Spilling the beans
Guerilla marketing is getting credit for making a monkey out of Boston. This month, the Cartoon Network planted 38 Lite-Brite boxes throughout the city to promote a soon-to-be-released movie, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” which stars talking food. However ill-conceived, the movie’s marketing plan — electronic boxes with dangling wires and batteries conspicuously placed in nearly a dozen U.S. cities — isn’t the worst offense. Even the finger-flipping character illuminated on the boxes’ screens seemed appropriate to attract the television cartoon’s primary audience of 18- to 24-year-olds.
Certainly, I have no problem with the city’s reaction to shut down roads, close bridges and send SWAT teams to investigate what could have been a series of bombs. Boston also had no choice — even after the police had determined the first box posed no threat — when it closed more roads and bridges in response to additional reports of similar unattended devices.
My problem with the incident is that Turner Broadcasting, parent of its juvenile offspring, The Cartoon Network, offered Boston a paltry $2 million for its trouble. True, the city claimed that its costs were close to $800,000, but a couple of million bucks is chump change when you consider Boston and its residents held the world spellbound far longer than the movie or its chintzy guerilla marketing campaign would have done on its own. Like any well-known actor whose Oscar-winning performance helps a movie’s promoters cash in at the box office, the city should demand a larger cut.
“Aqua Teen Hunger Force” likely will not top “Titanic’s” $600 million in ticket sales or “Star Wars’” $460 million in box office receipts. But, with Boston’s help, Turner’s otherwise obscure cartoon hamburger, fries and drink could now match “The Wedding Crashers’” $209 million in ticket sales or “The Mummy Returns’” $202 million in gross theater sales — not to mention their tape and DVD rental revenue.
Turner owes the city more than an apology and a few bucks, knowing, at the very least, that it was going to use the city’s property to promote its product without permission or payment of any kind. Following the law of unintended consequences, the company only meant to promote a movie, not paralyze Boston for a day. But, it did both. And, the city didn’t intend on promoting the movie when it spent nearly $1 million on investigating terrorist threats, but both were accomplished, too. Even uber hip guerilla marketers know that all the world’s a stage, and that sometimes you have to pay a premium to rent the facilities. I suggest 5 percent of the gross box office and rental receipts, for example, $10 million dollars on $200 million in sales.
It’s all just business, dude.