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February 01, 2007

When it all blows up in your face.

Athf I am of two minds this morning on the whole Boston/Cartoon Network fiasco which you've already read about here, here and here or maybe you saw it as the lead story on the Today Show and nearly every other major news outlet this morning.

My first mind says that this tactic should never have seen the light of day. Part of our job is to be culturally aware. We're the ones who are supposed to know what everyday people are thinking and feeling. The country, as a whole, is jumpy as hell about terrorism. 24 has built its new season around nukes going off in L.A. Entertainment reflects culture. The country is living with some fear. Read any consumer study and it'll confirm it. So, right now, placing plastic stuff with batteries and wires under bridges and in public places is just a dumb thing to do. Even if it just looks like a big Lite Brite. Every political leader, every canned airport voice and even other ad campaigns tell us to be aware and report anything suspicious. And the cops have no choice but to respond to a possible bomb on a major commuter route. Responsible people within the approval chain should have had some light bulbs go off in their heads.  Packages of any sort left under bridges, on Subways or buses, are just begging to misinterpreted no matter how well art directed they are.

That said, my second mind feels awful for all the creative people involved. Dumb idea or not, I know all they wanted to do was provide a little theatre for bored rat-racers. And, as many commenter's on other blogs have noted, the target audience sure didn't run screaming from it. In fact, the target seems to be rallying for the advertiser. Some say there's no such thing as bad press. I don't believe that. One guy is in jail. The agency yanked its Web site down. No one is sitting around with big smiles are their faces. Least of all Ted Turner. We've all had lapses in judgment. Most times though, those don't end up the talk of the country. It has got to be a real nightmare for those involved.

Still, there are consequences to our actions, and the consequences here have a ripple effect on you and me.  Everyone in the industry get whacked with the same bat when something like this goes down. "Look at them! How far will they go to push their brain-washing techniques on us!" If governors or mayors are talking about a campaign that doesn't have something to do with tourism you know someone has really stepped in it. That's where we stand today.

Update: Looks like I'm wrong about the nightmare part for those involved. These guys don't seem to be concerned at all.


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I don't disagree with much of what JJ posted. However, I do want to bring up the fact that -- at least so far -- Boston is the only city who blew a tube over this. Cities that didn't: New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Atlanta; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; San Francisco; and Philadelphia. Additionally, the boxes have been in place at least two weeks, but Boston officials perceived them to be potential bomb threats now?

You're right. But that's what I'm getting at when I say this was a tactic begging to be misinterpreted. A zillion people could think nothing of it. One subway worker sees it, worries about it and calls it in. That's all it takes. Sounds like podcast material, Tugger.

This is another mind-boggler for me. What aren't they including in the news reports? If you see a light-bright stuck to a telephone poll with a character giving you the finger, do you really instantly think bomb?

If a terrorist were going to plant a bomb on a bridge, would they go to the trouble of drawing attention to it with a message that said, "Screw you capitalist pigs"? It would seem that they might try to hide them.

What's happening in this country?

I think the question is what does it look like from a distance during the day to a person who isn't in the know? I've read conflicting stuff. Some reports say during the day it just looks like black plastic. No character. Isn't it begging to be misinterpreted? Particularly when the country is, as a whole, feeling fearful? That said, I do hear your plea for common sense. I think that's where a lot of people are landing on this.

I think what the "package" looked like is irrelevant. Someone calls the police and reports something suspicious attached to a bridge, the police follow a predetermined procedure. If a bomb can look like a shoe, a bomb can look like Ignignokt giving you the finger.

I'm more interested in the blowback. Everyone hears a lot about "guerilla" these days, but nothing I've ever done really qualifies... which is to say that even when the ad LOOKS like graffiti, the space is still paid for, or at least green-lighted by some sort of authority. Paid media, earned media, STOLEN media?

Now, I think the mere mention of "gurilla" is going to make clients nervous. Sure, this kind of stuff works. But where are the boundaries? As an industry, we need to have an answer to that question. Right now.

I fear the fallout. John, you alluded to it in the post. It's not always easy to convince CMO's that guerilla tactics can work. Now it may be even more of an uphill climb.

And I though Office Depot's hand in a box campaign was a real bomb.

Hehehe you guys leave comments while I get to pull John aside and tie him up in heated discussion for twenty minutes. Sometimes it's good to work with the man (just kidding, JJ, you know I love you).

What haven't I said at SHS's kitchen already? Oh yeah -- I like the commenter at AdRants that said this could be where the anti-terrorism freakout jumps the shark. Or it could also be where guerilla marketing does the same. I hope (for my job's and our daily life's sake) that it's the former.

I do wish I was a fly on the wall at Interference today (why don't the people whose blog you really want to read ever have a blog?). And tomorrow -- when they go into their next pitch saying "we're the people who got millions in free media for Turner" while the clients say "you're the people who shut Boston down."

In this heightened state of awareness people even get stopped for videotaping public buildings, when they might only be tourists. This doesn't surprise me.

I think Boston/NYC/DC are just more on edge than most places. 9/11 doesn't resonate as strongly for some the farther you get away from the East coast.

They've had the 'It's not a question of if, rather when terrorists will strike us" mantra drilled into their heads by Faux News for so long that many are on edge expecting it to happen.

My agency was set to use graffitti as part of a campaign, but talked ourselves out of it the day before the launch over concerns of how the city of Dallas would react.
So you have to be careful, but I believe a good idea is worth the risk. I still think these LEDs were worth it, even though the results got out of hand.

In your original body copy, you wrote"...left under bridges, on Subways or buses." Is this because you think some people hate Jared?

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about.

Bostonians should feel safe and secure that their PD's anti-terror tactics went into effect without a hitch. Turner gets unexpected eyes on what, for two weeks, had been a decidedly under-the-radar campaign (though it probably successfully hit home with its target demo).

Unintended consequences? Sure. A "hoax?" Criminal negligence? I don't see it. I think the city gov't is embarassed and is lashing out in anger.

Did they arrest Orson Wells after his Halloween War of the Worlds broadcast? For that matter, if it had been a foiled terrorist plot, would true criminals be forced to pay for the tactical response?

I say look at it as a successful test of a system many people have been naysaying since 9-11. And let's be thankful this wasn't the real thing.

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