Friday, February 23, 2007

Dr. Pepper Guerrilla Marketing Gone Awry - And In Boston, No Less

Well, Boston is not just the home of the recent uproar over the Aqua Teen Hunger Force "bomb scare," we're now the site of a controversy over a Dr. Pepper promotion. According to an article by Raj Mishra and John Ellement in today's Boston Globe,   treasure hunters hoping to win $1 million dollar prize stormed the gates of a 347 year old cemetery in downtown Boston looking for a coin that all clues suggested was hidden there. When no one showed up to open the cemetery, anxious treasure seekers -  who had begun gathering at the cemetery at 3 a.m. when the clue was released - called City Hall and demanded entrance. That's when the city found out about the promotion - and decided to keep the Old Granary Burial Ground locked.

Those who thought the coin hunt was in the cemetery were right.

Cadbury Schweppes canceled the Boston portion of the 23-city coin hunt promotion yesterday after acknowledging it had stashed the coin, in a leather pouch, amid the remains of Samuel Adams , John Hancock , Paul Revere , and other historic figures.

"The coin is inside the park," Cadbury Schweppes spokesman Greg Artkop told the Globe. "We agree with the Park Department's decision to lock the gates. We wouldn't do anything to desecrate this cemetery."

And, as it turns out, the Boston coin was worth only $10,000 - the $1 million coin was in Houston. The Boston coin has, meanwhile, gone missing, so Cadbury will randomly draw a Boston winner from among those registered as contest participants on their web site.

As with the Aqua Teen campaign, Dr. Pepper's parent, Cadbury Schweppes had farmed out the on-the-ground marketing to smaller firms which made the decisions on where to place the clues. As with the Aqua Teen campaign, this one pushed the edge of the envelope a bit to far. (For those who've already forgotten Aqua Teen, guerrilla marketers placed electronic signs with dangling wires and batteries beneath an overpass above a transit station. While the signs - aimed at the young hipsters who watch this cartoon - had been around the city for weeks in places young hipsters frequent, the guerrilla marketers had decided to step things up and put the signs in slightly edgier places. Someone called the bomb squad and Boston was in the midst of a million dollar terror alert.)

It's interesting that both the Cadbury spokesman ("The coin is inside the park") and the spokesman for the marketing company said ("We had no intention of creating any problems within the park") referred to a cemetery as a park. That's a dandy little euphemism. (The Cadbury  spokesman did also say, "We wouldn't do anything to desecrate this cemetery.")

Well, here's some news: a cemetery is not a park. It's a place where dead people get buried. In this case, it's a 347 year old place where a lot of famous dead people got buried. It's a beautiful old cemetery with some large granite monuments and many fragile old slate markers. I can only imagine the damage that dozens of people, hoping to win $1 million (since they didn't know that the Boston coin was worth a piddling $10K), could have done rampaging around - especially if, when they couldn't find the coin in plain site, they'd started digging. ("Oh, crap, I was hoping to win a million bucks and all I got was Paul Revere's ulna. Wait, maybe it's worth something on eBay.") And digging aside, this is not a location that could handle a large group of people pushing and shoving and racing around to find "it". The cemetery is small, fenced in, and, as I said, contains many very old, very fragile, very historic grave markers.

Edgy marketing is one thing, this is quite another. Come on, hide the coin where no one would mind if you did a bit of looking around, maybe even a bit of digging. But a cemetery? This is one idea I'm dead set against.

It's not as if I'm going to boycott Dr. Pepper, which is one soda I would only consider drinking if I were on my hands and knees crawling through the Sahara Desert searching for an oasis. (To me, Dr. Pepper is second only to Moxie, a local New England drink that tastes to me like a combination of boiled tire and tobacco juice.) But I'd like to see these guerrilla marketing companies do a little "what if" analysis when they come up with their brilliant ideas.

In this case, "what if" someone on the hunt destroyed something irreplaceable? "What if" people started digging? "What if" some old crank thinks it's a bad idea to desecrate a cemetery in general, and an historic cemetery where  Sam Adams (the man, not the beer), Paul Revere (the man, not the bowl), John Hancock (the man, not the signature), and the parents of Benjamin Franklin (the man, not the Mint), are buried.

I'm sure that, as with the Aqua Teen brouhaha, this will be all over the hip blogosphere as yet another example of how Boston can't take a joke.

Well, I can take a joke, and here's one of my favorite ones.

"Why do they put gates around cemeteries?"

"Because people are dying to get in."

In this case, people were dying to get in to find a prize in a soft drink company contest. That's not quite the same price of admission.


John Whiteside said...

The prize is in Houston? I hadn't even heard of this. So much for buzz.

I never understood Dr. Pepper when I lived up north - I never saw anyone drink the stuff. Then I moved to Texas, where it's amazingly popular. Um, whatever.

It makes the location of the big prize less surprising, though.

Mary Schmidt said...

I like Dr. Pepper (I think it's a Southern thang - maybe more specifically, a Southern White Trash thang.)

It's amazing what the pursuit of the almight dollar (or dollars) does to people - on both sides of a transaction.

We Americans really do take it to the limit and beyond, don't we? Remember when a group wanted to start a Civil War theme park, complete with rides, amid some of the battlegrounds? Was there going to be "Avoid the flying Minnie ball and win a prize" ride? Or, about "You're there with our great virtual reality game! Hack off limbs of maimed soldiers. The first "doctor" who builds a pile 6 ft. high wins!")

Suffice to say, I'm with you, Maureen. This was incredibly stupid. Even if you don't care about tramping all over our Founding Fathers, the cemetary is still a piece of (fragile) history and should be treated with some modicum of respect.

Maureen Rogers said...

Mary and John - I do think that Dr. Pepper is far more popular in the south than in New England, but there are some fans here. My brother-in-law grew up in California and he loves it, as does my 10 year old Boston-native niece (who acquired the taste from her dad).

And, Mary, thanks for the reminder of the civil War theme park - another exercise in bad taste.

Meanwhile, I just heard that they found the hidden coin under the slab at the entrance to a 200 year old crypt.How wonderful if that had been destroyed!