Creating truly viral marketing is hard. Really hard. Just check out these colossal blunders.
If you live in Boston, you may finally be done cursing the Cartoon Network for causing a city-wide terrorism scare with its viral marketing campaign gone awry last week. Apparently, the geniuses in charge of marketing "Adult Swim" thought it'd be a peachy idea to hire (the now incarcerated) Peter Berdovsky to place LED panels featuring "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" characters Ingingokt and Err in obscure locations around the city. Apparently, the Boston Police Department (BPD) and Homeland Security officials mistook the strange devices for potential bombs, and more or less shut down the city while the bomb squad took care of the "threat."
All arguments about the BPD's lack of humor and un-hipness aside, the ill-conceived campaign was obviously a colossal blunder. Not only did it scare the daylights out of a bunch of Bostonians, it also inconvenienced potentially millions of people and will probably lead to some serious legal trouble for the network. In this day and age, odd, homemade-looking devices featuring blinking lights placed in public places really aren't a great way to get (positive) attention.
Though it may be satisfying to chuckle over the absurdity of the whole incident, the Great Boston Mooninite Scare bears examination. With increasingly more marketers obsessed with social media, consumer-generated content, viral marketing, and word-of-mouth, there's a lot we can learn from this debacle (besides the obvious: it's a really bad idea to scare consumers with humorous devices that could be mistaken for bombs.
If we learn anything from the whole Cartoon Network episode, it should be that creating truly viral marketing is hard. Really hard. It's hard to define, hard to pin down, and hard to pull off without looking manipulative or just uncool. You can try, but after you see commercials like this one or videos like this one, you should realize creating so-bad-it's-good viral content is almost impossible to do intentionally. Authenticity either is or isn't.
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
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