Chip Shots by Chip Griffin

Responsibility for Unintended Consequences

“What is the responsibility of a marketer to understand the potential effects of the campaign?”  That’s the question Susan Getgood poses.  She, of course, is referring to the now infamous Boston Bomb Scare last week. 

Susan raises an interesting point:

if the goal was to reach out to the natural audience for the show, those that already recognized the character, then the logical place to put the devices would have been colleges, universities and so forth.

Not I-93. Yet, the agency specified just those sort of places — overpasses, bridges and the like. Why? Was it simply because those were visible spots, or did they perhaps have a clue of what MIGHT happen if a device was placed on a key and highly visible piece of transportation infrastructure? Or were they just stupid? We will never know for certain.

Katie Paine also has concerns about the guerilla marketing firm involved, but believes that Interference could still profit from the mess:

PR classes around the world have a great new case study to debate.  In my mind, the only figure in this saga that may still have egg on its face is Interference, the marketing firm that cooked up the lame brained scheme in the first place. On the other hand if the Aqua Teen movie breaks box office records, their phones will probably be ringing off the hook.

For John Cass, the answer may lie in tougher and better enforced ethics codes:

I think that any marketer should work within an ethical framework, their own conscience, the laws of the state they live within, and if you are a member of various marketing related associations, the ethics code of the association … perhaps there should be consequences for companies that overstep legal bounds within the marketing community; we’d do that by suspending the companies involved in any national marketing associations they are involved with.

CustomScoop’s Sarah Wurrey asks on our company blog whether this might not lead to copycats following the adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

One must wonder then whether there is a marketing exec somewhere turning secret cartwheels over this gaffe, even as they issue public apologies—and if other companies will make bungled attempts to imitate this sort of accidental publicity with stunts of their own.

Ultimately, every marketing firm and the companies that employ them must make their own determinations as to the level of risk they are willing to undertake, especially when it comes to guerrilla marketing campaigns.  By its very nature, this type of marketing will carry some risk.  And companies can’t always foresee every possible unintended consequence.

Personally, I’m skeptical of ethics codes for professional associations and how much good they really do.  John Cass cited the Edelman 90 day suspension from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association last year as an example of the kind of thing that may curb questionable behavior.  But I wonder how much that would really factor in to any account exec’s thinking at Edelman.  My guess is they fear their bosses more than WOMMA.  And Edelman isn’t going to lose any business if it were out of WOMMA altogether.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t have ethics codes and firms shouldn’t be urged to adhere to them, with consequences when they don’t, but at they generally end up being fairly ineffective at behavior modification.

As usually happens, market forces will likely decide whether Interference went far or Boston overreacted.  Clients will vote with their marketing budgets by deciding whether to use that firm in the future.

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