Everybody is certainly relieved that those unidentified devices that closed down roads, bridges, and a portion of the Charles River in Boston turned out to be a guerrilla marketing phalanx of Lite Brite-like signs promoting Cartoon Network's Adult Swim animated block.
Well, everybody except whoever thought it was a good idea to plant unidentified electrical devices under bridges and wherever else they were placed. What were they thinking? doesn't even begin to come close, but WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!
Without patting myself on the back, I had a speculative story ready to go in the early afternoon after CNN said it might be a hoax and maybe even just a publicity stunt for a TV show, reporting that the devices seemed to be black boxes with lights that formed a cartoon character similar to one of the Mooninite Marauders from Adult Swim (after SpongeBob had been besmirched in an early report), giving everybody the finger.
Hmmm, I said, CNN is suggesting on-air that it might be a publicity stunt and Cartoon is owned by Turner, which also owns CNN. Could the news net be signaling a coming apology. Well, the apology was soon to come, though I am told by sources that many at CNN had not even made the Cartoon connection to their own network until the statement came out.
I didn't report the story until I had confirmation from the statement, though I did almost blog it. One of the reasons I waited was that I thought it more likely to be a college prank than a Cartoon viral marketing stunt given reports that the figure was shooting the finger. I guess the bird is now OK in corporate marketing circles.
If I were running CNN, I would want to have a talk with my corporate siblings at Cartoon to ask why they let me report the story for hours rather than clue me in earlier that I was essentially creating the buzz for the buzz marketing campaign. It made them look a little bit like shills.
With all due deference to CNN and its reporting of the story, I think Fox News's take on it was fair and informative if tilted a bit toward the glaoting side. Yes, they got in a shot at their arch-rival, pointing out that CNN's own Jack Cafferty had said that it would take a moron to do something like plant such devices in a post-9/11 world.
But it also provided a better desription of the "billboards" and a tongue-partly-in-cheek description (OK, that was a dig, too) of the illegal-substance-partaking, car-keying, funky Marauders. Shepard Smith's deadpan delivery was great. It even made me understand a little bit how somebody could do this and not think they would become the objects of national and local law enforcement thing-hunts.
Fox pointed out that people familiar with the characters would probably not assume they were bombs, though at least somebody assumed they were SpongeBob.
I certainly hope nobody was sitting around at Cartoon or the outside marketing company that apparently dispersed these things among 10 cities, including New York (New York, are they insane?) high-fiving over the buzz that ensued. Certainly people who had not heard of Aqua Teen Hunger Force suddenly know the name now, so the campaign could be called a success unless somebody goes to jail or Turner gets hammered by Washington (Senator John Kerry will investigate. Rep. Ed Markey wants somebody fired. Both are from Massachusetts.
Homeland Security is pissed–and I wouldn't want them pissed at me–and the city of Boston, which wants Turner to compensate it for the cost of shutting down parts of the city and marshalling its forces against the animated Marauders.
I'm tempted to say that today is the first day in the rest of viral marketing's life, which means pulling back from the edge a bit and letting the dull old suits get a gander at what's going on in those creative youing minds.
By John Eggerton
The television industry's top news stories, analysis and blogs of the day.
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