Adult Swim Drowning :: Nielsen Likely Caused It

Ratings were the reason behind the Adult Swim debacle in Boston, to be sure. Turner wanted higher ratings for Adult Swim/Aqua Teen. But, the story is more complicated than that. Think of it as a special college student sweeps week. The first of its kind. Why?

Nielsen has started counting college students living away from home in their TV ratings, beginning January 29. The very week of the Boston incident. So, this guerilla marketing outdoor campaign was part of a larger campaign leading up to the audience count by Nielsen. That’s my take on it. Since I haven’t seen anyone talk about this aspect, I’m wondering what your thoughts are.

As reported by the New York Times’ Louise Story, Nielsen’s decision to count college students, rather than treat them as transients, began on January 29th. This is likely what spurred niche programs to try and spike program interest during the week of the Boston event. That week, the week of the incident, was the college student sweeps week. Story explains, “Shows such as America’s Next Top Model and Family Guy are expected to see their ratings surge this week as Nielsen Media Research includes the viewing of students living away from home in its count for the first time.” Well, what if you further that rise in ratings by promoting the show more heavily than usual?

The full story is here: At Last, Television Ratings Go to College. Another take on the new count of college students in TV ratings is available in the NYTimes.com story, Sensing Opportunity in Dormitory Air, a TimesSelect story. Subscription/fee required to read. As the story relates just one example of products trying to reach the dorm crowd, “…college students are fueling growth in new generation of air fresheners; companies such as Procter & Gamble, S C Johnson and Reckitt Benckiser have increased spending to capitalize on trend…” So, it is exactly this kind of advertising and marketing that these niche programs, like Adult Swim’s lineup, are courting for new advertising dollars poured into their programs.

Story explains,

Adult Swim, a block of adult programming on the Cartoon Network that expects its 18- to 24-year-old audience to jump by 35 percent with the new ratings, is so excited about the change that it ran an ad telling viewers about it in mid-October.

Still haven’t seen the overnights for Adult Swim since the Boston incident, but I’m betting they were higher than 35% in growth, after all that.  Update:  Here is the news release covering Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim ratings, prior to the Boston incident. (January 30, 2007)  No other related news releases on their site since the event.  However, there was this:

Across the final week in January ’07, Adult Swim also ranked #1 for total day delivery among the four key demos, charting significant double-digit increases across the board. Among the week’s highlights, Adults 18-34 delivery (396,000) increased by 17% and ratings (0.6) by 20% vs. the same time period last year. (emphasis mine)
Additionally, Adult Swim programming in January accounted for six of the Top 50 programs of the month among adults 18-34, and 16 of the Top 50 telecasts of the month among men 18-34, more than any other network.

So, the guerilla marketing / outdoor advertising campaign in Boston and nine other cities was not just a run of the mill effort, but rather a targeted effort to help spike this particular week of new ratings. Knowing the new numbers would come out, Adult Swim (and others, I imagine) sought to increase viewership and attention. If their numbers were high in this first count, they’d be on track for increased revenues, and ahead of competing programming. I still don’t know how they were going to judge the effectiveness of Lite-Brite-like characters. How does one count Ignignokt impressions? And, after the news coverage of Boston, the ratings are no longer reliable for the long term.

For links to, and random notes about, various aspects of the Boston Adult Swim debacle, read on …

Glitch. That’s the name of one group employed by Interference to plant boxes/boards “with blinking lights in the form of an ATHF cartoon character in locations around 10 cities nationwide”. Peter Berdovsky, of Glitch, has been charged with planting devices that may be considered dangerous, or improvised explosive devices. All of this in the name of promoting a cartoon. You can’t make this stuff up.

This is too strange to believe, yet it happened. It gets worse.

Apparently, the primary guerilla marketing firm is Interference. These names, Glitch and Interference, are particularly strange names to see, considering the outcome.

Currently, the Interference site contains this message:

We at Interference, Inc. regret that our efforts on behalf of our client contributed to the disruption in Boston yesterday and certainly apologize to anyone who endured any hardship as a result. Nothing undertaken by our firm was in any way intended to cause anxiety, fear or discomfort to anyone. We are working with Turner Broadcasting and appropriate law enforcement and municipal authorities to provide information as requested and take other appropriate actions.

The campaign, by Interference who likely employed Glitch for Adult Swim at Turner, was “an outdoor marketing campaign in 10 cities in support of Adult Swim’s animated television show ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force.'”

Adult Swim shares channel space with Cartoon Network, another Turner enterprise, but the adult-themed network is a separate entity. (CNN.com)

The campaign, turned nightmare, was allegedly implemented, in part, by Peter Berdovsky (a.k.a. Zebbler) in the Boston efforts. That link is his LinkedIn page.

The interview with Berdovsky after being bailed out of jail is classic “kids hired to do adult work” folly and makes the whole ordeal seem even more foolish. He acted with total contempt and refused to take any questions, except those about his hair. Dreadlocks, actually. Berdovsky’s lawyer, when asked by a reporter if he was embarrassed by his client’s behaviour, responded that Berdovsky is a performance artist. So, rather than realize he should be contrite and apologetic, Berdovsky chose to snatch his 15 minutes of fame with a little hair performance. It was sad to watch. See for yourself in the video below.

He has a certain “Manson-esque” quality to him, doesn’t he?

Zebbler’s Home Page informs us that he is a “Founding member of Glitch. One artist; many arts.” See Glitch. Zebbler is also a citizen journalist. He’s all over OurMedia.org’s site.

I found an image, that appears to be Berdovsky, on his zebbler.com site, shooting/aiming a gun on a ranch. CNN aired the perp walk of Berdovsky. The person in the photo sure looks like him. That site is likely down now as it is flooded with traffic, or has been taken down. Totally out of context, I know, but bizarre to see in relation to this story. It has a sort of survivalist look, or maybe that’s just me.

(About Glitch) We are a group of VJ’s located primarily in Boston, MA as well as FL and CA.

Separately, we contribute knowledge of particular specialties, techniques, artistic style and new technologies. Together, we are a live performing visual force for concerts and special events.

One ridiculous aspect of this is that they might just wind up getting more business. Well, after they get out of jail. CNN reports:

Peter Berdovsky, 27, a freelance video artist from Arlington, Massachusetts, and Sean Stevens, 28, were facing charges of placing a hoax device in a way that results in panic, as well as one count of disorderly conduct, said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. The hoax charge is a felony, she said. Both men were arrested Wednesday evening.

MSNBC has a Reuters story titled, “Did Boston ad stunt really backfire on Turner?, Exposure for show may prove the maxim that no publicity is bad publicity.” I have never liked the statement, “Any publicity is good publicity” and I think this Turner flub proves the point.

Drew Neisser, CEO of Renegade Marketing Group in New York, has a guest commentary column at O’Dwyer’s titled, “GUERRILLA MARKETING GONE BAD.” I like his take. Neisser shares just how this may come about at a firm trying be edgy. And, Neisser comes down harder on Turner than the practitioners. I’d say they are all equally responsible. Post 9/11, this kind of risk in a guerilla marketing campaign is just foolish.

MediaPost’s article, Looney Toon Promo Shows How Viral Can Spiral Out Of Control, by Erik Sass, discusses the likely fallout and “any publicity as good publicity” thought by quoting “Mark Weiner, president of Delahaye, a division of Bacon’s Information. ‘But working at a research firm that tracks publicity and media coverage, I can tell you that’s (bad publicity being good publicity) absolutely not true. This event is going to shine negatively on the Cartoon Network–and even more negatively on the agency.'”

I’d love to see how the folks at WOMMA handle this one. Viral, guerilla, WOM – and now, guerilla marketing / outdoor advertising – campaigns can be dangerous things. This particular campaign was guerilla, in nature. The result, however, is a ton of negative publicity via WOM. The term guerilla taking on a whole new meaning in this instance.

Adult Swim – on The Cartoon Network, a Turner Broadcasting cable channel, hired Interference to do this. Wednesday night, on Adult Swim, the network aired an apology. However, if you’re familiar with the channel, they used the same black screen with white text to deliver the message – the same way they always share messages. That process is usually how they share snarky and off-the-wall comments during breaks in programming. Maybe it would have been better to not reverse the text and have the apology stand out a bit better. But, at least they apologized.

Meanwhile, the Aqua Teens Ignignokt Lite-Brite-like characters (Hasbro, makes the real Lite-Brites) are selling on ebay now. Prices in the hundreds, up to $1,000.

Oh, Peter has a MySpace page, too. Strange stuff there. Danger, Will Robinson.

Plenty to read on on this story. See the related links:

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