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Guerilla Marketing and the Aqua Teen

Hunger Force Fiasco


By Lin Zuo and Shari Veil

On January 31, 2007, a battery-powered de- System's Cartoon Network about "a talking milk-
vice about a foot square, with dangling wires and shake, a box of fries and a wad of meat" (Koth,
glittering lights, was found in a main interaction of 2007, p. A. 2). The same light boards had also been
Boston. Vast resources were soon assembled in the placed for two to three weeks in New York, Los
city to investigate the suspicious threat. "At the Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland,
height of the alert," a police officer noted, "author- Austin, San Francisco, and Philadelphia as part of a
ities mobilized emergency crews, federal agents, guerrilla marketing campaign implemented by
bomb squads, hundreds of police and the US Coast Turner's third-party marketing firm, Interference
Guard.. .roads, bridges, and even part of the (Koth, 2007).
Charles River were closed" (Jacoby, 2007, p. E9). Following immense media coverage and finger
Manpower, time, and money were devoted to pro- pointing, a deal was announced in which Turner
tecting the city from a suspected terrorist threat Broadcasting and Interference would pay $1 mil-
that turned out to be nothing more than a market- lion to reimburse state, federal and local law en-
ing ploy. forcement agencies for the cost of responding to
The perceived dangerous devise displayed a boxy the "threat." In addition, Turner would allocate $1
cartoon character giving an obscene hand gesture million in goodwill funds for security and commu-
to promote the late-night cartoon, Aqua Teen nity programs (Ridder, 2007). The individuals who
Hunger Force, a surreal series on Turner Broadcasting positioned the light boards around the city were
originally charged with placing a hoax device re-
sulting in panic and disorderly conduct. Under the
agreement, Turner, Interference, and anyone repre-
senting the companies, would not face any charges
(CNN, 2007).
This article examines the recent Aqua Teen
Hunger Force fiasco that generated a serious scare
in Boston. Guerilla marketing is first defined and
then described through successful campaigns that
helped organizations find new ways to access
prospects, interact with audiences, impact a spot
market, create buzz, and build strong relationships.
Turner's campaign is then contrasted with the ex-
amples of success to pinpoint where the strategy
may have fallen through. Finally, this paper sug-
gests there is a line between creative and reckless
strategies. Despite the no-holds-barred classifica-
tion of guerilla marketing, there are ethical, legal,
and societal boundaries that must be maintained.
Lin Zuo

8 Public Relations Quarterly


Guerilla Marketing McDonald's to Burger King, and putting signs on
In an age when the mass demographic is no empty benches that said 'gone to BK - Ronald"
longer easily reached via traditional media, an un- (Seaton, 2005, p. 6). RedCard regional project man-
traditional guerilla has emerged (Schweitzer, 2005). ager Robert Doswell explained, "Burger King wants
Hatch (2005) defines guerilla marketing as "any ac- to engage with people on the street and humor is a
tivity that uses a means other than traditional media great way to get their attention and win them over"
to communicate a brand's name and position to (p. 6).
A third reason to use guerilla marketing is to
make your advertising accessible to customers
The element of surprise everywhere. To promote its "Orange" online bank-
ing solutions, ING Direct initiated guerilla cam-
may be guerilla marketing's paigns in the metropolitan regions of Boston, San
greatest attribute. Francisco and Washington D.C. (Hatch, 2005).
During one winter morning commute in
Washington, ING Direct sponsored rides anywhere
prospects. Also called extreme marketing, grassroots on the rail or bus networks. "Orange-clad staff
marketing, or feet-on-the-street marketing, a leafleted passengers as they passed under orange
guerilla campaign has no preset rules or boundaries" banners, through orange fare boxes and by orange
(p. 53). Guerilla marketing uses a combination of light box diorama advertisements" (p. 53). To fur-
engaging vehicles (Simone, 2006) including ele- ther drive home its message, the company placed
ments of public relations, advertising, and market- ads in subway cars and on the sides of buses. The
ing into an offensive promotion strategy to reach
consumers through a variety of means. The ele-
ment of surprise may be guerilla marketing's great- ... use guerilla marketing to
est attribute. A successful campaign catches the
audience off-guard for both high impact and high make your advertising accessible
recall (Hatch, 2005). Attention-getting street graph- to customers everywhere.
ics, strange occurrences, memorable events, buzz,
and product placement are all told of a guerilla
marketer (Hallisy, 2006; Werner, 2003). "If exe- event captured the attention of immediate prospects
cuted properly, a guerilla campaign can be a low- and generated extensive media coverage.
cost, high-impact way to connect with prospects, A fourth reason to use guerilla techniques is to
introduce your name, or remind customers you are impact a spot market. Microsoft promotes its notes-
still here" (Hatch, 2005, p. 53). organizing software on campuses across the coun-
Guerilla techniques have been used by a number try by employing students to be ambassadors, that
of brands, both large and small, in different situa- is, door-to-door salespersons (Schweitzer, 2005).
tions. A common reason to use guerilla marketing The selected students are campus leaders with large
techniques is to find a new way to communicate social networks that can be tapped. The ambas-
with consumers. In 2004, Nike sought to commu-
nicate with consumers through instant messaging.
In a competition titled Speed Mob, pairs of partici-
pants were sent questions about new Nike products
via instant messages; the first participant to answer
the questions correctly progressed to the final
round. Nike senior marketing manager Florance
Yip said, "Digital has been a strong element.. .so it's .A.'•
natural that we decided to use more mobile ele-
irents in our comms" (Sudhaman, 2004, p. 11).
Another reason to use guerilla marketing is to
interact with an audience. In 2005, Burger King
implemented a guerilla marketing campaign to in-
crease sales by 25% in Asian countries (Seaton,
2005). The campaign, designed by Ogilvy RedCard,
aimed to attract more consumers into Burger King's
restaurants. Some of the steps included "putting
'IBK' on T-shirts and placing them on statues of
Ronald McDonald, placing large footprints from Shari Veil "

2006
9
sadors are expected to spend about 10 to 15 hours Guerilla outlets may include some obvious dan-
a week talking up the software to friends, securing gers. For example, a large proliferation of advertise-
corporate sponsorship of campus events, and per- ments on highways might distract drivers'
suading student newspaper reporters to mention attention, thus causing traffic accidents (Werner,
products in articles (Schweitzer, 2005). They are 2003). Alternative outlets could pose more subtle
also required to chalk sidewalks and fill bulletin dangers. Improperly conducted campaigns may
boards with company posters. Matt Britton, a man- cause social disorder. During the World Cup in
aging partner of a New York-based firm that special-
izes in college student marketing said, "The student
ambassador tactic embraces all the elements that ... the most common pitfalls of
corporations find most effective: It's peer-to-peer,
it's word of mouth, it's flexible, and it breaks guerilla marketing are
through the clutter of other media. For all that, it's "trespassing on private
growing very quickly" (p. Al).
Two final reasons to use guerrilla marketing are property, defacing private or
to create buzz and build relationships. The Florida
Public Relations Association bestowed its highest
public property, and
honor to Dalton, who developed the state's top not getting permission..."
public relations campaign among Florida's public
relations professionals. The campaign succeeded in
helping Jacksonville's pro-football team sell out the Germany, Budweiser-FIFA Beer Marketing Cartel
season. In addition to traditional media coverage, (BFBMC) prohibited Dutch fans from entering the
Dalton waged two guerilla events: the Ultimate Fan stadium wearing pants with the logo of a minor
Casting Call and the Road Warriors Contest Dutch beer company (Nolan, 2006). As a result, the
(Trinidad, 2006). In the casting call, season ticket fans promptly stripped off their pants and enjoyed
holders were asked to show team spirit during the the entire game in their underwear. Undoubtedly,
games to be included in an upcoming Jaguar's ad- BFBMC could have afforded to be more gracious in
vertising campaign. The selected 200 daily winners this situation.
were awarded a prize pack of Jaguars merchandise
and entered into the grand prize drawing. The Where Did Turner's Guerilla Campaign
Road Warriors contest awarded five trips for two Go Wrong?
people on the team plane to the Jaguars' preseason Turner's guerilla campaign generated social disor-
game against the Dallas Cowboys. These two der. The suspicious electronic devices in subways
events helped sell 4,000 tickets and avoid any TV and intersections inconvenienced thousands of
blackouts (Trinidad, 2006). people and led police to close bridges and high-
Despite the success stories and the many reasons ways as they sent in the bomb squad. US
to use guerilla strategies, if directed at the wrong Representative Edward J. Markey said "It would be
audience or not executed properly, guerilla market- hard to dream up a more appalling publicity stunt"
ing can actually hurt your brand (Hallisy, 2006). (Koth, 2007, p. A2). Phil Kent, chairman and chief
Hallisy suggests that guerilla marketing starts with executive of Turner, said in a statement that "we
careful planning and recommends 10 steps, in- apologize to the citizens of Boston that part of a
cluding (1) do the analysis; (2) consider research; marketing campaign was mistaken for a public
(3) plan your course of action; (4) brainstorm; (5) danger" (Levitz, 2007, p. B2).
know no boundaries; (6) employ the brand test; Turner's campaign's legality should also be ques-
(7) sweat the details; (8) be legal; (9) show integrity; tioned. Authorities said the devices were placed on
and (10) when it comes to results, don't judge too public property without required permits (Levitz,
quickly. In terms of being legal, Hallisy (2006) indi- 2007). Turner executives said they did not forewarn
cates the most common pitfalls of guerilla market- local authorities, because they never imagined the
ing are "trespassing on private property, defacing campaign would cause alarm (Levenson & Cramer,
private or public property, and not getting permis- 2007). The Mayor of Boston, Joseph A. Curtatone,
sion from the property owners when required" (p. has drafted an ordinance that would require people
13). In Singapore, placing Burger King stickers on engaged in guerilla marketing to "register with the
bus schedules to indicate store locations may be city's police chief and to follow city regulations"
considered an act of vandalism (Seaton, 2005). In (Boston Globe, 2007, p. 6). The proposed ordinance
addition to getting permission from private own- suggests that all practitioners should consider in-
ers, some irregular action held in public places forming local government when an unexpected
should also be approved by local government.

10 Public Relations Quarterly


form of a campaign will be held in public places to mayor of Boston described the campaign as "irre-
avoid unnecessary misunderstanding or panic. sponsible and threatened an independent lawsuit"
Despite the hysteria surrounding the campaign, (Boston Globe, 2007, p. 6). Should standards be set
not all people were scared by the blinking charac- for a technique in which the purpose is to go be-
ter box. Levenson and Cramer (2007) found there yond all standards? While the basis of guerrilla
is a wide gap between generations as to how they marketing may have no boundaries, the process
reacted to the devices. Todd Vanderlin, a 22-year- should still fall within the scope of general rules in-
old design student, said, "I knew it was art, and I cluding law, local regulation, social policy, and
knew it was part of the Adult Swim ads, because I marketing principles, to name a few.
saw a billboard for the same thing" (p. Al). But a Due to the government response, Aqua Teen
subway worker, obviously less attuned to the latest Hunger Force received more attention than any
underground marketing techniques, called the practitioner could ever dream, at the expense of $2
police after seeing one of the Aqua Teen Hunger million dollars and Turner and Interference's sul-
Force cartoon characters on an overpass in lied reputations as companies willing to cross the
Charlestown (Levenson & Cramer, 2007). Sam line between creative and reckless. In addition to
Ewen, CEO of Interference, said the campaign the numerous cases we use to discuss successful
focused primarily on Adult Swim fans (Ebenkamp, campaigns, despite the increased attention, the
2007). If this is the case, did Interference study the outcome here should be discussed as an example of
demographics and segment their audience? what not to do in a guerilla campaign. This case
The mantra of media planning is to reach the op- demonstrates that, despite the no-holds-barred
timum number of prospects with an optimum classification of guerilla marketing, there are ethi-
amount of frequency and minimum amount of cal, legal, and societal boundaries that must be
waste within a budget. The composition of the tar- maintained. PRQ
get audience in these major metropolitan intersec-
tions and subways is incredibly low. Perhaps, it
would have been more effective to install the elec- References
tronic devices on college campuses and in areas CNN.com (2007, February 1). Two held after ad campaign triggers Boston bomb scare.
Retrieved March 26, 2007 from http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/01/31/
frequented by individuals who would recognize the
boston.bombscare/
character and not call the police. Levinson notes Ebenkamp, B. (2007). The man who spooked Boston says his piece. Brandweek, 48(8), 6.
Editorial: Boston Stunt Not Funny. (2007, February 6). Knight Ridder Tribune Business
that guerrilla marketing should not try to be every- News, p. Al.
thing to everyone (cited in Simone, 2006). Also, Hatch, C. (2005). When should you try guerilla marketing? Batik Marketing, 37(2), 53.
Hallisy, B. H. (2006, March 3). Taking it to the streets: Steps to an effective-and ethical-
there were 10 cities around the nation where the guerilla marketing campaign. Tactics, 13.
guerilla ads appeared, but nowhere else did they Jacoby, J. (2007, February 4). The message in the bomb scare. Boston Globe, p. E9.
cause security concerns. As the originating site of Koth, W. (2007, February 6). Boston's response to 'Aqua Teen' stunt brings scoffs,
satire: City gets apology, $2M - and razzed over its reaction. USA Today, p. A2.
Levenson, M., & Cramer, M. (2007, February 1). Marketing gambit exposes a widfe
generation gap. Boston Globe, p. Al.
Levitz, J. (2007, February 1). TV promotion rattles Boston. Wall Street Journal, p. B2.
Should standards be set News in brief (2007, February 25). Boston Globe, p. 6.
Nolan, H. (2006). Dutch fans help expose Budweiser. PRieek, 9(26), S.

for a technique in which the Ridder, A. K. (2006, August 25). Filling the seats, beating the odds. Buiiiness News, p, 1.
Schweitzer, S. (2005, October 20). Building a buzz on campus: Companies enlist stu-

purpose is to go beyond dents to pitch products to their peers (3rd Ed.). Boston Globe, p. Al.
Seaton, J. (2005, September 9). Burger King guns for rivals in guerilla push. Media Asia,
p. 6.
all standards? Simone, P. (2006). Brand it like the big boys: Guerilla marketing demystified innova-
tion in the trenches. Hudson Valley Business journal 17(20), 21.
Sudhaman, A. (2004, August 27). Nike goes digital and splashes city with speed
theme. Media Asia, p. 11.
Trinidad, A. (2006, August 25). Filling the seats, beating the odds. Knight Ridder
two of the hijacked 9/11 flights, citizens may have Tribune Business News, p. 1.
Werner, T. (2003). A round "PEG" for a round hole: Advocating for the town of Oyster
been more alert (Koth, 2007). This case reminds
Bay's public access channel restrictions. Federal Communication Law Jourial,
practitioners to investigate the environment before 56(1), 239-268.
launching a guerilla campaign. Different locations
and demographics definitely generate different Lin Zuo is a master's student in the Gaylord College of
Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of
results. Oklahoma. She previously worked in marketing communica-
Guerrilla marketing has proven to be a valuable tions and project management at UFIDA Software Co., Ltd.
communication and outreach tool (Hatch, 2005). in Beijing, China.
In today's noisy environment, the acuity of a
guerilla marketing effort is an effective weapon to Shari Veil, Ph.D., MBA, teaches public relations and adver-
tising as an assistantprofessor of strategiccommunication in
cut through the competition. However, if improp- the Gaylord College of Journalismand Mass Communication
erly developed and executed, guerilla marketing at the University of Oklahoma. She researches crisis com-
can also exert negative effects on a brand. The munication from a public relationsperspective.

2006 11
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TITLE: Guerilla Marketing and the Aqua Teen Hunger Force


Fiasco
SOURCE: Public Relat Q 51 no4 Wint 2006/2007

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