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For every tactic the world of marketing and advertising dreams up, we have a counter-technology that will block their attempts to reach us. We zap TV ads with the aid of digital video recorders such as TiVo. We subscribe to satellite radio or listen to podcasts to skip radio commercials. Our web browsers have pop-up ad blockers to put those annoying, blinking ads to rest.

We might win a battle here and there, but the marketers are out to win the war. They’ve come up with web technology to get around the pop-up blockers. They sponsor our favorite podcasts, and then use product placements in TV shows and movies. And we all know how good they are at reaching us with in every conceivable place, from messages imprinted on the sand at beaches to video ads that run in elevators and malls.

So while we can argue about the stupidity or brilliance — or both — of the recent guerrilla marketing campaign by Turner Broadcasting for the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” animated movie, we know it’s another desperate tactic by marketers in the battle for our attention. In this case, Turner planted little blinky signs of a crude alien making a crude gesture with its middle finger. In Boston, city officials believed the blinky signs might be bombs and shut down traffic, creating chaos. Two guys who placed the blinky signs around town were arrested, and the CEO of Turner apologized profusely.

I remember when I first watched the movie, “Brazil,” and wondered about its dark vision of a world where bomb blasts go off in restaurants and people barely pay attention. Now I wonder if marketers will have to set off bombs to get our attention. We are so busy and so frazzled, with a virtual bombardment of media from all directions — computer, iPod, smart phone, instant messaging, email, TV, radio, magazines, newspapers and on and on. What will make us take notice of your ad message?

Google (and Overture before that) got this right by serving simple, relevant text ads up with our search results — giving us the ads we actually want. That’s one way to get our attention and make us feel good about ads. There’s also the recent trend toward user-generated ads, where advertisers let the audience create the ads. At least four ads for this Sunday’s Super Bowl will be created by average folks who won contests, according to the Washington Post, including a Doritos ad that cost $12.79 to make. That’s a real feel-good story, except for the ad agencies that lost out on making the ad.

The Turner campaign can easily be faulted for going a bit too far, for not advising the authorities in Boston, for possibly putting two guys (or more) in jail. But time will tell if this was a battle won or lost by the guerrilla forces. Many stories about the bomb scare mention that older folks were upset by the blinky devices, which had batteries and wires attached. But younger folks, it seems, were much more hip to the cartoon and knew it was a viral marketing campaign. And maybe the marketers, in this way, reached their intended audience and only insulted the generation of folks who had no chance of seeing the movie anyway.

The authorities may well have overreacted to the blinky signs, but it was an overreaction that brought massive press mentions of the movie and cartoon, and that’s a victory for any marketer who doesn’t want to bomb.

What do you think? Did the Turner marketers go too far with this campaign or did the authorities overreact? Where do you draw the line with guerilla marketing and when do you think it works against the product? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Photo by Philip Torrone of MAKE magazine.]

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