a specialist manga artist agency to find people to create the tweets. Dentsu is the fifth-largest ad agency in the world and dominates the Japanese advertising sector, known for wielding its significant power to protect the interests of itself and its major clients.
Frozen 2 spent the last three weekends on top of the Japanese box office and has taken in around $55 million so far. The first Frozen movie took around $250 million in Japan and became nothing short of a social phenomenon.
On Dec. 10, two imperial princesses, Mako and Kako, attended a Frozen 2 charity screening in Tokyo for victims of Typhoon Hagibis, which in September killed 100 people and caused around $9 billion worth of damage in Japan.
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