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7 Ad Campaigns That Triggered Terrorism Scares

The Procter & Gamble (PG) sweepstakes promotion in Brazil, in which the company left two mysterious locked crates in a public square last week causing a visit from the local bomb squad, is not a unique event. Marketers have a small but serious track record of promotions that have been mistaken for acts of terrorism.

Here's a list of seven incidents in which marketers touched off terror scares, wasting police resources and bringing ridicule to their brands:

  1. Procter & Gamble's "Faustão's Airplane" promo: P&G offered a prize drawing worth $100,000, including two cars and bars of gold. The company placed wooden crates around Rio de Janeiro to suggest that its airplane was so overstuffed with prizes that they were falling out of the sky. Somehow, P&G forgot that the city's police were at war with a local drug gang, a conflict that already cost 35 lives in a slum siege.
  2. Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force Boston bomb: The cable TV channel left electronic light boxes around the city to promote the T show, but local authorities thought they might be explosive devices and charged two of the client's staffers for placing them.
  3. Palladium Theater's Dark Knight cake bomb: A San Antonio movie theater chain mailed "a menacing cake wired with a cell phone" to a local TV station to promote the permiere of the movie Dark Knight. Recipients and cops were not amused.
  4. Mission: Impossible III news rack bomb: The Los Angeles Times allowed Paramount Pictures to wire up some of its newspaper boxes so that they played the Mission: Impossible theme when opened. Some of the players -- red boxes with protruding wires -- came loose and dropped onto the newspaper pile inside, prompting fears they were explosive devices.
  5. Toyota's football hooligan stalker hoax: The car company and its ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, were sued by a woman who had been signed up for a hoax campaign for the Toyota Matrix. In the prank, she received a stream of emails from a fictional soccer thug who insisted he would arrive at her home imminently to hide out from the law.
  6. Bank of America's "small business commitment week": A faulty fax cut off the crucial part of the campaign message leaving only its graphics, images of a lit match and a bomb with a fuse. BofA's internal recipients called the police.
  7. Las Vegas traffic court lawyer's cell phone promotion: Police locked down the Las Vegas regional Justice Center after they discovered a car battery with jumper cables powering an electronic transmitter behind a flower pot across the street. Turns out a local lawyer was trying to drum up business by spamming smartphones.