Turner Broadcasting Blows Up in Boston

While one of our managing partners, Tim Hurley, has been out in sunny Palm Springs, CA, participating in DEMO 2007 and going to extravagant after parties with H to the O-V Jay Z (more from him on that later today I’m sure), the city of Boston has been crippled, frozen in terror by….LiteBrights.

For the benefit of one of our fearless leaders on the West Coast and those of you outside of the Boston area, let’s back track. Early yesterday morning, a suspicious “object” was found underneath a bridge in Boston. Panic ensued, leading to more phone calls about more suspicious objects found throughout the city. The Boston Police, Jack Bauer and Homeland Security were called in to diffuse and disarm a total of 9 “bombs”. As we found out later in the day, the “bombs” were actually magnetic lights being used as a marketing campaign by Turner Broadcasting as a promotion for their upcoming TV Show turned movie, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”, which was also launched in several major cities including New York, Austin and Seattle.

I’m sure the water cooler debate this morning is to determine if Boston citizens are more vigilant than other major cities, or if Santa didn’t visit their houses enough as children, but I’m going to shoot for the former. In a post 9/11 world, you can’t really blame anyone for calling in a suspicious object. In my high school, we had an evacuation after an automatic flusher broke off and was discovered on the floor by a student. It is easy to see how someone could mistake any type of black box with wires coming out of it to be a bomb. The mess here came in the “snowball effect” as people became more aware of their surroundings thanks to the morning news, the number of objects began to grow and grow, until millions of dollars were sunk into chasing after what were essentially toys. (A big kudos to all police and agents involved with this ordeal, I feel safer in this city than ever before.)

So, marketing disaster? You bet. But the sad thing is, people are going to see this movie in droves now. Before this incident, all I knew about Aqua Teen Hunger Force was that its’ theme song was often quoted on SportsCenter when Manny or Papi hit a bomb over the Monstah- “Makin’ the homies say ho, and the girlies wanna scream”. Now, I, along with most everyone in the region can tell you that the show is about the escapades of various delicious fast food items such as hamburgers, fries and a milkshake (sounds like a masterpiece). I’m sure Turner is sorry, but there really is no such thing as bad publicity, so the company is benefiting from this campaign anyway, as ugly as it has become.

In marketing, especially with guerilla tactics becoming a more mainstream practice, agencies need to proceed with caution. Obviously, in this case, someone missed a step and didn’t look at the entire picture. You can not put black boxes on land marks and bridges just like you can’t say bomb on an airplane (Focker), its just bad business. First and for most, Turner’s marketing department should have thought of the repercussions of what a campaign like this could entail, and, if they did decide to move ahead with it, which they did in this case, the proper authorities should have been notified to carry this thing out legally. I’m assuming by circumventing this last detail, Turner saved a few bucks, and came off as a bit more “legit” to their demographic, but in the end, I’m sure the extra money would have been worth avoiding the mess they’re in now.

It goes without saying that the blame has to fall on someone’s shoulders; however, it’s hard to say who, if anyone, the Boston PD should arrest. Is the starving artist, paid by a huge corporation really to blame? Or is it the huge corporation itself? Or the marketing person behind it all? As Andrew Hampp noted in his AdAge article

“But at least one person found no humor in the outdoor ad campaign gone haywire. U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s telecom panel, said in a statement, “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. Whoever thought this up needs to find another job.”

I am sure jobs will be lost over this, but what is the most important punishment, as Massachusetts taxpayers would tell you, is that Turner foots the bill. This operation must have been ridiculously expensive, and I’m sure everyone in this state would rather not have to pay for it, because they already have, spending an entire day worrying about loved ones on the edge of their seats, glued to their computers and televisions waiting for their sigh of relief.

A lesson learned to all of us in the industry….when it comes to guerrilla marketing, tread lightly, just put something up on YouTube.

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