Monday, February 05, 2007

How To Stay Out of the Limelight of a Marketing Controversy

I've been invited to speak to the Public Relations Student Society of America group at Emerson College tomorrow night to reflect on the Aqua Teen guerilla marketing program gone wrong and to speak about my work with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

The latest development with the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerilla campaign is that Turner Broadcasting and Interference Inc have accepted full responsibility for the panic caused by the campaign and agreed to pay $2,000,000 for damages (about $1 million) and future emergency preparedness programs (another $1 million). I have to think Turner is gonna cover all of this.

On NPR tonight I also heard that the charges against Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, the two individuals who placed the LED devices in Boston, will be "resolved."

Interference Inc has also put its website back online (it had been offline for a couple days, and then at one point, only included an apology in black lettering on a white background).

One of the charts I'd like to show in our discussion is the graph above from the DIY BlogPulse trend tool. There's a huge spike and then a significant drop off. Based on volume, Aqua Teen Hunger Force has definitely benefited (which should help for the release of the upcoming movie). Turner Broadcasting had much more attention than usual, but interestingly Interference Inc. has still stayed relatively out of a lot of the public discussion on this.

There is a fascinating parallel here to another controversial campaign with which Interference was involved: the Sony Ericsson Fake Tourist campaign (go to Interference's website and click on "case studies" and then "Sony Ericsson"). According to Interference's website, they created the Fake Tourist campaign on behalf of Fathom Communications. However, when you see the CBS 60 Minutes "Undercover Marketing Uncovered" show (2003) where this campaign was brought to the attention of many in the mainstream, Interference (or Fathom Communications) was never mentioned, just Sony Ericsson. However, in the Wall Street Journal article from 2002, Fathom Communications was credited for the campaign.

Both of the campaigns raise concerns about disclosure of the fact that there is a marketing campaign involved. Interested readers may want to check out Sean Carton's ClickZ article on lessons that can be learned from the ill-conceived Aqua Teen campaign. He was kind of enough to mention my research on the role of disclosure in WOM marketing campaigns and I've had people downloading my "To Tell Or Not To Tell?" report all day today.

I look forward to talking with the faculty and students at Emerson tomorrow about these issues and more!