Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hoax! Bad-Idea Marketing from Turner Broadcasting

I did hear a lot of sirens during the morning, but, hey, it's the city. You hear sirens.

Around noon, I left to work in The Writers' Room of Boston - which is a library-quiet workspace: no phones, no access. Nothing to do but write.

My sister Trish called mid-afternoon. "Where are you?" she asked. "Is everything OK?" She was at work and had heard that "devices" had been found all over Boston. She'd heard that Charles Street, the main street in my neighborhood was closed; so was the Salt and Pepper (Longfellow) Bridge that spans the Charles. One of these devices was found in Sullivan Square in Charlestown. No bombs yet, but the police were still looking.

I told myself, hoax. Kids. Morons. Jerks.

I told myself that my nine-year old niece, Caroline, whose school is maybe a mile from Sullivan Square, would be OK even if a bomb was detonated there. As long as it was a small bomb.

I plotted my path to Charlestown if I needed to go find her, to rescue her. How would I get to Charlestown if the bridges were closed 0r even out, the T not running? I could see if my brother was still at work - although knowing him, he'd have walked on water to get to his daughter. If I found him, maybe the two of us could commandeer a boat. Caroline's uncle is a police officer in a nearby town. Maybe he could be dispatched to get her if we were trapped here while she was trapped there. I was suddenly grateful that Caroline's mother and stepfather had gotten her a cell phone for Christmas, even if I thought she was too darned young.

I called my husband and told him to turn on the news.

Hoax, he told me. They're calling it a hoax.

A while later, he called me back to say that they'd just announced on CNN that all these unmarked "devices" that looked kinda-sorta like bombs - or as we were told, had components consistent with IEDs - were part of an advertising campaign from Turner Broadcasting promoting one of their shows - a cartoon called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," in which the animated characters are fast food items like a ball of ground beef called Meatwad and a box of french fries named Frylock. Boy, with a hook and title like that, this sure sounds like "must watch TV."

Apparently the ads are some form of graffiti advertising. They're lightboards that show a cartoon character giving the finger - ha, ha - but from some angles it looks like a circuit board with batteries, wires, etc. Apparently, they've been in place for about 10 days, but one was reported today by someone who saw this "suspicious device" in a girder on the I-93 underpass in Charlestown.

Marketing campaign? In this day and age to put suspicious, unmarked packages at key points like bridges and overpasses in big cities and not expect first responders to respond first, ask questions later? To put these packages out in the city that was the departure gate for the two planes that flew into the Twin Towers and not expect us to react?

Did Boston over-react?

Take it from someone who lives here, better safe than sorry.

And speaking of sorry, I hope the sorry-assed marketers at Turner Broadcasting who thought up this sorry-assed stunt are feeling just a small twinge of shame about it. (And I hope they're all ready to ante-up to cover whatever costs - just estimated at $750,000 - were incurred by the taxpayers of the City of Boston, of whom I am one.)

Maybe the outcome will be of some good - pointing up flaws in our Homeland Security measures that we can remedy.

But I'm thinking the outcome is mostly all bad: more mistrust, more paranoia, more tension, more what if's, more what's next, more when's next.

Maybe in a couple of days, I'll be laughing about this - and, having read all those articles about what a clever marketing campaign this all was, I'll come to appreciate the sheer marketing genius behind it.

But right about now, I'm not feeling so amused.

Outside my window in the Writers' Room, a cop pulls a cab over. What's that about, I wonder? It's getting dark and I can't see all that clearly from the fifth floor. Does the cab driver look like he's from the Mideast? A lot of cab drivers in Boston are. Mohammed Atta drove a cab here, didn't he? Didn't he?

As I said, right about now, I'm not feeling all that amused.

On my way home, I pass by the Boston Common, where I count 15 police vehicles parked in the Common at the corner of Beacon and Charles. Apparently it's a staging area for "situations." I suppose that this should give be a feel good, but it's not. Not really.

Screw you, Turner Broadcasting Marketing Department. Screw you.

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Later the same evening....

Okay, okay. Now that I've seen the devices the whole thing seems faintly ridiculous. Once you know it's a cartoon character. It still raises the question of judgement about putting these signs on girders underneath bridges and overpasses rather than, say, in public places frequented by young people who would see the signs and get the joke. Places like Newbury Comics. College dining halls. Clubs like the Mideast and TT Bears (if they're still around). Putting them in bomb-sites where someone who wasn't young and hip could see them and think, hey, that looks electronic and bomb-ish, what's it doing there...well. Good idea for garnering publicity among us old fogies who watch news and read newspapers but, attention: Turner Broadcasting - none of us are going to watch this show, anyway.

It's hard for me to believe someone in Turner Broadcasting decided to put those signs where they ended up. My guess, Turner either hired young hipsters on the ground and had them do their thing or the young hipsters found them in the obvious marketing places (Newbury Comics, college dining halls) and decided to move them someplace a little more interesting. More of that fabulous "citizen marketing" we're hearing so much about?

1 comment:

Barrett said...

Also being a resident of the Boston area I was a little on edge yesterday also. Although I am led to believe that this was just a horrible, horrible targeting mistake by Turner. As you stated, older generations are much less likely to watch this type of show. Scratch that, not likely at all. "Bad-Idea Marketing" is exactly right.