Showing posts with label Cartoon Network. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cartoon Network. Show all posts

Friday, July 27

Ordering Up Ethics: Flogs, Blogs, And Posers

After reading that 279 U.S. chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers polled in the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey revealed some confusion over ethics, I posted a poll to see if a self-selected group of participants could determine which of eight case scenarios might demonstrate the greatest ethical breach, noting that some were not ethical breaches (but have had some people attach ethical arguments to them).

While the poll was well read, only 22 people participated as of 9 a.m. this morning (before PollDaddy had some challenges). There are several other accounts for low participation, including: ethics cannot really be measured in terms of “greatest;” not everyone was familiar with the various cases; and people are generally confused and/or don’t care about ethics anyway. All valid points.

Fortunately for me, a few people opted in because I promised to make no claims that this is a scientific survey, but rather a discussion opener for today (and an opportunity to try PollDaddy). So here’s our take on eight...

(Poll 23%) John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc., anonymously posted disparaging remarks about Wild Oats, a company that Whole Foods is now hoping to acquire. We considered placing this in a secondary position, until Vera Bass offered the following on BlogCatalog: “… I believe that breach of the more specifically defined duties (especially fiduciary duty) and obligations that are developed and maintained by those who carry more responsibility for others than most people do, is, by this definition, a greater breach.” Clearly, this is an ethical breach; and we’ll be adding something to our case study next week.

(Poll 18%) Julie Roehm accepting gifts from advertising agencies while they were seeking the coveted Wal-Mart account. While there are allegedly other ethical breaches related to this case study, we limited the poll to a single breach because it’s enough. While some argue wooing guests is an industry norm, the truth is Roehm knowingly violated her company’s policy and has been spinning ever since. While the initial action was bad enough, her defense of it continues to damage an increasing number of people.

(Poll 36%) Edelman Public Relations Worldwide published a fake blog (flog) last year for Wal-Mart (there were three actually). What makes this scenario stand out is that it was premeditated by people who knew better. The real irony is that Wal-Mart could have avoided the breach with disclosure. Perhaps more ironic, no matter how you feel about Wal-Mart, it has enough good news not to need fake news. We placed it third, but only because no one seems to have been hurt.

None of the other five are ethical breaches. At least, not to date.

(Poll 14%) While the Cartoon Network bomb scare illustrates a worst case scenario for a guerilla marketing campaign to go wrong and clearly impacted Boston (closing roads, tunnels, and bridges for hours), it is not an ethical breach. While ill-advised and perhaps not well thought out, it really wasn’t about ethics. In truth, Turner Broadcasting Systems acted very quickly and accepted all responsibility. The guerilla marketing firm that oversaw the campaign, on the other hand, was much slower to respond.

The (Poll 0%) Microsoft’s laptop giveaway, (Poll 5%) Nikon camera outreach program, and the (Poll 5%) McDonald’s mommy bloggers have all been questioned and talked about by bloggers. While all of them have the potential for an ethical breach, none of them did (that we are aware). As long as bloggers disclose the gift, loan, etc. and do not allow these items to bias their opinions and/or encourage/obligate them to make false claims, then no ethical breach can occur.

The last scenario, where Jobster sent Jason Davis a cease a desist letter, claiming Davis had violated a non-compete clause for launching a social network called, was not an ethical question. While the method was not prudent, there was no ethical breach. The two have since reached an amicable agreement.

So why do we care about ethics? To take from the preface of the International Association of Business Communicators’ code of ethics, because: “hundreds of thousands of business communicators worldwide engage in activities that affect the lives of millions of people, and because this power carries with it significant social responsibilities.”

However, as mentioned, this responsibility is two-fold. I believe that we must be cautious in applying ethics so broadly as it continuously raises doubt in or damages the reputation of people, regardless of rank or position, who have not breached ethics. As is often the case, asking the wrong questions — “Is it ethical to ask for comments on a client’s blog?” — can create more confusion than clarity.

As the best measure of our ethics, we must not only be honest with others but also, and most importantly, with ourselves. If you are ever in doubt, the simplest ethical self-test is to ask yourself one of two questions ...

“Would I be proud to tell my grandmother?” or (depending on who your grandmother was) “Would I be proud to see a story about what I am doing on the front page of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal?” If you can answer “yes” to either, you’re likely in good shape. Case in point, I think Mackey would have answered "no."


Friday, July 20

Revealing Ethical Realities: PRWeek/MS&L

Some public relations professionals and communicators scratched their heads because I didn't call for the resignation of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. despite the obvious: what he did was wrong. Perhaps part of the answer can be found in the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey.

The survey polled 279 U.S. chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers that are focused on consumer-generated media, integrated marketing, and industry ethics. Although some of the questions were somewhat phrased oddly (they are paraphrased here), some of the results might surprise you.

• Wal-Mart’s non-disclosure of its authorship of a blog was a breach in marketing ethics. 55 percent agreed.
• Julie Roehm’s acceptance of gifts and dinners from future advertising agencies was unethical. 46 percent agreed.
• Turner Broadcasting placing magnetic lights in Boston that resembled bombs was a breach. 41 percent agreed.
• Microsoft acted unethically in providing Windows Vista on laptops to technology bloggers. 32 percent agreed.

Clearly, there seems to be some confusion over ethics. Originally, I was going to write something about this, but then decided it might be fun to run a poll to see what some readers think first. Which of the following do you think constitutes the greatest breach of ethics? You can vote for only one (and some might not be ethical breaches); we'll share our take on it next week (after the poll closes).

Incidentally, the MS&L survey also revealed that 17 percent of senior marketers say their organizations have bought advertising in return for a news story; 7 percent said their organizations have an implicit/non-verbal agreement with a reporter or editor to see favorable coverage; and 5 percent of marketers said their companies had paid or provided a gift of value to an editor or producer in exchange for a news story about their company or its products.

So much for the notion that all journalists are somehow pre-equipped to make the right ethical decisions. As I have said before, ethics begins with the person and not the profession. Bloggers have an equal opportunity to be ethical and to suggest they cannot, as some people do, only indicates their own propensity to have an ethical lapse.


Wednesday, March 28

Wrapping Up Mooninites: TBS

A few days ago, Marianne Paskowski, writing for, covered the Women in Cable & Telecommunications conference in New York, and shared how Shirley Powell, senior vice president of corporate communications at Turner Broadcasting System, was quite open about Cartoon Network's marketing ploy for Adult Swim that went awry, costing the company $2 million.

Although Powell said there is no crisis management playbook that prepares public relations executives on how to deal with this kind of outcome, there really is. Just not the play book people want. They want multiple choice if A = B then C answers when most communication problems are problem-solving exercises.

Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman wrote about the same problem in science, noting that students were very adept at remembering facts but not so good at thinking new problems through. "I discovered a strange phenomenon," he wrote. "I could ask a question, which the students would answer immediately. But the next time I would ask a question—the same subject, and the same question, as far as I could tell—they couldn't answer at all!"

Simply put, Feynman was writing about memorized bullets vs. applied thinking. Communication is like that today, with lots of people trying to write rules and then forcing those rules to every equation. It's crazy of course, but that has pretty much been the approach to most crisis communication problems in recent months with rare exception.

TBS is one exception because it did a fabulous job for its part, while its vendor, Interference Inc., struggled with the viral outdoor marketing campaign crisis. What's the difference? TBS applied thinking. That's what Powell told the conference attendees when she said "You just jump in" and put out the fire.

I wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure most attendees considered that information useless though Powell was mostly right. There is a play book, but there is not a play book. And the probelm with the play book is that most people use it wrong anyway.

Back in February, for example, Sam Ewen, founder of Interference Inc., finally talked to BRANDWEEK about the subject of the unfortunate Boston bomb scare. Here's an excerpt of Ewen wrapped up a bit too tightly in his message:

BW: Were these devices supposed to look like bombs? Was that your intention all along?

SE: It was certainly never our intention to create something that would scare people. I couldn’t comment on whether they looked like bombs or not. It’s not my training or specialty. I know that they were designed to highlight the show’s character.

BW: Was there any concern in the planning stages that it could be taken out of context? Somebody could see this as a scary threat? If so, did you have any kind of backup plan or any idea . . . just in terms of maybe a brainstorming meeting? Do you have to get permits to do that sort of thing or was it all kind of done on the sly?

SE: The signs were never designed to scare people, to get people into a panic state. They were designed for what they were, which was a showcase, the characters, the flight. That’s as much as I can tell you, anyway.

BW might as well as asked if the signs had something to do with the "cow jumping over the moon." Ewen would have answered the same, he is not an expert on farming or planetary bodies, but the signs were not designed to scare people. We're sorry. And that's that.

Let me briefly interject that this is not a dig on Ewen. He had enough drama about this incident as far as I can tell, and Interference Inc. has often produced some pretty good viral marketing ideas before the the Cartoon Network one-upmanship stunt got away from them.

But as a study in post crisis communication choices, it seems someone gave him a formula to always bridge back to a specific message. What they forgot to tell him is that message management is often a framework for communication and not just a few lines you say over and over again. You may as well not do the interview if you are going to do that.

So what's the answer? Same as it always was: recognize the real issues, identify the crisis team, determine potential impacts, prioritize your publics, synchronize the message, designate and prepare spokespeople, determine message distribution, collect feedback, and adjust.

In such a simple, no-nonsense format, just recognize that this isn't a checkbox exercise. You have to have someone who can think it through rather than someone going through the motions. If I have learned anything over the years about crisis communication, it all comes down to understanding that every crisis is different and requires thought before formula.

It's very rare to have two companies handling the same crisis, especially when one did everything right and the other did everything not so right. The bottom line: Turner applied thinking. The guerilla firm did not. And as a bonus, they proved once again that not all publicity is good publicity. Case closed.


Friday, February 9

Resigning For Others: Cartoon Network

Wow! Kudos for Harry R. Weber over at the Associated Press for breaking the news that, yes, indeed, the notion that all publicity is good publicity is dead. At least, that is the way I read it as Jim Samples, head of the Cartoon Network, resigned following a marketing stunt that caused a terrorism scare in Boston and led police to shut down bridges and send in the bomb squad.

According to the Associated Press, the announcement of Samples' resignation came in an internal memo to Cartoon Network staff members. He said that regretted what had happened and felt compelled to step down in recognition of the gravity of the situation that occurred under his watch.

"It's my hope that my decision allows us to put this chapter behind us and get back to our mission of delivering unrivaled original animated entertainment for consumers of all ages," said Samples.

The resignation of Samples also follows the news that "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" demographic remains unchanged in the wake of the bomb scare. The cartoon averaged 386,000 viewers last week; 380,000 viewers a week prior. I suspect Samples may be the first, but not the last person or, perhaps, company to slip from sight over guerilla marketing gone wrong.

“Interference did the slimy Sony Ericsson campaign on the Empire State Building, and now this. But most importantly, the people they hired have zero remorse,” Buzz Marketing CEO and author Mark Hughes told Adotos, seeing it much the same way we did days ago.

Sure, Interference, Inc. apologized, but there comes a time when one wonders whether an apology is enough. You can usually tell by measuring the sincerity of the apology along with any course correction or offer of restitution. Isn't that right, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan? Oh right, we're saving that for Monday.

You two could learn a lot from Samples, who did the right thing, and in his case, it might not even have been necessary. With sincerity, good luck, Mr. Samples.


Tuesday, February 6

Paying For Promotion: Turner Broadcasting

In a continuing tale of two companies that thought they were being bold with guerilla marketing, Turner Broadcasting Systems and Interference Inc. have agreed to pay the city of Boston some $2 million for the advertising campaign that caused a bomb scare.

The campaign, which was originally budgeted in the thousands (with freelancers making a few hundred each), will be forever immortalized as one of the biggest abuses of guerilla marketing in history. For its part, Turner Broadcasting has handled its crisis communication like professionals.

It has released several statements taking full responsibility for the "unconventional marketing tactic" and apologizing for hardships caused to Boston area residents. Other companies would have thought to pass the buck right back at their marketing firm for the stunt, especially after some public outcry that attempts to pin the advertising debacle on Boston.

"We understand now that in today's post-Sept. 11 environment, it was reasonable and appropriate for citizens and law enforcement officials to take any perceived threat posed by our light boards very seriously and to respond as they did," the Turner statement said. Turner Broadcasting has added it will review its policies concerning local marketing efforts to ensure that they are not disruptive or threatening.

In almost complete contrast, Interference Inc. handled it crisis communication like, well, a guerilla marketing firm, going underground when the going got tough — delayed statements, slanted apologies, and no spokespeople (other than wannabe funny men freelancers who are still facing charges that will probably be dropped) offering comment for days while Turner Broadcasting took the heat. While the firm's attorney argues that the company acted with "due diligence" to correct the problems caused, it is unclear how much of the $2 million Interference Inc. will cough up.

Some people are now saying that $2 million looks like a bargain considering "the amount of publicity the Cartoon Network received for its Aqua Teen Hunger Force promotion." Not really. Most news reports last night omitted any mention of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the Cartoon Network, preferring to focus on Turner Broadcasting and Interference, Inc. instead.

I suppose there is some truth to what people are saying though: you can't buy that kind of "bad" publicity. But it's hardly worth the praise Interference Inc. is receiving in some blog quarters, especially because such praise will only encourage other misguided firms to duplicate the stunt. The price tag, $2 million, will only become steeper.

According to others who are less sympathic to Interference Inc., The Boston Globe suggested that Interference Inc. knew about the bomb scare in Boston as early as 1:25 p.m. on Wednesday and emailed the installers, Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky, asking them to keep quiet. Interference, Inc. denies this claim.

But then again, Interference Inc. did not bail the freelancers out of jail. That was handled by friends and relatives. For what it is worth, Interference, Inc. has done some amazing work in the past. The guerilla marketing for Shark Week was a stroke of brilliance without the usual vandalism associated with the company.

All this leaves us with the same question once again. Is all publicity good publicity? Let's add it all up.

• For $2 million plus, the Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force will best remembered, not for its scripts or entertainment value (if you like that sort of thing), for a bomb scare in Boston.

• Turner Broadcasting barely escaped brand damage, but only because it has some good crisis communicators on board. Even so, they will be slow to embrace the next wild idea because one misstep will only cause them to relive this incident.

• Interference Inc. will forever be questioned by its clients, seldom given the opportunity to break away from status quo again, making it irrelevant in the future. And that assumes anyone will want to touch them. One sidewalk stencil on your behalf from these guys and your company will be drawn right back into what might be the biggest bomb scare in marketing history.

Hmmm... it looks like a net loss to me. Somewhat off point, or maybe not, if all publicity is good publicity, it seems much safer and cheaper simply to release a sex tape.

Then again, if any good is to come out of this, it might be that CEOs will finally realize that if your agency is getting more attention than your product, you might start to shop around. Good agencies are all about the products they promote, preferring the product — not the agency — to be the focus of attention.


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. 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.


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.


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