Over the last couple of days, we’ve received a ton of emails asking us to give our thoughts on what went down in Boston last week when the city was essentially shut down because of a street marketing campaign that co-opted GRL’s LED throwies and turned them into a series of Lite-Brite type guerrilla ads.
Because (a) we’ve been traveling and (b) we wanted to wait until we saw how things played out a bit, we haven’t commented on it yet.
So for what it’s worth, here’s our take.
The whole thing was like watching some version of 1984 or the Manchurian Candidate or something like that. It was almost surreal.
First, the ads didn’t terrorize anyone.
The city politicians and the media did.
The politicians made their response into a media event to get re-elected. If you watch the videos of the press conferences on Boston.com of the Mayor of Boston and the Police Chief and the government officials, you will see clearly that they used the event as a way to manipulate the public into thinking that they are protected from terrorism by the City of Boston.
By giving press conferences and calling the things “Hoax Devices” (which they clearly weren’t), the City was able to orchestrate a manufactured response that showed that they can fight terrorism and that the citizens of Boston can trust them to keep them safe.
By showing “BREAKING NEWS” and cutting into boring crap daytime programming that nobody wants to watch, the tv stations in Boston and CNN were able to show that they are on “top of breaking stories”. The used the event to create dramatic, sensationalized programming. They repeated words like “HOAX DEVICE” and “TERRORISM” and “9/11” to keep people watching.
And for the most part, the public played right into it, never questioning it.
Not enough people have said -
“Come on guys, who the fuck are you kidding here?”
Okay, so that said, we also think that the negative results and effects of the campaign only highlight the fact that deception and stealth marketing will never lead to anything other than fucking disaster. If you play with fire, as the marketers did in this instance, you’re likely to get burned. And they did.
So we’re not surprised that the thing turned into a circus. Advertising and guerrilla interventions don’t have anything to do with each other. Marketers need to resist the urge to try to blend them together. If something is an ad, I personally can live with that, but call it an ad. Don’t try to make it seem like it’s some sort of guerrilla intervention done by artists. It’s not. It’s an ad. Call it an ad. Label it as an ad. Don’t try to have it both ways.
The guys that put up the LED’s for the campaign weren’t artists when they did it. They were employees. They may be artists elsewhere in their life, but not in doing this action for Turner. So at first we had some sympathy for the two guys when they got arrested. We felt that they didn’t deserve to take the heat for doing something that was manipulated by the government and the media.
But then we watched them mock the whole thing during the “press conference” and our opinion was -
Fuck you guys. You’re acting like you’re some cool iconoclast artists who should become some mythic heros for all of us because you can mock the media and show that you’re above them. You’re not Abbie Hoffman. You’re acting like all you did was put up some renegade art. But you didn’t. You were employees and employees only. You did it for money. Don’t act like what you did was counter-culture and renegade. I don’t give a fuck what your hair looks like, you’re more “mainstream” then my mother is.
In regards to the campaign itself. Well, we think that while it was misguided, it actually didn’t deserve the attention or the negativity that it got. There’s far worse campaigns then that one. Everything that GRL does is open source so the fact that an ad campaign used the LED throwies doesn’t surprise us. It was bound to happen.
The bottom line is that the more brands try to be cool, the more it will bite them in the ass.
As it did here.
As rock-and-roll proves, you’re either cool or you’re not.
Trying too hard to be cool only shows that you have absolutely nothing to say.
In truth, the signs themselves didn’t bother us all that much. We saw one on Lafayette Street weeks ago and didn’t think much about it. Since we know the show and the character, the ads themselves didn’t seem all that stealth to us.
Now what did bother us though, was the video that they two guys did that was posted to Youtube. It made it seem like they were GRL and that they were doing some cool art related intervention. That video was clearly meant to be deceptive.
It was clearly trying to create a sense of something being cool when at then end of the day all it is really is another ad.
Okay, so that’s our two sense of the whole thing.
We’re off to go play in the snow in Hyde Park.