Cartoon Consequences

The guerrilla marketing campaign for a Turner Broadcasting System cartoon show that prompted a Boston bomb scare this week has generated a lot of talk. So far the legal focus has centered on the two men hired by Interference, Inc., the advertising agency behind the campaign, to place the devices around the city. They’ve been charged with placing a hoax device (a felony) and disorderly conduct (a misdemeanor), both of which will be difficult for the state to prove according to an article in today’s Boston Globe. The same Globe article reports that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is close to settling legal issues with TBS and Interference who, presumably, will pay their pounds of flesh and make formal mea culpas. Settling the matter quickly means there won’t be a full airing of possible legal claims in court which, while great blog fodder, would be in neither Turner’s nor the state’s interests.

A February 1 Globe article–the title of which captures its essence: Marketing gambit exposes a wide generation gap–stated “[t]he episode exposed a wide generational gulf between government officials who reacted as if the ads might be bombs and 20-somethings raised on hip ads for Snapple, Apple, and Google who instantly recognized the images for what they were: a viral marketing campaign.” Reactions to the campaign showed whether one belonged to the target demographic. A number of students said that the TBS campaign was wildly successful and therefore justifiable. They argued that TBS will likely earn far more in publicity than it paid to obtain, thanks precisely to the cluelessness of public safety officials. It was a great campaign, exceeding its aspirations. From more than a few students I heard “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

I did not and do not agree. Does the response justify the campaign? In every endeavor one always needs to ask: what could go wrong? How can my actions be misinterpreted? Failing to exercise due care to prevent the reasonably foreseeable injurious consequences of one’s acts is negligence. Whether one incurs legal damages, acting without regard to consequences is socially irresponsible. A positive cost-benefit analysis does not make it right.

Young people are so inured by the 12 billion ad messages they’ve received that marketers must whack them upside the head to get their attention. Some day, when Coke and Pepsi encode sales pitches on DNA molecules to insert in utero, today’s young folk can pine for that simple time of marketing devices taped to support girders on the Boston University Bridge.

6 thoughts on “Cartoon Consequences”

  1. I agree. While it is somewhat amusing that Boston was the only city to respond to the devices in such a large-scale panicked frenzy, it was still the wrong way to go about advertising a television show. I’m sure TBS will most probably get the publicity they wanted, but that doesn’t justify their marketing campaign. They should have been aware of all the possible consequences and taken into account that in a post-911 society, placing bomb-like images around a major city is not the smartest way to go about advertising a new show.

    In terms of the generation gap, there is definitely a difference between how a goverment official and a younger person would view the devices. A younger person might look on a device, laugh, and walk away. But a government official cannot just shrug it off and label it a joke. They have to consider the possibility that it might be more than just a joke. They have to consider all the people who live in Boston and all the people whose lives might be in danger. So I don’t think it’s really fair to call the officials “clueless.” They were just doing their jobs. Besides, they’re not the only ones who wouldn’t recongize the cartoon character. I’m 19 and if I saw the ad, I would not have made the connection to the Adult Swim show.

  2. Unquestionably, this “incident” that occurred has generated an ENORMOUS amount of publicity for TBS, as this has become a nationwide issue. As shown by the events, the marketing industry of today’s world can and WILL do ANYTHING necessary to get a person’s attention.

    I agree with your point that the response shouldn’t justify the campaign….As terrible to say, think in the mind of terrorists in the Middle East….Their campaign on 9/11 seemed to be pretty prosperous…for them. However, is the general population going to justify the attacks simply because the terrorists’ intentions were fulfilled…NO.

    No campaign should be justified on the outcome. In a post 9/11 world, all society members, not just those in the marketing industry, must be aware of the sensitivity of conducting anything that may impose on the national security of this country…

  3. I do not agree wtih those who are saying “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” I also feel that although this “bomb scare” did get a lot of news time, that is not to say now everybody is going to go watch the cartoon show. Although besides in the youtube clip I did not actually see these robot figures myself, I cannot imagine the generation gap to be so large as to have completely different reactions. I myself am in the younger generation and who knows how I would have reacted. I do know I do not think this is good publicity for the show, and I am no more likely to watch this show than I was before the scare.

  4. I am not arguing against the fact that “no campaign should not be justified by the outcome”, but I would argue that not all of the outcomes of this incident were all bad. On one hand, TBS got an incredible amount of publicity (but it cost them a lot of money in the end). However, this incident could have a positive influence in that it could serve as a wake up call for the states to be more alert. In our class discussion people brought up the idea, what if they were real bombs? I don’t agree that people might just take the next bomb scare less seriously, I would argue the opposite. I think this will allow the states to increase security before a more serious threat occurs, and could in turn, serve as a good wake up call.

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