Thursday, February 1

Creating Panic In Boston: Cartoon Network

The Cartoon Network learned the hard way yesterday that guerilla marketing is fine unless it looks like guerilla warfare. That was the outcome of its marketing campaign as federal, state and local police swarmed around Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge as reports poured in of suspicious devices, closing roads, tunnels and bridges for hours.

In total, 38 battery-operated ads featuring a character called a mooninite flipping the bird for an upcoming TV show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force" were located, turned off, and detonated in some cases. At least 10 caused bomb scares.

“It’s outrageous, reckless and totally irresponsible,” Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty said, after demanding Turner Broadcasting, the owner of Cartoon Network, reimburse the city of Boston for costs associated with public safety. “What a waste of resources.”

Turner Broadcasting was quick to respond with regret that the devices were mistakenly thought to pose any danger. It also said, in a statement, that the devices have been placed in 10 cities for two to three weeks in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Turner is working with local and federal law enforcement in each city to ensure the devices are removed.

The marketing company responsible for the campaign, Interference Inc., said it would need until Thursday before it could issue a comment. Thursday?

Its Website, which bills it as a nationwide guerilla and alternative marketing agency from "idiation" through tactile implementation and staffing, was down this morning.

Unless I'm mistaken, back in 1999 Interference, Inc. was responsible for The Mining Company's name change to, placing the name on park benches, at train stops, and spray painting it on sidewalks. Most communities consider the company's stunts vandalism, but Sam Ewen always felt that the neat thing about his version of guerilla marketing is that the media can buy into it and the campaign becomes the story. Ah yes, crazy publicity stunts. Har, har. Mission accomplished... sort of.

This time, with the whole world watching, two team members were arrested: Peter Berdovsky, 27, of Arlington, and Sean Stevens, 28, of Charlestown, one on a felony charge of placing a hoax device and one charge of disorderly conduct, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with guerilla marketing and publicity stunts, except maybe that guerilla marketing stunts become passe after awhile, leaving agencies to seek ever more creative, intrusive, and destructive means to get their non-messages out.

Non-messages? Yep. Publicity stunts are generally reserved for those who have no message, kind of like “Aqua Teen Hunger Force," another Cartoon Network show that continues to glamorize delinquent behavior and target 8-year-old kids under the guise of cartoons made for adults. The risk is always the same. The more extreme the stunt, the greater the risk that your message will drive up negative impressions.

This time, it seems, Interference Inc., Cartoon Network, and Turner Broadcasting have hit the jackpot in brand damage. Even Gov. Deval Patrick summed: "It's a hoax, and it's not funny." To which, all I can think to add is that "it's a living case study in guerilla marketing gone wrong."

I'm waiting to hear what Interference Inc. has to say beyond the obvious. The obvious being: for all our crazy antics, we have no idea how to do crisis communication. We need at least 24 to 48 hours to craft a statement, which seems to be much longer than it took to put the devices up in the first place.



Rich on 2/1/07, 10:19 AM said...

Famous Last Words:

"I find it kind of ridiculous that they're making these statements on TV that we must not be safe from terrorism, because they were up there for three weeks and no one noticed. It's pretty commonsensical to look at them and say this is a piece of art and installation," said Peter Berdovsky, arrested freelancer, not recognizing that Boston recently had another bomb scare just a few days prior, which is why the art, er, gimmick, wasn't appreciated.

Rich on 2/1/07, 11:12 AM said...

Famous 'No' Words:

Gotham-based Interference Inc. did not return calls. Nor did CEO Sam Ewen. — Forbes, today.

Gee, I thought these guys thrived on media attention? Why aren't they defending their freelancers? More tomorrow ... death by no comment.


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