Advertisers Beware: Boston Doesn't Like Surprises

ByDAVID SCHOETZ

Feb. 23, 2007— -- For the second time in less than a month, Bostonians are all alone in balking at an ad campaign moving through their city -- and just like last time, they're getting paid for it.

Cadbury Schweppes PLC, the candy and soft drink manufacturer that makes Dr Pepper soda, has canceled a treasure hunt promotion in an historic Boston cemetery. City officials locked down the site, the Granary Burying Ground, where the soda maker had hidden a coin that might be worth $1 million.

Dr Pepper's "The Hunt for More" campaign, which began on Jan. 23, challenged contestants to collect 23 "hidden treasures," or coins, in 23 cities across the country.

The clue for the Boston location led contestants to the Granary Burying Ground, a 347-year-old landmark where Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere -- among other prominent American patriots -- are buried.

When Boston officials learned of the campaign, they promptly locked the gates of the cemetery and dispatched security guards, preventing contestants from entering to search for the prized coin, which was hidden inside a leather pouch among the graves.

Of the 23 cities involved in the Dr Pepper promotion, Boston was the only one to complain.

Earlier this month, Boston was alone in derailing another multi-city marketing campaign, when it was the unwitting and unamused target of another guerrilla marketing campaign for the Cartoon Network show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."

That campaign, which involved light fixtures hung at different point around the city -- including bridges and roadways -- caused a daylong pandemonium, with local, state and federal officials treating the fixtures as potential explosives.

Boston was roasted by some for an overly aggressive response to the perceived "terrorist" threat, which caused no problems in the nine other cities targeted in the campaign.

Still, the campaign led the Cartoon Network president to resign, cost parent company Turner Broadcasting System $2 million for the disturbance, and led to the arrests of the two men who posted the signs through the city.

On Friday, Boston City Council President Maureen E. Feeney, responding to the Dr Pepper campaign, said she would hold public hearings about how to fight guerilla marketing.

"It is intolerable that companies should exploit city resources at the expense of public safety and even historic property for a cheap promotion," Feeney said in a statement. "As a city government, we must act to prevent the negative impact of these marketing activities."

Combined, the reactions to the two ad campaigns beg the question: Has Boston lost its sense of humor?

"The bluest state gets the blues when it comes to viral advertising," said Tobe Berkovitz, dean of the Boston University College of Communications and an advertising professor.

Berkovitz cut the city some slack, noting the post-Sept. 11 security sensitivity in the Cartoon Network instance and the historic value of the burying grounds in the Dr Pepper example.

Still, he also called the guarded reactions the "classic contradiction of liberalism."

"On the one hand, you want a lot of personal freedom," Berkovitz said. "On the other hand, you get exceedingly paternalistic."

The Dr Pepper coin, which had remained missing since Tuesday when it was first placed, was found this morning without any damage to the cemetery.

"The coin should never have been placed in such a hallowed site, and we sincerely apologize," said Greg Artkop, a Dr Pepper spokesman. "We are covering the cost of added overnight security at the park. We are also donating $10,000 -- the prize amount of the coin to the burial ground for their time and trouble."

Contestants in Boston who were registered online for the promotion, conceived by Circle One Marketing in Norwalk, Conn., will be included in a random $10,000 drawing -- the same value of the graveyard booty.

The contest's $1 million prize had already been awarded, the company announced today, to a contestant in Houston, who found her coin near the Spirit of Confederacy statue in Sam Houston Park.

Boston City Council President Maureen E. Feeney today renewed her vow to hold public hearings to explore ways to combat guerilla marketing after the second advertising stunt in less than a month took aim at Boston.

"It is intolerable that companies should exploit city resources at the expense of public safety and even historic property for a cheap promotion," Feeney said in a statement. "As a city government, we must act to prevent the negative impact of these marketing activities."

Feeney first proposed holding hearings last month after police responded to a series of reports of possible bombs that turned out to be electronic signs promoting a Cartoon Network show, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." The companies involved in that stunt paid $2 million in restitution to local governments and law enforcement agencies.

On Thursday, the makers of the soft drink Dr Pepper cancelled the Boston leg of a 23-city treasure hunt after irate city officials charged it was "disrespectful" that the company hid a coin inside a 17th-century cemetery home to the graves of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and other founding American patriots.

Feeney wants to tighten regulations and increase fines for companies that utilize similar covert promotional campaigns. The hearing has been tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. on March 6 inside the council chamber at City Hall.

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