Is All Buzz Good And Cheap?

Academic textbooks tell us buzz is an exponential expansion of word of mouth advertising with a limited budget and nonconventional communication strategies. It happens when word spreads quickly with little or not advertising support. That’s exactly what happened in Boston in early 2007.

In January and February 2007 Turner Broadcasting System carried out a 10-city guerilla marketing campaign to generate buzz for the late-night Adult Swim cartoon “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” Battery-operated light boards displayed a “Mooninite” – an outer-space delinquent on the cartoon – greeting passersby with an upraised middle finger. But the discovery of nine of the light boards around Boston and its suburbs sent bomb squads scrambling throughout the day, snarling traffic and mass transit. Authorities arrested two men in connection with that triggered repeated bomb scares and prompted the closure of bridges and a stretch of the Charles River

Turner Broadcasting said in written statements the devices had been placed around Boston and nine other cities as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign to promote the show. “We apologize to the citizens of Boston that part of a marketing campaign was mistaken for a public danger,” Phil Kent, CEO and chairman of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., said in one of two statements issued by the company.

The New York Times reported on this incident asking advertising executives what they thought of the stunt. Jamie Tedford of Arnold Worldwide said, “Turner did not disclose that this was a corporate message. It never would have been confused with a bomb if it had been disclosed that this was a corporate initiative.” The ad executives in the article said they were eager to see whether the stunt ended up having a positive or negative effect on Turner. “Will it bring more viewers?” asked Mr. Tedford of Arnold.

What happened in the end? Turner Broadcasting System and Interference Inc. agreed to pay $2 million to make amends for the guerrilla marketing scheme. The settlement included about $1 million to cities and state agencies for their response and another $1 million in goodwill funding.

This guerilla effort may have had no advertising support, but it certainly was expensive!

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