Some newspaper, TV and outdoor ads for Smith's comedy "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" have been rejected because of their content or the five-letter word that ends the title, said Gary Faber, head of marketing for the Weinstein Co., which is releasing the film.
Among those refusing to carry ads are about 15 newspapers and several TV stations and cable channels, Faber said. Commercials for the film during Los Angeles Dodgers games on Fox Sports were dropped at the team's request after some viewers complained, said Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch.
One complaint came from a man watching a game in September with his young son, who did not understand a suicide-squeeze bunt the Dodgers tried, Rawitch said.
"He was explaining to his son what a squeeze bunt was. Commercial break, the ad comes on, and the kid asks, `Dad, what does porno mean?"' Rawitch said. "Dodgers baseball has always been about family, and we've always been sensitive to the type of advertising that runs on our games."
The city of Philadelphia refused "Zack and Miri" posters at bus stops. Similar posters at Boston bus stops have drawn complaints from a child-development expert who said they are inappropriate for children.
Smith found it ironic that the posters have been a problem. Some playfully risque ads with images of "Zack and Miri" stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks were forbidden by the Motion Picture Association of America, which called the ads "highly sexually suggestive and not suitable for general audiences."
So Weinstein came up with posters using stick figures to represent the actors.
"The whole idea was, our hands were so tied on all previous entries we'd given them that this ad was meant to be the innocuous one that would get approved everywhere," Smith said.
Rina Cutler, Philadelphia deputy mayor for transportation, said the stick-figure posters were cute and clever but unacceptable for bus shelters where schoolchildren would see the word "porno."
"If they want to call the movie `Zack and Miri,' that's fine, but Zack and Miri cannot make a porno on my bus shelters," Cutler said.
Opening Oct. 31, "Zack and Miri" features Rogen and Banks as platonic best buddies and roommates who decide to make their own skin flick to dig themselves out of debt.
Diane Levin, an education professor specializing in child development at Boston's Wheelock College, said the posters at city bus stops send a message to children that working in the porn industry is an acceptable occupation.
"It's drawing attention to a movie which is mainstreaming and normalizing pornography, saying if you need money, this is what you do," said Levin, co-author of "So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids."
The stick-figure images are especially appealing to youngsters, since "stick figures are something for children," she said.
Weinstein marketing boss Faber countered: "It's a comedy. It's a joke. We're not advertising a porno. It's not a porno. The word `porno,' it's not supposed to turn you on. It's supposed to make you laugh."
The ratings board of the MPAA initially slapped "Zack and Miri" with an NC-17 rating, a box-office kiss of death because audiences view such films as explicit adult-only flicks. Smith appealed and talked the film down to an R rating.
Faber said the company has been able to place its ads in most of the outlets it has approached. For newspapers that rejected them because of the word "porno," Weinstein might play around with variations that exclude the title, he said.
The company developed a version of the stick-figure poster without the film's name, bearing the slogan, "Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks made a movie so outrageous that we can't even tell you the title."