Monday, February 05, 2007

Sleazy, dumb and stupider: The Boston terrorist bomb scare.

So the whole hullabaloo over “bombs” in Boston, placed in spots we associate with terrorist targets, turned out to be “guerilla marketing.”

Guerilla-what? That’s a loosely defined collection of techniques that get people talking about your product on the cheap. Instead of spending mega millions on, say, placing TV commercials on the Superbowl, you pay a fee to have some “guerilla” scare the living hell out of your citizenry so they’ll be aware of you. Kind of like Son of Sam shilling consumer products.

There’s a reason guerilla marketing is growing popular. Desperate advertisers and their agencies have a bad problem that keeps on getting worse: technologically-savvy consumers are increasingly wising up.

If greedy networks pile on too many commercials during breaks, you simply lift your remote and zap them off your screen for a while. Or you TiVo and fast-forward past the commercials. Or you simply turn your mind off. After a while, it gets too expensive to advertise so many times that a message finally gets slips past your mental barrier to you when your guard is down.

Enter guerilla marketing and its sleazy tactics. For example, there’s Sam Travis Ewen. He’s a big deal in “marketing communications” these days, named one of Brandweek Magazine's “Guerrilla Marketers of the Year” – which some people might consider the equivalent of “The Che Guevarra of Public Annoyance.”

Ewen has ”put people on subways to brag about financial advisers and sent models into bars to sit with packs of cigarettes, waiting for someone to ask for a smoke.”

Okay, that's only borderline sleazy. But recently he went too far. On behalf of Time Warner’s Cartoon Network he made a bunch of devices that looked a little bit like a cartoon character and a little bit of a bomb, and hung them from highway overpasses, subway stations and bridges.

It was a dumb move that led to an almost dumb response.

Given a choice between perceiving the devices as bombs or seeing them as electronic cartoons with a raised middle finger, the authorities in Boston chose to see bombs. It was kind of dense. But on the other hand, these are tense times and we all fear terrorists, so you can’t blame the Boston cops for erring on the side of caution. In fact, with a tangle of coiled wires and batteries attached to the back of each “cartoon,” making everyone think “bomb” might have been what this marketing Che Guevara had in mind.

The result: ''Last week's events caused a major disruption in the greater Boston area on many levels -- crippling public transportation, causing serious traffic problems, negatively affecting local businesses and perhaps most significantly, costing Boston and surrounding communities thousands of dollars,'' according to the local Attorney General, quoted in the New York Times.

So how did it all turn out? Time Warner Cable sends the city of Boston $2 million to get itself and its presumably-just-stupid execs who approved this little hoax off the hook. Evidently, the two million smackers has also saved the buns of Sam Travis Ewen, the guerilla marketer who thought up the cartoon/bomb stunt, and who had to know or should have known that anything with lights and wires and batteries would probably raise some alarms if it hangs mysteriously in subway stations and under bridges.

Frankly, in this case I applaud the "stupidity" of the cops. Better to err on the side of caution.

The only two people who faced charges were the two hippie go-fers who, presumably on instructions from guerilla marketing sleazoid Ewen, stuck up the devices around town. Yeah, the messengers got busted.

If you ask me, that’s like setting a cattle rustler free and hanging his horse.

Guerilla marketers have moved from acting like obnoxious louts to yelling fire in crowded theaters. They and the corporate honchos who enable them – not their pathetic go-fers – ought to do some time.

1 comment:

@OmarrCantu said...

As a guerrilla marketer myself, I have to agree with you on some points. This hoax, although served its purpose of creating buzz, was not right. When something creates this much disruption, the event crosses the fine lines of ethics and becomes a negative for both the agency in charge and the company being represented. In my eyes, the purpose of guerrilla marketing is to create a new, innovative, and creative way to meet the consumer in their own everyday environment to promote a product or service. This is how the guerrilla becomes successful.