Guerrilla marketing gone wrong — That’ll learn ya!

cartoon.jpgA handful of students asked for my take on the guerrilla marketing (GM) campaign that caused such a stir in Boston this past week. It’s Friday afternoon and time I joined the discussion.

What were the creative folks at Interference, Inc., thinking when they conceived the idea to hang flashing Mooninites in nine U.S. cities?

That’s easy. They were thinking of ways to help their client, Turner Broadcasting, break through the clutter. To create buzz. To get you and me to tune in and watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

We all know how tough it is to reach an under-30 demographic through MSM. Ads in the local paper don’t work, nor does news coverage. So we seek other avenues — avenues like GM.

GM has earned plenty of fans since Levinson coined the term back in ‘83. It’s also earned plenty of critics. Let’s not forget that GM is named for a strategy of warfare in which attackers hide behind trees and rocks, only to spring out unexpectedly and kill their enemies. Sort of uncivil, you know?

Did Turner Broadcasting step over the line in this campaign? You bet. But the guerrilla marketer steps over that line every time he leaves the shop. It comes with the territory. If his campaign doesn’t shock your senses, if it doesn’t intrude on your private space, it’s considered a failure.

If the campaign garners MSM coverage along the way, so much the better. That just adds to the buzz, and to the campaign’s value.

From a strictly bottom-line perspective, Turner’s campaign was successful. It triggered millions in publicity for the Cartoon Network, and that likely will translate to blockbuster numbers for the show. All that without one dime of paid media. Impressive.

So where was Mr. Ethics in all this? You know, the guy who asks the tough questions, like: “What gives you the right to litter public spaces with your advertising “art”? Who empowered you to hang a dangerous distraction on public bridges and highways? Who’s responsible if our cute flashing gizmos cause an accident — or worse?

Surely the folks at Turner considered potential consequences, didn’t they?

Out of this case comes a lesson that will change the way GMers do business. Since GM is designed to take us by surprise — to intrude on our lives when we least expect it — those who use it have a responsibility. In addition to forecasting what could go wrong, the GMers need to show more respect for public venues and for my private space.

Turner has already agreed to pony up $1 million for the inconvenience its campaign caused the city of Boston. But the costs will rise as various plaintiffs set their sights on Turner’s deep pockets and vulnerable position in this case.

As the good old boys back home used to say in these situations, “That’ll learn ya!”

Some afterthoughts that don’t fit the post

  • Not everyone in Boston was freaked out by the Mooninite scare. Lots of younger folks don’t get the panic. Others found the campaign downright brilliant.
  • Don’t you wish you’d snagged one of those signs for your very own? At this writing they’re going for $255 on eBay.

6 Responses to Guerrilla marketing gone wrong — That’ll learn ya!

  1. Stacy says:

    Nice take! I was wondering what you and my advertising professor would think about this “hoax.” Do you think that it is right that the two men in charge of that promotion be legally held accountable for? Just wondering what you think. WIll you be adressing this in class this week?

  2. I don’t think anyone should face charges here, Stacy, though I believe Turner should be responsible for all the damage this little stunt caused. And that isn’t just the costs incurred by the city, but any private losses as well. Sending a couple of sign hangers to jail serves no purpose. Holding a major corporation accountable for its actions does.

  3. Brian Wooley says:

    If we’re going to dole out responsibility/blame for this stunt, let us not forget to include the folks who brought us the Orange Alert and rescued us from the Seas of David. There’s a reason that people are so paranoid that they think a Lite Brite is a bomb.

  4. Rubber City says:

    I agree, this attempt at effective PR failed. It’s definitely an instance where the event was so huge, it dwarfed the product. I have spoken to others about the incident. They know what happened and that it was a hoax, and that was about it. Nobody could tell me what the perpetrators were trying to sell.

  5. Good point, RC. A number of folks have told me that they can’t recall who or what was behind the Boston mess. Even I have trouble remembering the name of the show. Wasn’t it the Hungry Teenage Mutant Ninja Swimmers?

    We’ll see what happens. I read that the Cartoon Net’s webpage visits jumped more than 20%. If viewship does anything close to that, it could translate into ad rate increases and real bottom-line results. I’m gonna watch, since P.T. Barnum would want me to. And I’ll bet the TV critics write about it in the MSM. All of a sudden, it’s newsworthy.

    Of course, we’re not addressing the ethical issue, are we? But what fun is that?

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