Magazine article CRM Magazine

Guerrilla Marketing's Monkey Business: A Crackpot Scheme Made an Obscure Cartoon Show a Household Name, but Was the Bomb Scare in Boston Worth the Buzz?

Magazine article CRM Magazine

Guerrilla Marketing's Monkey Business: A Crackpot Scheme Made an Obscure Cartoon Show a Household Name, but Was the Bomb Scare in Boston Worth the Buzz?

Article excerpt

Guerrilla marketing, a form of business named after hit-and-run warfare, normally only sounds dangerous. However, this February, when Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) decided to promote its Cartoon Network show Aqua Teen Hunger Force (ATHF) through a viral campaign, things got explosive. Lite-Brite-style advertisements of an ATHF character exhibiting a rude hand gesture turned Boston upside down when the fixtures, placed in high-traffic public areas of a number of major cities by an advertising agency, were mistaken for bombs. Hours of suspended transit services, multiple road closures, a highly publicized court appearance, and a $2 million settlement later, the questions remain: Was it all worth the buzz? In viral marketing, who gets the last laugh?

"It would be hard to dream up a more appalling publicity stunt," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), in a written statement. "Whoever thought this up needs to find a better job." Whether he thought the campaign up or not, Jim Samples, president of Cartoon Network, stepped down as a result of the controversy.

Although there is no doubt that the stunt caused serious inconveniences if not direct harm, if the goal of word-of-mouth marketing is to get consumers buzzing about your brand, TBS, a division of Time Warner, certainly got the job done. Hundreds if not thousands of articles and news broadcasts nationwide soon picked the story up. In a few days T-shirts proclaiming "ATHF Is the Bomb" and bumper stickers reading "Hoax Object" could be purchased online. In response to the success or failure of the campaign, Paul Rand, communications cochair for the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association, said, "Well, we're talking about it right now."

ATHF's Nielsen/Net ratings did not rise the week following the scare; however, the buzz may drive more viewers to the box office when Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Movie, based on the cartoon, opens in late March. Gareth Herschel, research director at Gartner, says that it is possible that the show, popular with the campus crowd, will get an even bigger boost due to its target demographic. A number of blogs and editorials blasted Boston's response to the campaign as an overreaction; no other city where the ads were planted had any kind of scare. …

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