Viral Marketing...not: Boston Bomb Scare
Placing electronic devices with magnetic lights under bridges and overpasses is probably not the brightest marketing move, wouldn't you say? Well, apparently the Turner Broadcasting Network (Time Warner) thought differently. They did just that as a national promotion for one of their Cartoon Network adult cartoons.
As a friend emailed me this afternoon, if they gave a Darwin Award for marketing, these guys would get it.
What WERE they thinking? Ooops. I guess they weren't.
At least nine different suspicious packages placed throughout Boston, including the first one that was detonated near I-93 this morning, caused the shutdown of the city's major roadways and subway lines. Emergency responders, bomb squad, police, you name it, were called to respond to this potential disaster. Only to learn that it was a network stunt....
Apparently, similar devices have been placed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas, and they've been there for about three weeks. I'm not going to get into why they haven't been discovered before today, but I am at a loss to explain why the TV network thought this was a good idea.
We have to take our shoes off to go through airport metal detectors and can't bring water from home on the plane. And they thought it was a good idea to put suspicious looking boxes near bridges, waterways, overpasses and medical centers?
I would not be surprised if the State of Massachusetts sued to recover costs. Not to mention possible criminal charges. From Governor Deval Patrick's statement:
"I am deeply dismayed to learn that many of the devices are a part of a marketing campaign by Turner Broadcasting. This stunt has caused considerable disruption and anxiety in our community. I understand that Turner Broadcasting has purported to apologize for this. I intend nonetheless to consult with the attorney general and other advisors about what recourse we may have."
Folks, this isn't viral marketing. It is just sick.
Coverage: MarketWatch, Reuters
UPDATE Feb 1, 10:15pm: Lots of commentary on this subject today. I thought about doing another post but decided to just tack it on here. Check out John Cass, KD Paine and Todd Defren for further local perspective.
From this article (thanks Katie), apparently Interference, the agency who planned the campaign, was aware of the situation by the early afternoon, yet Turner did not contact the authorities until 4:30pm. That's a big window of time and angst for the residents of Boston. Article also answers the question about why it took so long for someone to spot these "devices." Apparently the one that set the police response off -- underneath Interstate 93 in Sullivan Square in Charlestown -- wasn't placed until overnight Monday, which is only a day in place before being reported, not 2-3 weeks.
There is now an apology on the Interference Web site; no idea when it went up. Too little too late?
More to come on this very interesting viral marketing story.
Update February 2, 8:10pm - Article in this morning's Globe indicates that in 6 of the 9 other cities, the devices weren't in transportation "danger zones." And even with the list of where the things should be, the authorities can't find most of them, unless they look on eBay I suppose.
I also want to make a general comment to the folks who are making fun of the Boston reaction as over the top. It is very important to not confuse the issues. Just because Mayor Menino has a tendency to chew scenery and over-react, does NOT make the actions of the marketers behind this mess any less irresponsible. Or the response of the law enforcement officials wrong. They did what they are supposed to do. Just because one device was harmless does not make the next one harmless. Until you know where they are from, everything is suspicious. Harmless looking things can be dangerous. Terrorists have been putting bombs in dolls and balls longer than I can remember.
More reaction: David Parmet, the Net Savvy Executive
Tags: Boston bomb scare, viral marketing, Time Warner, Turner Broadcasting Network, Cartoon Network
Posted @ 9:01PM in Viral Marketing
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from Pivotal Relations Blog
Yesterdays City wide bomb scare in Boston has been uncovered as a hastily planned guerilla marketing campaign to promote Carton Networks television series, Aqua TTeen Hunger Force. Granted the repercussions of this marketing... [Read More]
I felt the same way you did until I saw the photos of the lit devices. It's actually a pretty nice project and it's unfortunate that the current level of paranoia makes such things unworkable.
Thanks for reading my blog and commenting.
Unfortunately, we *are* in this state of general fear and paranoia. No law enforcement officer in the US wants to be the one to make a 9-11 class mistake by not responding to a potential threat. The folks behind this marketing campaign should have known better. Bridges? Overpasses? Really. Especially in Boston, which has all sorts of egress issues, being a harbor and all, not to mention being the origin of two of the 9-11 flights. I can only imagine how the authorities must have felt when more and more of the devices surfaced.
Why didn’t they contact the authorities before they did the campaign? They should have, so it is either that they were stupid and didn’t think of it, or they did, but decided not to because they thought they might get shot down. Well, sometimes act first and apologize after isn’t the best course.
Either way, not the best marketing move I’ve read about this year. Which is why I didn’t mention the name of the show in the post. No link love from me on this one.
I hear what you're saying and agree that it is a problematic marketing campaign, especially if the marketers go to jail (at least one person's been arrested already).
I have to admit I responded more out of my concern for the fact that folks are still getting hysterical about harmless things yet we seem more vulnerable than ever to real threats.
Not a good hook for a cartoon, I guess!
Everything about this story bugs me. I hate it that we're so paranoid, but Susan, you're right, we are, particularly in Boston.
I hate the idea that more than half a million of tax-payer dollars were wasted yesterday. I hate it that thousands of people were inconvienced and unnecessarily frightened. But most of all, I hate it that when you measure the ROI of all this, the agency will no doubt calculate all the eyeballs it reached with the brand name, and never calculate the long term damage to Turner's reputation. But that's the measurement wonk in me coming out. :)
Re: the ROI on the campaign, I suspect that is why they are charging the two men, and why the city and state will likely seek damages from Turner Broadcasting. Consequences.
There’s an article in this morning’s Globe about the generation gap in the whole mess. Apparently quite a few younger folks recognized the characters. But that doesn’t excuse the network and the agency for not obtaining permission to install the devices – an omission that was either ignorant or intentional, and we’ll probably never know which.
A big part of the problem is that we don't know what is "harmless" any more. Paranoia? Much of the time, yes, but the cliche is still true: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they are NOT out to get you.
Paranoia aside - this would have be terribly stupid and irresponsible even prior to 9/11. First responders have to treat all such things as real - and it's a waste of their time (and taxpaper dollars) to have deal towith such tricks by cretins. And, what if - while they were dealing with the "stunt" - a real bomb had been placed elsewhere?
The agency and Time Warner should be be brought up on criminal charges and fined for the costs. If one of us lowly citizens did this - they'd throw us under the jail (and should.)
Susan you are right. I don't think the ethics codes cover this issue for WOMMA or the AMA. Just a simple telephone call could have averted a lot of confusion in the last few days.
That overnight timing does make a difference. It would also be interesting to learn where each of the first signs were put and the second set.
This marketing campaign was an innovative idea, but I think it went terribly wrong in the execution phase. I'd like to know more about the "packages" because I'm not sure I really get it. I mean, was the whole purpose for these devices to look like bombs? And if not, what was a person to DO with one if he was brave enough to go pick up this strange device in the middle of the city? I think the idea of having treasure hunt-type marketing campaigns is a good way to get your customers and audience involved, but as far as I can tell, no one had any idea this was going on. And in addition to this crazy stunt, the two guys who put the light-up devices out for Time Warner are absolutely ridiculous. The impromptu press conference, which was picked up by all the major news stations, should have embarrassed everyone at Time Warner. Yes, the campaign was a stunt, but it caused a whole lot of fear and worry all over the country. During the press conference these guys decided they wanted to talk about "70's haircuts" instead of the issue at hand! What IS that? Where exactly was Time Warner's damage control team? This campaign definitely flopped with me, and I think the citizens of Boston would say the same thing.
Susan, I think there were differences between the situation in Boston and other cities. The timing, the signs went up in two phases, and it was the second phase that produced the 911 calls. The placement of the signs, and coincidentally there were other suspicious reports at the same time. Including two pipe bombs that were found at a hospital.
I am also not sure about this generation argument, I found a posts from 20 year olds who did not think the stunt was a good idea.