Thursday, February 01, 2007

The 400 lb Guerrilla

Guerrilla marketing refers to an ad campaign that takes a nontraditional approach to promotion, often by using an artistic or underground approach. Recently, such a technique caused a scare in Boston. Whose to blame in this case? Turner Broadcasting, who airs the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force? The ad execs who were arrested for setting up the ads? Or the Boston authorities, who rushed to judgement? It is a tricky argument.

Surely, in today's climate, increased vigilance is key. But shouldn't increased awareness also be learned? It was pointed out that the shape that the lite-brites were in (a Mooninite from ATHF) has also appeared on billboards promoting the upcoming ATHF movie. Likely, the authorities are out of the demographic that the show appeals to, but they seemingly jumped to conclusions about the ads very quickly. Backpacks left in suspicious locations don't garner this type of overattention, and if one takes a step back, how are lights arranged in a specific shape (nongeometric) more threatening than a backpack? Then the media started to pile on, declaring it a terrorist threat without any concrete information. These ads have been in place for over 2 weeks and in other major cities as well, but only Boston reacted in this manner.

But the ad execs and Turner broacdcast are not blameless. They should have at least informed the cities that there will be boxes laying with blinking lights. Also, I am not sure if Adult Swim (the late night counterpart to Cartoon Network that Turner is responsible for) has showed pictures of the ads on air like they had done with similar campaigns. If they did, then I would say they were properly informing the public of the true intentions. If not, then it is both a bit irresponsible and bad marketing if they didn't connect a product directly with the ads. Not everyone knows what a Mooninite is.

I have always enjoyed the unusual ways Hollywood promotes itself. Hopefully this incident only changes the creativity not stifle it. Boston does seem to have overreacted and has, for the moment, become a laughing stock. It will be interesting to see if someone brings up the First Amendment in regards to advertising. Is this a case of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater? Cartoon Network/Adult Swim does get widespread publicity and we all know that old axiom about publicity. There are a lot of "ifs" in this situation and it certainly bears some close following.

Meanwhile, we all should be happy that the ads didn't concern another set of ATHF characters: The Plutononians. Just imagine a box label "Pluton..." being found in a city.

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