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Marianne Paskowski

Turner: No Interference on ‘Interference’

March 8, 2007 12:33 PM

Home. Back on the spit of sand after many cable confabs in New York this week. One of the most interesting things I heard was from TBS’ SVP Shirley Powell. We were on a panel that touched on what went wrong with CartoonNet’s viral marketing effort in Boston last month for Adult Swim that shut down the city.

If you recall, Cartoon hired a third party vendor called Interference, a boutique marketing outfit in New York with only 14 employees, to launch a viral marketing campaign. It placed funky billboards in prominent places, under bridges and potential terrorist-attack sights, without gaining permission from local authorities. Boston officials went ballistic and shut the city down.

Bottom line: TBS paid local officials in Beantown $2 million to compensate all the first responders who thought the marketing scheme was an actual bomb scare and deployed their first responders to the scene.

When I asked Powell today, in public, if Interference was subsequently crossed off the “preferred vendors” listafter this stunt gone awry, she said, “No,” adding that Turner took full responsibility for the unintended fiasco.

Question to all of you marketing mavens: Would you keep this high-antics third party vendor on your list? I’m not sure I would.


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Comments (14)


Oh Please don't tell me you're surprised by this Marianne? TBS paid Boston $2 million for a stunt that got their programming national coverage on every form of news media available. How much would they have had to pay to get commercial coverage in all of those markets on all of those media forms? Those guys probably got a bonus or at least they should have.


Hi Shady,

Well, I agree that TBS got a lot of ink for its $2 million payback for a show no one ever heard about or saw. But it wasn't good ink. I googled Interference, 990,000 references, and they were all pretty negative about the Boston escapade.

TBS probably did the right thing, by not taking Interference off of its preferred vendor's list. Nobody in that mega-media outfit would dare use them again, I would wager.

Afterall, Cartoon's GM "resigned" over this fiasco. I don't know if Cartoon's Adult Swin got more tune-in, but maybe they did. But it was probably fading as viewers quickly went on to the next story, Anna Nicole Smith's death, and all of the fall out there.

Be well my friend or fiend,

Jeff Mulligan:


I suspect you only know the obvious parts of the story, and assume that the screw-up by Interference immediately means its head will role as the fall guy. But might there be more important future reasons to keep Interference in the preferred vendor family? Maybe the outfit or a key person in it is too brilliant to ignore (not that the Boston brouhaha necessarily implies that!). Maybe the actual people what done it have been fired, or at least are fully educated now about civic responsibility. So why not keep a great supplier? Firing an outfit to cover some inside exec's tush won't bring back the $2 million paid to Boston, nor will it allow Turner to tap Interference's skills in the future.

Then again, the highly public response of the Boston first-responders turned what is arguably a clever promotion into an unexpected headline maker--the best publicity that money otherwise can't buy.


Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Jeff,

Oh, you have it all wrong. The head of Interference is probably still there. The stunt did more for his company than it did for TBS' Cartoon Net's Adult Swim. Afterall, the GM of Cartoon "resigned."

I doubt the folks at Interference planned the costly outcome in Boston. Remember, they did the very same thing, earlier in other cities, with none of the repercusssions from Boston

But Boston, the origin of the hijackers who took down the World Trade Center and bombed the Pentagon, reacted differently. Like high alert.

I think no one at Interference was sensitive to that, or else they would have gone through the appropriate channels to clear the campaign. Interference showed a lack of judgment. And I'm so sorry to see the head of Cartoon fall on his sword over the attempt to reach viewers.

And Jeff, I know more about this story than I can print. I doubt, as you suggest that Interference is in high demand. Let's keep googling them to see if they get any positive ink.




Yo, Blondie,

You're bloviating as if anyone on the sell side in this fiasco had good sense or intends to show good sense in the future. A couple of wingnut kids plant some geeky electronic signs around Boston to promote a show called Adult Swim? Gimmie a break! Who'd watch anything like that anyway? The whack jobs that wouldn't care whether the news about the stunt is good or bad; they're too high to care! Spending an extra $2 million to really get the word out to that target audience is a bargain.

Cruisin' not bruisin'

Marianne Paskowski:

Oh Cruiser,

How nice to see you back again. I'm really impressed that you have "bloviating" in your vocabulary. My kind of guy. But let's not smear Interference. You assume they were on drugs and or crrazy. Doubt it.

The bottom line here is that Cartoon did not monitor the situation. Sounds like you think this is what TBS wanted to happen. No way Jose.

Regards to you,


The overall issue for me as a marketer is running an effective campaign that would produce a good return on investment. This campaign did not do that in two ways, there was no return on investment, in fact the campaign cost the Turner in dollars and goodwill, and all the bases were not covered in planning the campaign. A simple call to the city of Boston for permission to put up the signs would have averted the negative press generated by the campaign. Paying the $2 million, the head of the network having to resign and no discernable increase in viewers demonstrates that not all publicity is good publicity. Marketing has to be conducted within the context of society, which means marketers have to do some simple things like disclosure and asking permission. Marianne you would not write a blog post that did not cite material you included, or not ask for permission to include a quote to a private conversation with a colleague or client. There's no difference with the Cartoon Network campaign in Boston, asking permission was the right thing to do.

If an agency could not assure me that they were able to run a guerilla marketing campaign effectively I would not hire them.

Scott Kurnit:

1. It was a good idea.
2. Guerilla marketing is just that - and asking permission from the city would have them say "no, go buy some billboards."
3. It was an unfortunate response in our new paranoid world... and yes, they probably should have thought it through... but not sure any of us would have been able to see the issue ahead of time.
4. The agency did a good job and should be used again, no one from TBS should have been fired and the $2mm was a bargain.

Marianne Paskowski:


Thanks for weighing in and I guess we'll never know if this campaign was successful and that Turner got return on its investment. Still haven't see the stupid show.


Marianne Paskowski:


See that's the problem, they should have bought the dammed billboards like everyone else does. I totally diagree with you btw, that the agency did a good job. Interference made a mess of this.



It sure looked like the Interference folks who danced into the court room and on the airwaves were pretty confident of their situation. I suspect they had a nice contract to do the bidding of the Cartoon Network and it problably was the brain child of the network. Interference just executed to the commands of the network with good legal clauses to protect them. As a vendor for clients who have half-baked ideas to execute - I see how this is entirely possible.

I watch the cartoon network more these days!

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Cliff,
You're probably spot on about Interference having legal clauses for protection because those dudes didn't look like they had a care in the world.

Too bad the GM for Cartoon had to fall on his sword.


Robert French had an interesting post suggesting that the second Boston campaign was targeted for ratings week.

Marianne Paskowski:

Oh John,

Never thought of that. But it's probably true. I really don't think Turner intended what happened to happen, and it did in Boston.


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