Let's Stop Being Dumb

  • by , Featured Contributor, February 1, 2007

By now, most of you probably know that most of Boston was locked down yesterday in traffic jams and mass transit delays because of a guerilla marketing campaign gone bad.

Black boxes with electronics were placed in heavily trafficked public places in a number of large U.S. cities. These devices were there to project LED images on public walls, bridges, abutments and the like. The projection of these images in public places was intended, I suspect, to create lots of cool buzz among the public about a new media launch. At this point, it appears that permits were not obtained to place these devices in Boston, nor was the Boston police department notified of their existence.

This was really, really dumb.

Anyone who's been in a subway, boat, airplane, bus, airport, bus station, train station, post office, school, government building, tall building, public park, tour boat or sporting event at some point over the past five-and-one-half years knows that there is a high degree of concern about the placement of suspicious devices. Government authorities, and most members of the public, are appropriately concerned that folks with bad intentions might use public spaces to place things that can harm people. We are all reminded of this daily on the evening news. In many places, there are signs and periodic announcements directing members of the public to immediately report the existence of any strange unattended boxes, packages or devices to police authorities. Apparently, that is what happened in Boston. Authorities then went into emergency mode to manage the situation. Images of the subway bombings in London or the train bombings in Madrid were just too fresh.



If the objective of the campaign was to get the attention of the citizens of Boston -- and the entire country -- mission accomplished! If part of the objective was to enhance a client's brand -- massive failure! A great family-oriented brand has been damaged in an incalculable way, and significant monetary damage could follow via compensatory damages, fines and legal fees.

I know that many folks in the marketing and advertising world think that the only way to "cut through the clutter" with consumers is to shock them in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. However, it is one thing to do it within a media vehicle; it is another thing to do it in a public place. At the least, the latter requires a certain amount of common sense and an awareness of, and compliance with, local laws and regulations. Whether or not the latter occurred here is a matter for the appropriate courts and public officials to determine. As to the former, I can only ask, "What were you thinking?"

We who have made the world of advertising and marketing our vocation have enough image-related issues to deal with every day without having to stomach this kind of stuff. Given all of the recent calls that our Washington legislators are getting for greater regulation of the advertising industry, stunts like this are particularly damaging. Please, let's use our common sense before we do stupid stuff like this.

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