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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Flipping off an entire city

Storydevices_1Count the entire city of Boston hating marketers now, too. By now you've likely heard about the "guerilla" marketing tactic for the adult comedy "Aqua Teen Hunger Force". As part of the 10-city promotional campaign for the show--and a film set to be released later this year--these electronic circuit boards were placed all over the city in high-traffic areas, like under bridges and near subway stations (prime areas for terrorist attacks).

But the discovery of nine of the light boards around Boston and its suburbs sent bomb squads scrambling throughout the day, halting traffic, closing roads and subway stations. Talk about interruption marketing...

A bomb? The devices had wires and batteries which to many citizens connoted "bomb". According to CNN, "The devices displayed a 'Mooninite' -- an outer-space delinquent who makes frequent appearances on the cartoon -- greeting passersby with an upraised middle finger."

A billboard? Turner Broadcasting, the producer of the show, calls them "billboards" but the devices are actually blinking electronic circuit boards emblazoned with the characters--with Turner and agencies failing to get permits...or apprise city officials.

A botched response. Boston wasn't officially informed until 5pm and yet the first device was found at 8am. Oops! Boston-area Congressmen Markey said, "Scaring an entire region, tying up the T and major roadways, and forcing first responders to spend 12 hours chasing down trinkets instead of terrorists is marketing run amok. It would be hard to dream up a more appalling publicity stunt."

But an apropos name: The name of the ad firm? Interference.

They definitely got publicity and I'm all for getting creative and think the characters are quite cute BUT......let's delight not frighten people with our cool tactics, marketers (and sometimes it really is best to get permits). I'm sorry Boston.

P.S.: Something of note due to my own experience being a New Yorker that went through the mass-transit shutdown of 9/11 and the subway strike a couple years back--what is VERY easy to forget is when mass transit shuts down or is stalled it’s not just people getting to work that are inconvenienced. People also can’t get to chemotherapy treatments and to their children at school. We just can't imagine the ramifications until it happens. Some say the media and authorities overhyped this...I find it inexcusable that Turner Broadcasting waited until 5pm to respond.


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Great summary post CK. Your final point is the key. It's okay to be innovative with this kind of marketing promotion, but common sense should prevail in today's more terror-aware society. Small electronic gadgets with wires and batteries magnetically attached to bridges is not a smart idea.

Thanks, Matt. The thing is...

1) Why not just inform the city? To be sure, getting permits is a pain--but sometimes it's a really good idea.

2) Why did Turner Broadcasting wait so long (5pm) to contact city officials (first device spotted at 8am)? Inexcusable.

I like clever (a lot) and I like that cute little Mooninite bugger...but a touch of responsibility wouldn't have given away the "guerilla" surprise of the devices.


This campaign could have worked, if the marketers had taken people into consideration. Guerilla marketing of this sort impacts everyone it touches, not just fans, which made the entire city of Boston unwilling participants.

Those of us marketers who believe that it is always about people, not the products or services, would have created a people-first campaign. Here's one way this campaign could have been launched, without shutting down a city, costing Boston $500,000:

1. Get a permit.
2. Get traditional and alternative media involved by announcing that sometime between abc date and xyz date, these light boards would be placed around the city.
3. Get a radio station to be part of the campaign.
4. And then offer a substantial prize for everyone who find one of the circuit boards and return it to the radio station to be briefly interviewed and given their prize.
5. Make the campaign fun, get it noticed and make it interactive for anyone who wants to play.

I thought this whole thing was a bit silly until I saw the two guys from the agency on YouTube trying to be comedians about it. Then I really lost patience.

Very dumb move by the client and the agency. I just went off a bit on this subject at The Fix and at my own place. Can't help it. This kind of thing makes me nuts.

If you screw up, which we all do from time to time, return to smart as quickly as possible. Sound reasonable?

Lewis: I like how you say "take people into consideration". I'm all for clever but not at the expense of people's time and worry. Now more people hate marketers. Geez.

Stephen: Loved your post at your blog. Um, you TOTALLY went off at the Fix,dude. You said people should be slapped--I had to put my coffee down to not spit it out. (Readers: it's under Jonathan's post today labeled "Mass Panic").

Agencies aside, we all know that Turner needed to respond quickly...not 9 hours later. Inexusable. And I like the line of "getting back to smart ASAP". Good line. OK, I think I can drink my coffee again.


You nailed it (I agree with Matt that the last paragraph is key.) The area in which the first device was located was under I-93 in a place that once traffic is stopped (as it was on Wednesday morning) there is no way off the highway. So if you were say, planning to give birth, get sick or appear in court - toughie for you. The people taken off the subway by the hundreds were put on buses by the dozens to be made late for their lives. Thoughtless and stupid act. Moronic marketing.

Yup, you're probably right. I find it funny, but I guess I also wasn't caught in the middle of it. A simple phone call could have saved a ton of trouble. Even if they didn't want to pull permits, they could have called to say they would do it anyway.

Either way, the pranksters "press conference" was friggin' gold...

Since I'm on vacation and haven't read a paper since Saturday, I only heard about this today when I was watching the Fair and Balanced folks on Fox.

This smacks of the old adage "I don't care what you say about ne, as long as you say something." Tacky Donald Trump seems to follow that school of thought, and it looks like the Turner people did also, until they got all the backlash.

I think Turner and the p.r. agency that pulled this thoughtless stunt should be fined heavily. The agency should be cautioned that if they ever do anything like this again, they'll be shut down. I know this sounds draconian, but peop-ele have to be made accountable for
what they do in business. If penalties for bad behavior are severe, maybe there will be less of this and people will try to get publicity the honest way.

Most constructive and valuable comment of the entire day! How the campaign could have been done much better is the pot of gold.

Discomfort panged my heart earlier as I left the library thinking of all the people who needed medical attention yesterday. nothing else mattered

this happens when you are disconnected from the reality.
in advertising, it often happens that creative guys feel themselves as artists and deliver without considering the world around them. if the marketing guys miss this point. then they are done with this stupid execution.

The stunt just makes "guerilla" equal "inconsiderate". My how far we've come only to be back at square one. I still say Turner could have done so much better (or, um, something).

Lewis: I agree with Mario. You nailed it. Knowing you it took you 5 minutes...wish you were in charge of the campaign.

Lori & Mario: It is so sad for the people who were not just inconvenienced but hurt or left to fend for themselves due to this.

David: I'm actually feeling a bit Draconian over this too...and I'm the empowering type. The point is that it was selfish and greedy; when what we all do as a community is to contribute. People just can't understand--unless they've been through it--what ramifications occur as a result of shutting down roads and mass transit systems.

Denny: I hear your points loud and clear both at DF and your blog--and the slap comment was just too funny.

Gianandrea: The purpose of art is to share one's expression with the world; at least art we choose to publicly display. It's one of the most generous acts of mankind...where was the generosity here? I also really appreciated your "13 Monkeys" guerilla marketing campaign you wrote about in the comments at The Fix.

CK - I grew up in Boston and have family and friends in the area. I was speaking with a friend tonight who told me that pipe bombs were found near several of the "things." In addition, it appears the first "thing" found was under a bridge which added to the intensity and confusion of the possibility of a bomb.

Call it "guerilla" but to me this is also a form of word of mouth marketing. Is not creating a buzz for people to talk about w0m? I find it interesting that WOMMA doesn't appear to have taken a stand on this one.

CK, this sounds like a definite inductee for David Meerman Scott's Interruption Marketing Hall of Shame at http://webinknow.com - absolutely wrong!

CK, as I mentioned over at my blog, I was in a cab in Boston watching all of the squad cars frantically scramble and it wasn't the greatest feeling. But aside from that. The problem I have with the tactic was that it wasn't even that creative. I think anbout how H.G. Wells put the nation in a state of panic because his rendition of an alien invasion was so compelling. I guess if your going to disrupt, at least make it worth our time....

I love this marketing and am myself accelerating all my self-promotions and client promotions in a deconstructivist, alarmist, antagonistic, combative, Kill Mediocrity and Stupiditly Campaign.

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