On Wednesday evening, I wrote an agitated post on an ill-conceived Turner Broadcasting marketing effort that turned the city of Boston on its ear. Brief recap: Turner outsourced a promotion its Aqua Teen Hunger Force cartoon to a guerrilla marketing firm in NY, which in turn outsourced some of the work on the ground to local just plain folks (but young, edgy, and hip just plain folks) in the targeted cities. The campaign revolved around a placing iconic LED signs (an abstract cartoon "character" giving the finger) all around town. Someone in Boston spotted one attached to a girder beneath a highway overpass, and we were off to the first responder races.
There has been an exceeding amount of media attention paid to this - especially here in Boston - and all kinds of people weighing in on whether Boston authorities over-reacted, can't take a joke, are just irredeemably unhip, and didn't even notice something that looked like a bomb for the 2 weeks it had been sitting there. And on the other side whether the morons who put something that could be mistaken for a bomb in a place that could be considered a good target for a bomb should spend the rest of their lives in jail.
I'll concede that Boston authorities are unhip which, as far as I'm concerned is actually a good thing when it comes to handling a terrorist threat. When it comes to public safety, who wants someone who's jaded and blasé? I want people who will take it seriously.
But over-react? Now that more information on "the day" is coming out, it appears that there were reports in several other cities of suspicious devices found, so Boston police were on alert. It also seems that two non-related suspicious devices (fake pipe bombs) had been found, one under another Boston bridge, the same day.
And by daylight, something that glowing at night might have been seen as "a joke", looked like a circuit board with exposed wires and batteries. Hmmmmm. Is that a bomb? Nah, it's probably just a joke.
As to the criticism that the sign had been there unnoticed for 2 weeks: untrue. An original set of signs - put out in places where they were seen/cadged by the target audience, places like Urban Outfitters and comic book stores, had been up for a couple of weeks, but the up-the-ante signs placed in infrastructure had been up for a day.
As for the two guys who placed the signs - having been "hired" by a guy one of the met in a bar and paid $300 - I'd like to see the jaded, blasé smirks wiped off their faces, but I don't think they need to go to the Big House.
On to the marketing aspects, Turner may have been right to outsource the marketing for this type of show (edgy, hip) to a guerrilla marketing firm (edgy, hip), but they either did not provide guidelines, did not provide oversight, or just plain didn't want to know what was going on. They get a black eye for looking stupid on this one. And they're out some big bucks (around $1M) to re-imburse Boston and surrounds for their costs.
Cost/benefit? Will a lot more people go see the movie as a result of this effort? Maybe some of the targeted audience who otherwise may have taken a pass on this will put it on their "must see" TV. But as for attracting a wider audience, I can't imagine that anyone outside the demographic of interest is so captivated that they'll get in line. (As one of our news guys said, it'll turn out that the only bomb here is the movie itself.)
The marketing group that comes out looking the worst is Interference (the guerrilla marketing firm behind this campaign). Not only did they use questionable judgement in designing the sign - come on, if you wanted it to look entirely innocent, would you leave exposed wires and batteries on it - not to mention in the placement of the signs (whether done by their ad hoc agents or themselves). But where they've really been caught out is not owning up to the stunt until hours after the "situation" started. In fact, one of the fellows who put the signs up apparently sent friends an e-mail early in the day saying that Interference had asked him to keep his mouth shut about it. Either Interference was panicked and was trying to figure out what to do, or they wanted things to play out as long as possible. Neither is going to do much for the firm's reputation.
But I'm guessing that Interference comes out pretty well in this, given all the publicity they're getting. Maybe they won't get much more work from Turner, but I'm guessing they'll get plenty from those who want to reach the 20-somethings.
So, from Interference's point of view, it's probably mission accomplished.
Unless, of course, "the authorities" go after them for not coming forward, and sitting on information that they had for hours longer than they should have.
Apparently, it wasn't just the Boston police who were running around here the other day. The FBI was involved, too.
When we were kids we used to challenge other kids who were making a big deal out of nothing by asking, "What are you trying to do? Make a federal case out of it?"
A federal case? That's exactly what could happen to Interference.
The guys who placed the signs? A couple of weeks of cultish hero martyrdom and drinks on the house from their peers. No jail time - especially if they turn on Interference (and just how fast would you bet that will happen). Their picture in People. Then a rapid slide back into oblivion.