Guerilla marketing is corporate vandalism: Sam Ewen and Interference, Inc. are the real villains in the Boston Mooninite debacle
Many questions remain unanswered about Wednesday's bomb scare in Boston. Did the police overreact? How could 400 LEDs hang for 2-3 weeks in 10 cities including Boston without incident prior to Wednesday's panic?
One thing we do know is that Sam Ewen's "guerilla marketing" firm Interference, Inc. needlessly terrorized a city and abandoned two twenty-something artists to face criminal charges that could wreck their lives. Interference knew about the bomb scare but didn't tell the police. Instead, the firm pressured the two installation artists to keep quiet while chaos and fear gripped a major city.
The Boston Globe has revealed that Interference knew about the bomb scare in Boston as early as 1:25pm on Wednesday and emailed the installers, Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky, asking them to keep quiet:
According to friends, Stevens and Berdovsky, who perform and install video art, were elated to be hired to hang the magnetic cartoon signs around the city to promote the show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force ." In November, Berdovsky met a man in Brooklyn, N.Y., who asked him whether he was interested in the work, and Berdovsky later recruited Stevens, according to a police report. The two men were to be paid $300 each by Interference.
The two, who live in an apartment next to railroad tracks just off Interstate 93, are huge fans of the show, which features "Mooninite" cartoon figures and animated French Fries, a meatball, and a milkshake.
"They were really excited," said Travis Vautour , 24, of Cleveland Circle. "We saw all the pieces up two or three weeks ago, and we all had a good laugh."
The laughter faded late Wednesday morning when the friends saw television footage of police blowing up one of the signs and realized what was happening. The friends e-mailed links to the footage to one another. About 1:25 p.m. Berdovsky e-mailed several friends and said the advertising firm had told him to keep quiet, friends said. [BG]
Interference did not contact the police. Turner Broadcasting claims that it didn't hear from Interference about the uproar until 5pm that afternoon. Meanwhile, the city of Boston was paralyzed, federal officials were rushing to the scene, and US Northern Command was monitoring the situation at its Colorado Springs headquarters.
According to the Globe article, Interference didn't even have the decency to post bond for Stevens and Berdovsky.
Relatives and friends posted the $2,500 cash bail for both men. They pleaded not guilty to one count of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and one count of placing a hoax device, a felony that carries a maximum of five years' imprisonment.
If Ewen or anyone else at Interference knew about the bomb scare and failed to inform authorities, that's a hoax. The two artists have been charged with hoaxing, but there's no reason to believe that they realized the Mooninite gizmos would cause a bomb scare. On the other hand, Interference seems to have realized that a bomb scare was underway and allowed it to continue for several hours. You can't have a hoax without an intent deceive. The guys who put up the ads didn't intend to convince the public that their LEDs were bombs. Whereas, it seems like Interference wanted the public to believe in the phony bomb scare as long as possible. Maybe they were just stalling and not hoaxing. I hope a jury gets a chance to decide this question soon.
Good for the Globe for including this quote, "Had they foreseen anything like this happening, they wouldn't have done it at all," Vautour said. "It isn't an act of rebellion; it's just a job."
That's right. Just a job. A crappy one-night assignment followed by criminal charges. This isn't a story about alternative culture or freedom of speech, or even terror hysteria. This is about corporate greed and exploitation.
Update: A lawyer for Interference claims that the company "acted with all due and deliberate speed. CEO Sam Ewen denies that Interference tried to silence the artists:
The statement said that Interference first received word that its marketing campaign had gone awry when Peter Berdovsky, the artist whom it hired to install the signs in Boston, called the firm's office in SoHo "to explain that the marketing campaign had become a story in the local news."
In the e-mail that friends said Berdovsky sent them, he said an Interference executive had asked him to "pretty please keep everything on the dl," slang for down low, or quiet.
But Ewen, in his statement, said his company immediately informed Turner Broadcasting and told officials in Boston and the nine other cities where they could find the signs. "At no time, and in no way, did we ever seek to hide our involvement in this situation or ask or direct others to do so," he said. [BG]
The article doesn't say what time Interference claims that Berdovsky called the SoHo office. Remember that Turner says it didn't know about the bomb scare until 5 o'clock that afternoon, but the first report came in at eight o'clock in the morning, followed by 4 more calls around 1 o'clock that afternoon.
Turner chairman Phil Kent says he heard about the bomb scare from a colleague who saw the news on CNN.
We'll have to wait on the authentication of the emails and phone records for the SoHo office. Of course, if Interference called the police, that should be a matter of public record.
Update 2: Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis issued a statement that at approximately 4:30 p.m detectives "were contacted and were verifying information from representatives from the corporation responsible for this advertising campaign." The commissioner didn't say whether it Interference or Turner made the 4:30 call. By 4:51 pm, Turner was confirmed to have accepted responsibility for planting the devices.