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.