Guerilla marketing is often a risky business, skirting the edge of ethical (or even legal) acceptability. Some guerilla marketers who have crossed the line have caused everything from Olympic belly-flops to city-wide bomb scares in Boston and have been punished with anything from modest jail time to millions of dollars in fines. All the same, some of these are probably (secretly) considered successes because subsequent media attention to the debacles probably raised more awareness than the guerilla campaigns alone ever could have. Some guerilla marketing is even done to support good causes though much of it is created to line the pockets of giant corporations. Know of other great examples of guerilla marketing gone wrong? See also: Subversive Marketing and Culture Jamming.
The Olympics aren’t games to be toyed with apparently, as one tutu-wearing prankster learned the hard way. In an effort to guerilla market an online gaming site a Canadian man leapt into an Olympic pool at the 2004 Athens games. He was convicted of various counts of trespassing and creating a disturbance and was sentenced to multiple months in a Greek prison but then released with a fine of just a few hundred dollars. Some divers were apparently put off by the intervention and subsequently failed to complete their dives.
The Microsoft Zune arguably has more haters than fans, apparently including some police officers in Austin, Texas. A person postering guerilla advertisements for the Zune was detained and handcuffed by authorities at SXSW last year. According to one eyewitness the police were overheard saying something like “We’ll have none of your advertising for your DRM “crippleware” crappy MP3 player littering our town.” Now that is an interesting reason to state for arrest if ever there was one.
There are many fans of the new movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall – unfortunately, most women named Sarah Marshall aren’t among them. Guerilla-style scrawled ads posted around the country have featured disparaging phrases like “You Suck Sarah Marshall” leading up to the film’s release. Perhaps it never occurred to the guerilla marketers behind these campaigns that there are, in fact, many real-life women with that name. Responses have ranged from frustration to raging retaliation (with comparable “You Suck” signs aimed at the film’s director). The lucky woman, however, who owns SarahMarshall.com was relatively pleased with the tens of thousands of visitors her website received.
We’ve all heard of subtle guerilla marketing campaigns aimed at mentioning products casually so that passers-by will overhear a name-drop and it should be no surprise that this kind of marketing has found its way online as well. Nvidia is one of a number of companies that has been accused of seeding online forums with fake-fan support for their products. Of course, when the truth comes out real forum users are often none-too-pleased with the deception and the lame excuses provided by the marketers or companies accused.
Of course, no discussion of guerilla marketing gone wrong could possibly be complete without the 2007 Boston bomb scare. A number of LED signs designed to promote the television program Aqua Teen Hunger Force were mistakenly identified as explosive devices. At the time, these cute little blinking cartoon figures probably seemed like a brilliant way to raise curiosity. In retrospect, in this post-911 world installing a series of complex wire-filled devices with their own power sources on public structural elements like bridge supports was probably a tremendously terrible idea. Worse yet, the marketing company and device designers failed to notify the police of the devices’ true purpose even after learnings that they were being treated as bombs by authorities. Though no jail sentences resulted from the incident Turner Broadcasting paid millions of dollars to city police and Homeland Security to resolve the matter.