Monday, February 05, 2007

Wow. Talk about a brouhaha! An imbroglio. A cock-up. A tempest in a teapot. Call it what you will, but everybody's buzzing about a guerrilla marketing plan gone awry -- or, perhaps, even better than planned, depending on your perspective. It's now what will be forever known as the Aqua Teen Hunger Farce '07.

See, there's this show on Cartoon Network about a shake, fries, and a meatball. No, seriously, I'm not making that up. I've seen it; it's actually pretty funny. Aqua Teen Hunger Force airs late nights on "Adult Swim" -- a bunch of avant garde cartoons not meant for little kids, basically. Apparently, they're (Turner Broadcasting, owns Cartoon Network) making a movie of the show. In keeping with the off-center theme of the show, not to mention its audience, they hired a guerrilla marketing firm to do some old-fashioned buzz-making for the upcoming film on the streets of major cities. So far, so good, right?

This group comes up with the idea of installing, randomly within the cityscape, what are basically Lite-Brites (you remember Lite-Brite, doncha?) that glow the face of a character from the show. The problem comes in when someone mistakes them for... (gulp)... bombs!

Much chaos and bedlam ensues -- not on the poor unsuspecting public's part -- but rather on the part of the expert anti-terrorism powers that be in our government, from police to Homeland Security.

The whole thing points out so many different issues of the day, it's hard to know where to start.

  • There's the generational gap, discussed quite brilliantly in the Globe here by Michael Levenson and Maria Cramer.
  • There's the hyper-sensitized nature of the government, but not necessarily the populace, in our post 9-11 world.
  • There's the government's ability to crack down on Lite-Brites, but not to respond to hurricanes and tornadoes.
  • There's the revival of the old "Banned in Boston" tradition, because this marketing campaign had been going on for several weeks in 9 (count 'em, nine!) other cities without incident. In fact, Boston is now a bit of a laughing stock nationwide: "Stephen Colbert reported that Boston was besieged by what were "clearly the Lite-Brite doodlings of terrorists."
  • There's art (these would be defined as a cross-genre public installations and graffiti, I guess) and freedom of expression vs. public decency and safety.
  • The artistic aspect of it, my friends at Dynamic Internet have bailed out the artist behind the creations -- his web site crashed under the weight of the interest surroundnig this story, but James and his crew got them up and running again as you can see at NOTE: You can watch the 2 dudes actually installing the Lite-Brites on the video posted there -- click "Past Events" and you'll see the link.
Finally, as a long-time afficiando of guerrilla marketing, I applaud Interference Information Network. I'm not sure if Ted Turner considers the cool $2 mil he had to drop on Mayor Menino's lap for the flap to be money well spent, but he should -- a Super Bowl ad* couldn't have garnered him a fifth of this publicity!

*I'll blog the ads soon, don't worry! Stay tuned.

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