E-musing with CableFAX Daily Executive Editor Michael Grebb THIS JUST IN: Traitorous cartoon characters are running amuck in several U.S. cities, including Beantown where even people battle-hardened by the horror of the Big Dig found themselves unable to cope with murderous Lite-Brites strategically lying in wait around the city. Oh, the humanity!
But seriously, what do we really know about this terror cell known mysteriously as the Aqua Teen Hunger Force? If you look closely at some of the archival footage of Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, you can make out blurry shapes in the background that resemble…yes, they look exactly like FAST FOOD CONTAINERS!
There’s Frylock, the shifty terrorist whispering “Death to America” as he poisons the West with biggie-sized portions of trans fat. And there’s the maniacal Meatwad, taunting us all with his artery-clogging ground chuck that he smugly knows we’ll choose over the new selection of fresh garden salads. And heading up this gang is Master Shake, spreading high-fructose corn syrup and lactose intolerance across the heartland! Oh, these freedom-hating evil-doers! They must be stopped! And to think the Cartoon Network is giving these thugs a platform for their radical views!!?
Yes, I know. This is all serious business. Boston officials and the people who live there have every right to be angry at Turner Broadcasting (click here for AP’s update, including the whopping $2 million apology). And I don’t necessarily mean to make light of what was certainly an inconvenient if not scary situation for those involved. But I do sort of wonder why none of this raised alarm bells before yesterday, as these light boxes have been out there for quite some time. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.
Overreaction or not, city and state officials are talking lawsuits and in no mood to let this thing drop. Two twenty-something fall guys have been arrested even though neither had any clue they were risking their futures by participating in what I’m sure they thought was harmless fun. I suspect some people at Turner may lose their jobs over this. That’s really not funny (especially if you’re the one whose career is about to go south because you did something admittedly stupid but not intentionally malicious).
But now that we’ve had a day to reflect on this debacle, it might be useful to take a few lessons from it. Cable marketers… are you listening? Good. Here are some bullet points for you:
• History lesson: In case you missed it, a bunch of maniacs flew a bunch of planes into a bunch of buildings on Sept. 11, 2001. So the next time you’re in a strategic marketing meeting, please follow the following protocol:
Big-Idea Marketer Person: "Hey, let’s put a bunch of boxes with wires jutting out of them all over town to raise awareness for our new show! Won’t that be great?"
You: (Nodding as if you totally get BIMP’s guerrilla vibe, walk over to the conference room trash can, pick it up and dump the contents on BIMP’s lightbulb-infested head. Then make the introductions) "Round file? BIMP; BIMP? Round file."
As Oscar-Award winning hip-hop act Hustle & Flow will readily confirm, in the post-9/11 world, it’s hard out here for a BIMP.
• Outsourcing: Installers sleeping on couches. Installers assaulting customers. Installers single-handedly driving PR people to jump off of tall structures. Many MSOs have already experienced the joys of subcontracting and all the great ink it can get you in local papers, wire services, trade journals and blogs. So it’s perhaps fitting that Turner is now learning about how some of the same joys can come from subcontracting activities to a “third-party marketing firm” to which the apologetic notice posted today on AdultSwim.com dutifully refers (see below). It goes without saying that guerrilla marketing tactics are essential in this noisy world of TV, video games, Internet, blah, blah, blah… but some oversight is really in order when it comes to stunts that could potentially cause citywide panic. Ya think? In the coming days, we’re likely to find out more about the genesis of this campaign and how much, if any, involvement came from Turner’s own internal staff.
Was this just a rogue third party or someone falling asleep at the switch? We don’t know yet. But cable marketers should take this as a serious case study. Thinking about every possible reaction to every campaign is more vital than ever (especially when it involves stunts in which anything remotely resembling detonation devices will be placed around a downtown area… I mean, c’mon!)
• Conspiracy Theories: Let’s face facts. This whole incident will almost certainly boost ratings for Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block. How could it not? The show’s title is all over the friggin’ news and the Internet! Do less—or more—people know about the show this week than last week? MORE, dammit! I don’t believe for a second that Turner purposely caused this havoc in order to boost news coverage—but that won’t stop the conspiracy theorists from suggesting as much. Turner will just have to let all that run its course and defend itself as best it can.
As I write this on Thursday, this story shows no sign of dying—especially now that there have been arrests that will produce weeks of developments (and the inevitable exclusive TV interviews with these two guys who someone should have saved from themselves). Then again, these dudes aren’t exactly taking the whole thing very seriously: At a news conference today, they told reporters that they would only take questions about haircuts in the 1970s. These guys will probably have their own reality show on cable before the year is out.
• The bottom line: Hindsight is always 20-20, but defogging your glasses every now and then isn’t a bad idea. It’s important to note, of course, that several other cities subject to the same guerrilla campaign didn’t react with the same kind of alarm. Some people are already suggesting on Internet message boards that Boston overreacted.
Then again, you could also ask the question: Did the cities that apparently had no problem with a bunch of strange, blinking devices strewn around town… underreact? Oh, the pundits will debate all of this to no end, I’m sure. Phil Kent and the rest of the Turner brass will need a stiff drink tonight and probably every night this week. But in light of the public’s current disposition, they may want to stay away from the fast food.