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Marianne Paskowski

TBS ‘Adult Swim’ PR Sinks to New Low

January 31, 2007 11:46 PM

Well. How would you like to be me today, getting a morning call from my husband en-route today on a business trip by car to New Hampshire, saying all traffic was diverted because of an alleged terrorist package found under a bridge on Rte. 93, here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?

Of all places. Some 10 similar devices were found later, twisting the Boston metro area into knots.

As this day progressed, much later, we finally learned, of all things, it was just a publicity stunt gone awry from TBS’ Adult Swim. What the Time Warner-owned company actually did was place magnetic lights near billboards next to roads and under bridges. How incredibly insensitive. And for what purpose?

This stupid PR stunt caused enough alarm to shut down all traffic, get one person arrested, and totally tick off Gov. Deval Patrick enough to speak to the state’s attorney general about future recourse.

Well at the end of this long day, my husband is at home safe. Frankly, I can’t believe how stupid or low TV can sink at hawking its wares. Do you agree? Right now, I’m not feeling particularly warm or fuzzy about Adult Swim. I expect an apology to the Commonwealth. And I have not seen one yet.


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Comments (51)


Why didn't someone at Adult Swim realize that in this post -9/11 world that this "pr stunt" could cause a problem? When I first saw the news alert about it this afternoon, I thought it was a joke, but unfortunately it wasn't. It's too bad that this idea got approved... for everyone concerned.

Crisis Observer:

I happened to be the ICU at New England Medical Center with a friend in recovery and one of the now infamous devices was nearby. The Center was put on high emergency alert, while we watched each of the classic crisis communications blunders unfold on TV. TBS and the agency should have been out with a statement in the first minutes, and available by satellite for the governor's news conference. But the real question is: Who the heck didn't go through all the proper channels before launching the stunt? We live in a hyper-sensitive world, and this is a step back for the PR discipline.

Marianne Paskowski:

What a waste of Boston's resources, getting to the bottom of this. Officials vow they will make Turner pay.

Thanks for chiming in,

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Chris,

You are spot on about going through proper channels. Thanks for sharing your eye-witness account.



Lets not get too carried away.

First, as a publicist I must say this wasn't intended to be a "PR Stunt"...this has nothing to do with "PR" - this was a marketing stunt, or more accurately, a viral marketing stunt. There is a difference!

I must admit I'm a fan of the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and if anyone reading this is, you can see how funny the stunt was in theory. The "Rainbow Brite" looking things they hung around Boston were Mooninites, crude 80's era-looking videogame creatures that appear in the show. They look nothing like bombs. I'm sure no one at Cartoon Network or the marketing firm they hired ever dreamed these things would be construed as bombs. I’m also sure that the thousands of college kids in Boston (the very reason this city was chosen for the stunt) understood what was going on and probably got a huge kick out of it.

I was watching Cartoon Network - Adult Swim last night, and Turner broadcast a public apology...so for those who are curious, Mr. Kent at Turner was out with a statement almost immediately.

That being said, the marketing firm hired to do this is responsible for clearing the promotion with the city...and although CN is getting more buzz than they ever expected, this firm will have hell to pay!

Marianne Paskowski:

I think that marketing firm is toast, too. But you would think Turner would be more careful with vendors. Thanks for telling us about the show and the connection to Boston. Had no idea.


Jim Forkan:

Hi Marianne,
On that Cartoon Network guerilla marketing snafu in Boston -- If police are going to charge two college-age kids for placing these "Aqua Teen" devices, then they should also charge someone at Cartoon Network. That guerilla marketing firm surely didn't do this on their own, without approval from on high. It amazes me, in this post-9/11 era, that no one at Cartoon questioned that placement of suspicious packages around Beantown (and elsewhere) might be potentially misinterpreted as terrorism. I agree with CNN's resident curmudgeon Jack Cafferty that only a "moron" would think such a ploy was OK.
And b says we shouldn'g "get carried away" since these gizmos couldn't be construed as bombs. Well, let's not forget those improvised explosive devices that are killing and maiming our troops over in Iraq. They're packaged in things and left on roadsides, often not looking like things that would be bombs.

(sign me)

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Jim,
Let me tell you all a little about Boston and why this happened. Boston, on 9/11 was the meeting point for the 9/11 terrorists who blew up airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I get whyBoston officials went into overdrive here.

The kids that were picked up yesterday, were BTW in their late twenties. And I totally agree with you that they did not do this without Cartoon Network's sanction. Maybe they just don't get it in Atlanta. You and I were in New York for that fatal 9/11 horror.

I still maintain it was insensitive.

Thanks for posting,


Don't get twisted in your knickers, Lady.

It was all good old American marketing: by Turner, and by Boston cops, etc. showing off their stuff to lobby for more Homeland Security pork from D.C. So a few folks get inconvenienced. Relative to Baghdad, not a shabby time in Beantown.

Cruisin not Bruisin

Jeff Mulligan:


Maybe the best thing that can be said is that our entire nation has learned a lesson about security and the not-so-infrequent idiocy of unthinking promoters. I hear that Mayor Tom Menino wants Turner to pay around three-quarter million bucks to pay the costs of managing the public safety crisis Turner caused. Turner and its Time Inc. parent have plenty of bucks, probably more than the Boston City Council has at hand, so they can pay for their stupidity. Still, that's no compensation for the thousands of delayed and frustrated motorists and T riders, and what they might otherwise have to pay in future taxes.


John N. Bauer:


Love your blog, but your response to "Jim," calling the dudes what done it "insensitive," is way off the mark.

"Insensitive" is when you tip the waitress 15% instead of 20%.

These goofballs, and I mean the Turner execs who hired the perps, were down and dirty stupid. Or, more likely, don't give a damn about the public at large.

The Other Jack Bauer

revenge of the mooninites:

I've seen pictures of these ads and am amazed so many people were dumb enough to think something looking like a kids toy was a bomb. Talk about hysterical overreaction! Maybe you old-timers should get in touch with modern television and watch something besides reruns of Murder She Wrote.

Ed Graham:

This is just stupid. Boston's mayor and the police officials need to seriously ask, "Are we nuts?" You know, you can stick a bomb on a bridge that no one can see. Why would a terrorist put a bright light on it - - in the shape of a cartoon? Please, stop attacking the network and look at the real idiots, the ones that shut down a major city for no reason. By the way, the police always talk about how much something costs them. They are being paid to work anyway. Boston would have been better off if they were eating free donuts instead of closing streets and bridges. Ed Graham

Marianne Paskowski:

The whole thing was overkill and I read today that Turner is paying Boston $1 million for the upset. BTW, used to love Murder She Wrote. Is it still on?

Marianne Paskowski:

In retrospect it all seems so extreme. But we weren't there to make a tough call. In the end, Cartoon got a lot of buzz, more than $1 milliion im fees to Boston, could ever get the net. Still, a lot of my marketing pals thought it was a dumb stunt.



I usually agree with your points but this time I think we have the wrong culprits here. When people in our country are so spooked by a cartoon character advertising gimmick that a whole city goes into panic, maybe we should ask what is wrong with us. FDR said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself". By contrast our present government has kept us in a constant state of hysteria. Toddlers must remove their shoes in airports and local village town halls have hired security guards to protect against the 'likely' event that Osama's next attack will be aimed at their small, unknown little building. Where do we draw the line?

Marianne Paskowski:

Thanks for your reflective and thought-provoking response. You are asking the right question.


Marianne Paskowski:

Ugh. Sorry. The typo queen strikes again, that last comment was to Joan. And a suggestion to whoever moderates this blog. Can we find a more friendly typeface? Bump it up a point, and not so light and airy? Have had several folks asking the same thing.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure we're I'm going here, but a deep throat says this is not over. Others might be implicated. Will let you know when I know. For now, not floating flotsom.

chuck harrison:

The Adult Swim marketing snafu was plain stupid and Interference Marketing screwed bigtime with this guerilla marketing campaign. One Turner Broadcasting should've notified mayor of Boston and other parties over this stupid ad campaign. When I heard about this fiasco on Fox News and the mention of the Cartoon Network I couldn't help but laugh. I can understand Bostonians being enraged over this and the closed down it caused.
The Ceo should've been in Boston just hours after this blew up in thier faces. Second the CEO of Intereference should apologize as well. Both in my opioin should've realized that Boston is senstive to terror scares after the events of 9/11.
As an ad campaign it made Turner and Warner Brothers look real foolish in the public. There are better creative ways to advertise Adult Swim; instead of closing down a whole metropolis. The CEOs should apologize to the govenor and Homeland Security as well for making wasting manpower and money.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Chuck,
Today on a Boston radio station, the president of Interference Marketing apologized for the havoc it caused in the city. Earlier Turner execs had apologized and are ponying up a million for the manpower and resources Boston felt were necessary to deploy.

Maybe all you can say about this at the end of the day is that both sides hopefully learned a lesson. For Turner & Interference it should be to get necessary permits from the city. For Boston officials, maybe the message is to take a deep breath and think twice before pushing the panic button. But that's just Monday morning quarterbacking on my part.



listen, adult swim is just acting in accordance to its targeted audience.... teenage to mid 20 americans. this section of our society in a way grew up during the 9-11 scare and it doesn't scare them. over sensitivity or alleged terrorist threats plagues the 30+ in this country. think about it... if these packages and signs with a cartoon character were placed in boston in the 80's or 90's would they have even made local news?


Why weren't there bomb scares in any of the other cities that the advertisements were used? I think maybe the people of Boston are just idiots. Why would terrorists put bombs in plain view and with lights on them? That just makes no sense. Why should Turner have to pay just becuase Bostonians are afraid of Lite-brights?


I don't understand really why the people of Boston reacted so outrageously. What would make you think a cartoon character light board was signaling some terrorist attack. Don't you think if terrorists groups were to attack again they would be a bit more clever about it, rather than putting "bombs" right in the open to be seen. Turner Broadcasting did nothing wrong placing their advertising all over. Let's remember Boston was not the only city where they put these signs up, they just happened to be the only ones to make a big deal about it. I believe the Adult Swim advertising was no different than any other major company putting up posters and signs everywhere. It was the city of Boston that wasted their time and money.


This thing in Boston is getting the job done for Cartoon Network's "Adult
Swim" -- the blogs are eating it up. The 18-34 demo has now sat up and took
Don't be surprised to see
LED T-shirts popping


Why did only Boston over-react. The other cities' responses weren't as reactionary. Seems odd to me.

Marianne Paskowski:

But Mandy,
Your point about the timing is the whole thing.This stunt happened post 9/11. We'll never know how many attempts have been stopped, but we now they have like the nut job with the detonating device on his tennis shoe who got on an airplane.

Sorry I don't agree,

Marianne Paskowski:

May I remind you that Boston was the base of the terrorists who successfully highjacked planes and jammed them into the WTC and the Pentagon. That is a fact.

Thanks for your two cents,

Marianne Paskowski:

Please read my most recent postings on why Boston reacted the way it did: Beantown was headquarter central for the 9/11 hijjackers.



Marianne Paskowski:

Cartoon now is spending $2 million for this campaign. It got a lot of buzz. But not all buzz is good buzz. Had lunch with a CEO today who runs four nets, and he/she thought it was a cheap shot.


Marianne Paskowski:


For the umpteenth time Boston was headquarters for the 9/11 hijackers. Where do you live? Where you in New York, D.C. for Boston that day, where many of us were and will never forget that day. I was in New York, not far from it all. Now I am a Cape Codder, close to Boston, and have learned more about what happened.

To defend Cartoon is naive.

Sorrry I don't agree,



I am just waiting to see what heads roll. This is an expensive marketing stunt and a big embarassement for the brass at Turner. A big problem with a lot of people right now is their insensitivity.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Poncho,
I think you are spot on. It's not the money, it's the disapproval of the marketing community at large.

Thanks for your wisdom,



So, Boston over-reacts because they were the terrorists' base of operations, but New York (where the devastation actually occurred) didn't really react at all? Lame! I think the Boston authorities knew it was a marketing stunt and thought to A) teach the firm a lesson, B) extort some money or C) all of the above. If anyone should be hyper-sensitive to stray items with blinky lights hanging out under bridges, one would think it would be New York City. And of this 2 million Cartoon Network has to pay, ALL is staying in Boston. Shouldn't it be spread around the other cities that were part of the stunt?

Marianne Paskowski:


Yikes! Of course the money is staying in Boston, no other city had this type of experience with the campaign and spent gobs of money deploying officers and resources.

Your conspiracy theory about Beantown knowing is off the reservation. Turner and its third party vendor never asked permission or let Boston know, that's viral marketing.

But thanks for sharing,


Yikes! to you. You've never given a credible reason why TEN other cities (one of which the actual devastation of Sept. 11 took place in) didn't over-react in such a way. The "base of operations" is not a good enough answer. Why would "base of operations" outweigh the actual act? Why did NO other city respond by shutting down streets, closing bridges, and blowing up lighted cartoon characters.

Andy Samet:

Just a couple of quick comments:

One, the line between weapons and toys was already dangerously blurred before this. Automatic weapons are now made of plastic to evade metal detectors. So the notion that something that looks like a toy cannot be a bomb is false.

Two, even with the $2 million they're shelling out to compensate the Boston police, Turner made out like a bandit on this PR stunt. And let's be real, that's exactly what this was. As viral marketing, it was a dismal failure. But now...

Three, if you really want to despair about the future of America, just try watching "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" a couple of times. Hard to believe something like that could be targeted to anyone over the age of two.

Marianne Paskowski:


Let me try to explain. Although nothing happened on 9/11 in Boston, it all originated from here. Where the hijackers boarded the planses. Boston officials would never let that happen again. And that's the simple answer.


Marianne Paskowski:

Oh Andy,
Thanks for a voice of wisdom here. I am not anti-viral marketing, but to do it, you have to do it right. Turner is an Atlanta based company and was unknowingly insensitive about Boston. That's OK. I'm sure, well I know, they learned a lot from this thing.

So Andy, keep coming back and tell me/us what's on your radar screen.BTW, somebody told me today, that it's not all over. That other cities, where Turner did the same thing, are quietly trying to collect damages. I don't know the answers yet.And I doubt I ever will. But I'm on the case.

Warmest from the Tundra,


I think you misunderstand. I am not promoting the idea of a "conspiracy" in that Boston knew what they were AHEAD OF TIME. But once they found the said "light bright" item, realized what it was, and made a big show to make the marketers pay. And pay they did. You've still never explained why only Boston is the super-vigilant city and the others (including New York City, which should have REALLY reacted harshly) did virtually nothing. And what they did do was quiet. You mention the other cities "are quietly trying to collect damages." That's my point: QUIETLY. Boston made a big stink and had it televised on every news channel and printed in every paper.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Operadogs,

Well, I only happened to hear how the other cities that went through the viral marketing campaign reacted, after Boston's screaming. It's not over. They want something too. I don't know what it is, or think I will ever will, but still on the case..

Meanwhile Anna Nicole Smith died and all the cable nets are gonna milk that one. What an interesting life she led. Will you watch those shows, like the first one on Biography?And would you like to learn more about her from other cable specials?

Nitey nite,

Marianne Paskowski:

Well more aftermath: Cartoon Net's GM Jim Samples "resigned" today, over the promotional fiasco in Boston.

Now that I find overkill. Everyone makes mistakes and learns from them. Do you agree? And does anybody actually believed it was resigned or fired for his $2 million lapse in judgment?


He was asked to leave. Anytime you blow $2mm on a promotion that is reason enough. Plus, it led to a ton a bad publicity for the comapny as having poor judgment and being out of touch. I expected it sooner. also surprised it was just one person leaving.

Speaking of heads rolling , how about the 250 rollling down broadway today. MTV not to be outdone by Discovery and NBC makes a statement.
Congrats to Denise on her promotion, must make it hard to celebrate when it happens amist so must negativity.

Marianne Paskowski:

It all blows. Not surprised about Samples. But I hated the way they, Turner announced it. And now MTV. More, many more layoffs coming elsewhere. And you might be one of them, although I hope not. Leave no crumbs.



No doubt. Call me crumb snatcher!


It was a stupid ad campaign. How stupid did Boston officals really have to be to waste there OWN TIME on a advertisting stunt. I thought we were past being afaid of lights!

Marianne Paskowski:

You are the master of no crumbs. Learned a lot from you.

Hang in there,

Marianne Paskowski:


Apparently not. That is our world. Would Israel tolerate this. Not on your life. Fly El Al and see what you're facing.


phil jabronski:

Listen i was watching deep impact for the first time. A commercial break was that must have lasted almost 80 years. whats with that.

phil jabronski:

hey its me again its just im sitting through another commercial break. and itss nott enddingggg. my friend just said "thisss iss soo longg". God damn another commercial. i mean i have time to right all this during the break. oops heres another one. annnndddd bam here comes another one. what movie was i watching again... hahaha omg another commercial.


Pr stunt? As if they calculated in that the masses would assume (as they always do) that thing they don't understand or recognize are to be feared, thus creating the "terrorism" scare.

People need to smarten up, and the media needs to stop being part of the problem. Blinking lights advertising a cartoon... this just illustrated the same mundane fear average Americans show for people who speak different languages or look different. Run of the mill ignorance and fear mongering.

` Laynaa:

Lady PLEASE. the things dont EVEN look like bombs. shut up. SERIOUSLY. =/
honestly it was a stupid thing, but what a WASTE of internet space.

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