Friday, March 09, 2007

Banned in Boston: Will Marketers Be Licensed?

Well, I'm sure proud and pleased that, in light of two recent marketing campaigns gone awry, the Boston City Council is considering licensing corporate marketers. No details yet: Councillors Stephen Murphy and my namesake Maureen E. Feeney are going to figure out exactly what they're talking about in the next few weeks.

First, for those who haven't heard about the ker-flooey marketing that triggered this over-reaction, in the last month or so guerrilla marketers promoting Aqua Teen Hunger Force feature-length cartoon and a Dr. Pepper treasure hunt ran into problems in the home of the bean and the cod. Not content to put their signs where hip young things would recognize what they were, some hip young marketers acting for the Cartoon Network upped the ante and put the signs (which contained exposed wiring and batteries) underneath an overpass near a train station. The Dr. Pepper folks thought it was a good idea to hide a coin in a 300 year old cemetery and have hundreds of treasure-hunters marauding around ye olde slate gravestones trying to find it. (Prior blogs on these topics are here: Dr. Pepper, Aqua Teen 1, Aqua Teen 2.)

 According to the Boston Globe article by Raj Mishra (March 7):

The proposal's authors said new measures are needed because current fines and regulations do little to deter massive corporations seeking publicity through unconventional marketing campaigns.

"If they broke city laws and ordinances, then their licenses could be suspended," said Murphy, pointing out that a range of professions, from beauticians to doctors, are licensed and regulated by the government.

It will be interesting to see what details get worked out, but it's really hard to believe that an edgy, guerrilla marketing company is going to get themselves licensed and/or meekly seek the City's permission whenver they wanted to do something edgy and guerrilla.  Hard to see either of these scenarios occurring:

Guerrilla Marketer A to Boston Marketing Licensing Authority: Recognizing that your city was the launching pad for two of the 9/11 airplane bombs, and guessing that your city is still a bit skittish, we'd like permission to lodge a sign designed to look a bit like a bomb underneath a highway that runs above a bus station, public transit station, and a commuter train station. We understand that this is probably going to be fine with you, but just wanted your OK.

Guerrilla Marketer B to Boston Marketing Licensing Authority: We'd like to hide a coin that might be worth a million dollars in the cemetery where Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Ben Franklin's parents are buried - and where there are many ancient, fragile, slate head stones. We anticipate that no more than 100-200 people will gather at this pocket-cemetery, and we believe that they will behave in a calm, orderly manner - staying on the cemetery paths and not knocking over any ancient, fragile, slate head stones. Oh, and this will all happen at 3 a.m., so could you please leave the cemetery gates open for us.

Let's face it, the edgier the stunt, the more likely it would be to get rejected.

Guerrilla marketers are far more likely to ask forgiveness than permission. And as long as the major corporation's an arms-length behind these stunts are willing to pay hefty reparations, there doesn't seem much reason to cease and desist now, does there?

I do get why Boston wants to go after those who are tampering with public property, public infrastructure, and public treasures. Unfortunately, most of the "go after" is going to be after the fact. Thoughtful, think-through, sensible marketers are probably not going to engage in these sorts of marketing activities to begin with. The Boston Globe article mentions an example of a local company that did ask about hiding a diamong in the Granary Burial Ground. Not surprisingly, they were turned down.

But this company, E.B. Horn, is an old time, non-guerrilla, Boston-proper company, a jeweler that's been around since 1839, and is right around the corner from the Burial Ground. So they get it - and knew ahead of time that they'd need to ask. (Their hiding place turned out to be under a bench in an MBTA T-station.) 

Back to the City Council hearing (and The Globe):

Marketing officials who spoke at yesterday's hearing said that the industry regulates itself and that most companies would not pull stunts like the two that generated controversy here.

"I don't believe that adding rules, regulations, procedures on top of what exists today will help the problem," said Steven Halling, Boston chapter president for the American Marketing Association.

Well, I'll have to look at the American Marketing Association code of conduct, but I didn't even know that "we" (i.e., marketers) even had rules, regulations, and procedures to begin with. (First, do no harm. Nahh, that's doctors, not marketers.)

Again, I can't see guerrilla marketers following anything as fuddy-duddy, so yesterday, as the best practices of the AMA.

Meanwhile, Maureen Feeney is looking with her jaundiced, politician's eye at our "industry".

I have no expectation that there is going to be self-imposed regulations by this industry," said Feeney, the council's president. "I think they are just going to push to out-do their competitors."

Hey, Moe, just what industry is that you're talking about? The guerrilla marketing industry? The citizens' marketers industry? Where you been, girlfriend?

If Boston thinks they can license marketers the same way they do beauticians and morticians, well, I think they've got a bit more thinking to do.

How about enacting a simple little ordinance that says "anyone considering a marketing campaign that involves the use of public property and/or could impact public safety by causing a large, potentially unruly crowd to gather must receive a permit from City Hall or face some big, fat music in terms of a big, fat fine."

Failing this, Boston could establish a "Drop a Dime" system, in which those who had information on a sketchy guerrilla marketing campaign. After the Aqua Teen incident, didn't some bloggers wrote that the Boston police would have known what the signs were if only they'd been monitoring Aqua Teen or hip young thing related blogs? Just set up your Google Alert for "edgy" "guerrilla" "marketing" "Boston", and you, too, could become an informer.

I'm not that wild about the blogosphere becoming the Stasi-osphere, so I'm hoping that marketers just smarten-up and use their heads, or conscience-up and use their moral compass to determine whether their buzz is more important than the public good.

I'm one marketer who just doesn't think that we need to be licensed to practice our profession.

1 comment:

John Whiteside said...

Talk about a complicated solution for a simpler problem. How about, if you want to put anything on public property, ask first?

It's a pretty simple idea. "Let's leave this on a bridge." "OK, we'd better check with whomever operates that bridge."