Friday, February 2

Killing With No Comment: Interference, Inc.

After several days of offering "no comment" about its part in the Cartoon Network's Boston bomb scare, Interference, Inc. has replaced its entire Web presence with with a single statement.

"We at Interference, Inc. regret that our efforts on behalf of our client contributed to the disruption in Boston yesterday and certainly apologize to anyone who endured any hardship as a result. Nothing undertaken by our firm was in any way intended to cause anxiety, fear or discomfort to anyone. We are working with Turner Broadcasting and appropriate law enforcement and municipal authorities to provide information as requested and take other appropriate actions."

From a crisis communication standpoint, the company might be dead. Dead for what it did not say; dead for what was said.

Sure, right now, there are ample bloggers out there attempting to defend the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force" mooninite character (as if the delinquent animated figures need defending), but for as much as CEO Sam Ewen of Interference, Inc. thought he knew guerilla marketing, he knows nothing about crisis communication to manage the mishandling of Turner Broadcasting's campaign. When bad news happens, the messenger is the message and Ewen is nowhere in sight.

It was different in 2001. Internetnews.com interviewed Ewen back then, with Ryan Naraine asking him questions like "What's the trick to make sure it's appealing and not annoying?"

"If you put the effort into the campaign, it isn't obtrusive at all," said Ewen. "Of course, there is good and bad marketing. The goal is not just to be there but to be there at the right time and in the right place."

Unfortunately for Ewen, some six years later, Boston turned out to be the wrong time and the wrong place, with the mooninite infiltration becoming one of the best examples of bad marketing out there. It caused panic, wasted resources, and sent Turner Broadcasting scrambling to prove it is a responsible company despite the scare (they've been handling it well enough).

Where Interference, Inc. is going wrong today is that it continues to allow Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, the two freelancers arrested, to act as its unofficial spokespeople, one of whom mused that what he really wanted to talk about was "haircuts of the 1970's."

Assistant Attorney General John Grossman, on the other hand, wanted to talk about something else. "It's clear the intent was to get attention by causing fear and unrest that there was a bomb in that location," he said.

You don't have to read between the lines to know that "intent" will mean the difference between a prison sentence and freedom for the two men, and quite possibly some employees at Interference, Inc. Since Interference, Inc. won't talk, its best message yesterday, also spun by Berdovsky, was that "they were up there for three weeks and no one noticed."

In other words, no one noticed. In other words, until Boston became sensitized because of an unrelated bomb scare, the marketing was nothing more than a waste of money. Of course, that pales in comparison to the money that will be wasted by Turner Broadcasting to make things right. I suspect Interference, Inc. will be footing some of the bill too.

To me, the real crime here is that Turner Broadcasting was sold a bad bill of goods when a much more effective campaign could have been created. Sure, the company didn't have to buy into the idea (so it too is the master of its own destiny), but nonetheless, Interference, Inc. abused what would have otherwise been a worthwhile tactic.

Getting back to what people like Seth Godin and Jay Levinson wrote about ten years ago, the real idea behind guerilla marketing was "helping small businesses break out of the helpless rut of leaving advertising to the big guys."

Today, it hass turned into something else. Big companies now employ it because they're getting a lower rate of return on traditional advertising dollars. (Hey, maybe it's the ad message and not the method. You think?) But in this case, I can think of dozens of things that might have worked just as well without the panic factor.

Considering it owns the network and controls the promotion time, Cartoon Network could have launched its mooninite invasion campaign on television, reinforced with direct mail (miniature mooninites, maybe, assuming they didn't tick), Internet marketing pop up banners, and a few cool billboards with big ones from the mother ship or whatever they use to get around. Sure, I'm only playing at a 5-second solution and not developing a real campaign here, but at least it doesn't terrify when it isn't being ignored. At least it's a sliver of thinking instead of hype, pomp, and ineffectiveness.

Not thinking, you see, is what will likely kill the Interference, Inc. folks even more than Boston authorities want to. They didn't think when they launched the otherwise forgettable campaign. They didn't think when they offered no comment. They didn't think when they took their site down and replaced it with a generic apology to no one from no one. And they certainly aren't thinking by allowing a freelancer—a wannabe comic—to be their primary spokesperson.

Oh well. There is a lot of that going on in the communication business lately. Lots of ideas; not much thinking. I call it communication suicide by "blank." For Interference, Inc. the "blank" is no comment.

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3 comments:

Rich on 2/2/07, 1:34 PM said...

Famous Last Visuals:

Here's a link to the infamous mooninite invasion being installed in Boston on YouTube

Rich on 2/2/07, 2:57 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

"So if you could just give us some privacy for a little bit. ..." — Peter Berdovsky, deciding that the public is being too intrusive about his intrusiveness in public.

Rich on 2/5/07, 8:06 AM said...

Interference, Inc. Web update:

Interference, Inc. reposted its Web site, but you have to click on their apology to enter. Or, wait a few seconds; it will automatically revert to its home page.

There, you'll find much tamer case studies and, in some cases, better results than those realized by Cartoon Network.

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