In an interesting turn of events, two Boston-area men go to court today in connection with a bizarre publicity stunt, as reported by WBZ. The two are allegedly responsible for placing more than three dozen illuminated electronic devices that were meant to promote a T-V cartoon, but instead sent bomb squads scrambling around the city Wednesday. The initial devices, confused to be possible explosives, caused a shut down of the Boston highway during peak morning hours, backing up traffic and commuters for hours on Wednesday, January 30th. By afternoon, at least eight other similar suspicious packages were discovered, each triggering a security alert involving emergency crews, federal agents, bomb squads, police and the U.S. Coast Guard, as stated in the Reuters release.
Once Turner Broadcasting, realized the detrimental effects in the Boston market, they immediately notified law enforcement officials of their locations in 10 cities where it said the devices had been placed for two to three weeks: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Philadelphia. They also issued a statement, apologizing for the situation and explaining their intentions.
Read the full article from Boston.com and here is an image, courtesy of MSNBC:
What makes this even more interesting is that (as stated above) these icons have been staged for over two weeks in ten major metropolitan areas. So either we in Boston are highly astute or everyone else better second guess there ability to observe the outside world and what's going on around them.
All jokes aside: What could Turner Broadcasting have done to make sure that something like this was prevented?
Marketing Profs Daily Fix suggests that Boston should have known better, given the obvious nature of these devices.
My suggestion would be to put a name, a web address, a marketing slogan or something there in addition to the device - i.e. a Label. "Aqua Teen Hunger Force", while reasonably popular, is not Coca Cola, McDonald's or "Eva Longoria", meaning the little electronic lighting figure standing there by itself in the morning darkness could be misunderstood by say, "a 50 year old father of two infants that doesn't watch Cartoon Network and is sensitive to issues of terrorism". It could be possible.
While I agree with others that to some degree, it is a laughable situation - especially in hindsight, simple labeling may have solved this issue well beforehand.
Some differing viewpoints on Boston's reaction to the viral marketing campaign:
- Guerilla Marketing Causes Boston Bomb Scare
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force viral ads cause Boston bomb scare
- Viral Marketing...not: Boston Bomb Scare
My thoughts on the value of a label
First off, a label of some sort would immediately give a clue to anyone observing the devices that it was some form of advertising gimmick. Second, even if it did set off an alarm by some wary pedestrian - which electronic, glow-in-the-dark, circuit-like devices left unintended in public places can do - once law enforcement received word, they could easily use one of the handy tools online to search for any possible information in relation to whatever the web address, slogan or other label read. (To be fair, people were calling in on the radio waves all afternoon, trying to explain what the devices were)
What makes it difficult initially is that running a search online for "weird electronic device sitting in Sullivan Square without any identification" often yields inaccurate results, even in a trusty search engine like Google. The label would have helped a bit.