When A Good Ad Campaign Goes Bad - Really Bad
WITH UPDATED MATERIAL - At Bottom of posting
It is strange, in this day and age (post 9/11/2001), that any effort that uses the public square and other public property “commons” area does not factor in the calculation for acts of terror and/or the perceived value that the act may look like one.
Excerpted from the Associated Press –
Boston officials livid over ad stunt
By KEN MAGUIRE, Associated Press Writer - 01 February, 2007
BOSTON - A quirky publicity campaign for a late-night cartoon show generated far more attention than was intended when a slew of blinking electronic signs prompted fears of terrorism and the deployment of bomb squads.
The 1-foot tall signs adorning bridges and other high-profile spots had hanging wires and batteries. Most depicted a boxy, cartoon character giving passersby the finger - a more obvious sight when darkness fell.
They arrested two men who put up the electronic promotions and vowed to hold Turner accountable for what Mayor Thomas Menino said was "corporate greed," that led to at least $500,000 in police costs.
Turner said the devices have been in place for two to three weeks in 10 cities: Boston; New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Atlanta; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; San Francisco; and Philadelphia. As soon as the company realized the Boston problem, it said, law enforcement officials were told of their locations in all 10 cities.
"Aqua Teen Hunger Force" is a cartoon with a cultish following that airs as part of the Adult Swim late-night block of programs for adults on the Cartoon Network. A feature length film based on the show is slated for release March 23.
The cartoon also includes two trouble-making, 1980s-graphic-like characters called "mooninites," named Ignignokt and Err - who were pictured on the suspicious devices. They are known for making the obscene hand gesture depicted on the devices.
This video screen grab shows Massachucetts State Police disabling an “Ignignokt” LED light box that was part of the 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' cartoon publicity campaign posted around Boston Jan. 31, 2006. The campaign caused a security scare. Image Credit: Screen grab from CBS 4 Boston
The black light boxes, at first glance, look like a potential bomb. Obviously, these devices were mounted on government/public property without notice or the apparent necessary approvals through the appropriate agencies.
About the only positive result for Turner Broadcasting, a division of Time Warner Inc. and parent of Cartoon Network, is that people are talking about the stunt.
Some say bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, but I am willing to guess that some executive at The Cartoon Network is sketching himself an “out” (a trap door, maybe?) right about now!
Boston area police bomb squad member dismantling “Ignignokt” LED light box from street sign structure. Image Credit: Reuters
This from the Telegraph Media Group Limited (UK) -
Cartoon ad campaign ignites bomb scare
By Tim Hall - Last Updated: 10:55am GMT 01/02/2007
A terrorist scare that caused roads, bridges and part of a river to be closed off was sparked by an advertising campaign for a cartoon, it was revealed today.
Police received multiple reports of suspect packages in and around the city of Boston. One of the objects, which authorities said looked like circuit boards with wires hanging out, was found in a subway station. Police closed the station and the road above before blowing up the object during the day-long scare.
Another of the packages was seen on a bridge above Charles River, prompting the police to shut the bridge and a stretch of the river, causing huge traffic tailbacks.
Today, US TV channel, the Cartoon Network, said it was responsible for the packages. The boxes, complete with magnetic, blinking lights were part of a promotion for show Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
Turner Broadcasting, the Cartoon Network’s parent company, said: “The packages in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger. “We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger.”
Turner said they had been in place for two to three weeks in 10 US cities: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Philadelphia
Before the company made its statement, officials questioned if the boxes were designed to look like fake explosive devices to increase publicity. “It’s a hoax - and it’s not funny,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force, shown late at night, follows the misadventures of a carton of talking french fries (Frylock), a milkshake (Master Shake) and a meatball (Meatwad) who live together in a run-down suburban house.
UPDATE - Bloomberg L.P - 3:45, 2-1-2007
Turner Takes Full Blame for Marketing Scare That Snarled Boston
By Brian K. Sullivan and Don Jeffrey
Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Time Warner Inc.'s Turner Broadcasting unit is taking full responsibility for a marketing campaign that brought Boston to a standstill yesterday.
Turner had its marketing firm Interference Inc. of New York place 40 devices in 10 cities in the U.S. to promote its "Aqua Teen Hunger Force'' show on the company's Cartoon Network, said Shirley Powell, 40, a company spokeswoman.
"We approved it, Interference was not doing this without our knowledge,'' Powell said today in a telephone interview. "We're taking full responsibility for this.''
The campaign backfired in Boston when the displays that light up with a cartoon character were mistaken for bombs. Peter Berdovsky, 27, of Arlington, a Boston suburb, and Sean Stevens, 28, of the city's Charlestown section, were arrested and later released on $2,500 bail after pleading not guilty to charges of placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct.
Turner gave a list of where the devices were in Boston and nine other cites to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who in turn gave the information to local police departments, Powell said. In Boston, officials collected the devices last night.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force, shown late at night, follows the misadventures of a carton of talking french fries (Frylock), a milkshake (Master Shake) and a meatball (Meatwad) who live together in a run-down suburban house. Image Credit: Jam! Showbiz
Late today, ABC News reported on its Web site that Interference may have asked Berdovsky and Stevens to remain quiet yesterday afternoon as Boston police, aided by federal and state law enforcement, dealt with devices they had discovered under bridges, subway lines and busy intersections. ABC said an e-mail supplied by friends of the two supports the claim.
Attempts to reach Interference or its chief executive, Sam Ewen, by phone today were unsuccessful.
Selling on EBay
Some look-alike devices, including one purported to have been used in Boston, turned up on EBay Inc.'s Internet auction site. Bids exceeded $500.
"There is market for everything,'' Powell said.
The campaign so agitated Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, he said he plans to take legal action against Turner.
"An apology is not good enough,'' Menino said today in an interview with WBZ radio. "I want them to pay,'' he said of the executives who authorized the campaign.
The city's costs probably came to $750,000, Menino said. Police and other public safety workers detatched and in some cases destroyed the suspicious devices yesterday, before it was known what they actually were.
Turner Chief Executive Officer Phil Kent was in discussions with Massachusetts officials about what should be done, Powell said late today. Last night, he called Menino to personally apologize.
Pictures broadcast of the arraignment of Berdovsky and Stevens in Charlestown court this morning show them smiling as lawyers discussed the charges. Powell said the company hasn't decided if it will provide lawyers for Berdovsky and Stevens.
Not all the devices found yesterday appeared connected to the Turner campaign. Two that resembled pipe bombs were also found yesterday, one at Tufts New England Medical Center, a 451- bed downtown hospital, and the other at an undisclosed location, police spokesman Eddy Chrispin said in an interview today.
After police found the first of the devices used in the marketing campaign, bridges and subway lines were temporarily closed so the objects could be removed, causing snarled traffic and heightened concerns over terrorism.
One of the laws the two men were charged under, regarding hoax devices, took effect in April 2001 in Massachusetts. It says that anyone who plants a device "that would cause a person reasonably to believe that such device is an infernal machine'' could face 30 months to five years in jail and be fined $5,000.
In court today in Charlestown, Assistant Attorney General John Grossman maintained that the location of the device was enough to prove intent. Coakley's spokeswoman Melissa Sherman said the device Grossman referred to was found under an Interstate 93 highway bridge and near a bus and subway station.
"The appearance and location was crucial,'' Sherman said. "It looked like a bomb according to the experts on the scene.''
Interference specializes in "guerrilla marketing'' and has created campaigns for New York Magazine, Nickelodeon, Motts juices and others, according to an article in Medialifemagazine.com.
Guerrilla marketing was defined by CEO Ewen in the article as "alternatives to traditional media tactics that are high- impact but also very eye-level with the consumer, very grassroots and in-the-streets.'' Campaigns that have gone awry have led to "our fair share of people arrested,'' Ewen said in the story.
Web sites maintained by Berdovsky highlight his artistic works and one features a resume. An art student in college, he refers to himself as "Zebbler'' on the sites and one shows him without the long, matted brown hair styled in dreadlocks that he wore into the courtroom today.
In a telephone interview today, Berdovsky said he couldn't answer "any more questions until after 6.''
Berdovsky told the Boston Globe yesterday that he thought the city's reaction to the devices and that they were a threat to safety was "ridiculous.''
Similar devices were placed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, Turner said.
TRESSING DOWN: A sign outside court supports Sean Stevens (left) and Peter Berdovsky, who yesterday react to their arraignment for allegedly placing gizmos all over Boston, igniting a terrorism scare. Image Credit: Reuters
And Finally, This From the N.Y. Post -
HAIR-BRAINED DUDES BOSTON HOAXERS' BIG TO-'DO
By HASANI GITTENS - Additional reporting by Holly M. Sanders and Leela de Kretser - February 2, 2007
They seem to have come out of a cartoon themselves.
The two men arrested for installing the electric-light boxes around Boston as part of a Cartoon Network guerrilla-marketing ad campaign were released on bail yesterday - and promptly held a news conference on hair.
"For example, Afros, I think, comes kind of from the '70s, but then again, there's other styles," said dreadlocked suspect Peter Berdovsky, 27, who chided, "Please don't interrupt," when someone interjected that he wasn't taking the situation seriously.
When asked, "How do you feel right now?" Berdovsky replied, "I feel like my hair is pretty perfect."
Berdovsky and co-defendant Sean Stevens, 28, have been charged with placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct. They were released on $2,500 cash bond.
They may have been joking, but Boston Police Commissioner Edward David maintained yesterday that the situation was no laughing matter.
"Just a little over a mile away from the placement of the first device, a group of terrorists boarded airplanes and launched an attack on New York City," Davis said.
Officials have vowed to hold Turner Broadcasting Inc., the parent company of the Cartoon Network, responsible for the incident.
Since Stevens and Berdovsky refused to answer any non-hair-related questions, one savvy reporter asked Berdovsky if he was afraid of going to jail and having his long hair cut.
"I think that whatever happens, I feel like my hair is safe at the moment," Berdovsky said.
"Hair today, gone tomorrow," chimed in Stevens, who sported a bowl cut.
As Berdovsky walked off after the conference, he gave a more serious comment.
"We need some time to really sort things out and, you know, figure out our response to this situation in other ways than talking about hair," Berdovsky said. "So if you could just give us some privacy for a little bit . . . I will be trying to make sense of all it real soon."
Later, he released a statement through his lawyer saying he "never imagined" the devices would be perceived as dangerous and he never intended to do anything to frighten the community.
"I regret that this incident has created such anguish and disruption for the residents and law-enforcement officers of this city," the statement said.
The Greenwich Village-based firm Interference Inc. was responsible for the campaign that put up the boxes, featuring character Ignignokt from the show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," in 10 cities, including New York.
Authorities in the various cities have been working with the company to locate and take the boxes down. NYPD officials had been given 41 locations originally, but only had to take down about 20.
Interference CEO Sam Ewen, who lives in Brooklyn, was unavailable for comment again yesterday, but in a past interview, he said other "guerrilla marketing" campaigns have gone "awry."
"That's one of the risks you run," he told Media Life magazine in 2001. "We've had our fair share of people arrested, a lot of citations given. We've done a lot of college guerrilla marketing where you end up getting thrown off campus and asked never to come back."