Among the many multicolored fliers passed out to students last week, one would have definitely sparked the curiosity of a recipient who bothered to read it.
“Adult Swim presents the Williams Street County Fair and Expo featuring the Experienced Clairvoyant Cat, some balloons, free t-shirts. Plus go fishing!” read the advertisement in Old-West style type.
A few questions might come to mind: What local organization got William Street wrong? What’s the deal with this psychic cat? And if they want me to go see this cat, why wouldn’t they put a time and place on the event flier?
“A little confusing, I would say,” said LSA senior Young-Jin Cho when shown the advertisement. “The minute I looked at it I was like, ‘What’s going on here?!’ “
While left unexplained by the flier, Adult Swim is the late-night, adult-oriented programming on Cartoon Network. The channel is evidently on a marketing tour to promote its shows, following the direction on the flier to visit reveals that the network is holding “Williams Street” fairs on 15 college campuses.
It kicked off the tour Oct. 10 with a visit to the Diag, but you would only know to go by visiting the web site and fighting through larger, brighter, cat-sound-making version of the flier to find the tour dates schedule. And even then, you wouldn’t have found a time.
So what’s the point of an extensive marketing campaign that obscures the thing it’s advertising?
Mitch Thompson, a manager at the London-based Iris Marketing firm that organized the fair, said that the absurdity of its advertising campaigns goes hand-in-hand with Adult Swim’s implicit mission statement: to make no sense.
“That’s kind of what they’re going with,” said Thompson, whose favorite Adult Swim cartoon is “Robot Chicken.” “Not really to confuse people, but to give them curiosity.”
The nebulous fair is scheduled to hit Boston today — despite the chaos Adult Swim created last February with another advertising ploy for the movie version of the network’s show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”
Boston transportation authorities shut down major roadways and subway lines when citizens feared that terrorists were responsible for 38 small TV screens that brightly flashed from storefronts, beneath bridges and outside parks all over the city.
Adult Swim had planted the screens the night before as part of their guerrilla marketing campaign. The Boston Police investigation only caught on when one of the screens was moved into a darker area, making its image discernable.
“Sometime between 2 and 3 p.m., according to a public safety official, a Boston police analyst recognized the image as a cartoon character,” the Boston Globe reported.
Cartoon Network’s parent company, Turner Broadcasting System, publicly apologized about two hours later. TBS said that the devices were “horribly misinterpreted” and that their unintended aftermath was “not the kind of publicity we would ever seek.”
They paid $2 million in damages to city and state agencies in Massachusetts, and the incognito flashing screens were seen no more.
Despite past gaffes, it seems Adult Swim is sticking to its ambiguous random-acts-of-advertising approach. But while devoted fans love the stunts and inside jokes, a marketing ploy that alienates people who don’t watch the show might be counter-productive.
Art and Design senior Eileen Tjan was immediately in on the joke when a friend called her to say there was a giant meatball on the Diag.
“I got a phone call and she was like, ‘there’s a giant Meat Wad on the Diag,’ “ Tjan said. “And I was like, ‘I love “Aqua Teen Hunger Force!” ‘ “
The inflatable Meat Wad, a character from “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” was circular and about the size of a 3-car garage. It was filled with claw machines and arcade games.
There was also a dart stand with bags of goldfish pinned to the bullseyes, a “heavy petting zoo” featuring a man in a dingy, easter-esque white bunny suit, and 1,500 miscellaneous prizes in a wooden carriage enclosed by chicken wire, ‘manned’ by a child-sized teddy bear and ‘pulled’ by three stuffed cats who were tied to the carriage with nylon rope.
The much-hyped clairvoyant cat was just a guy in a suit, and turned out to be another inside joke from the programming.
All of the attendants interviewed for this article were already Adult Swim devotees, which again begs the question of how many new viewers the campaign was going to reach.
Joe Pak, an LSA senior and Adult Swim fan, said he had been looking forward to the event after hearing about it online.
“I planned it out and everything,” Pak said, juggling a Jimmy John’s sandwich and an inflatable likeness of Stewey, the cynical talking baby from “The Family Guy.”
Iris Marketing Production Manager Valerie Peron said that Adult Swim hoped to entertain everyone, whether or not they understood the inside jokes.
“Maybe you would look at Tim and Eric’s photo booth and not understand why Tim and Eric have their own show,” she said, pointing to a photo booth adorned with the faces of two boring-looking, middle-class white men. “But we try to get students to tune into Adult Swim and have a good time here.”
There’s at least one thing the campaign took from traditional marketing strategy: give away free stuff and they will come, at least for a second on their way through the Diag.
Peron said that more than 4,000 prizes and 1,000 custom-printed T-shirts were given away at the fair on Friday. And they went over well, from the white ribbons reading “I Milked it at the Williams Street County Fair” to the pens, post card and books stuffed into a giant fake log deemed “Xavier’s Tree of Infinite Possibilities”.
Reaching inside one of the log’s small knots, students were prodded by workers hiding behind the log who guided their hands to prizes, like the yellow sticker with an alien brandishing a laser gun, reading “ELIMINATE BIG THINGS FAST!”
Amid the confusion, though, LSA freshman Mary Emma Young could sum up the event and the channel its advertising easily.
“Borderline vulgar,” she said. “And that’s a good thing.”

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