2007 flashback: Adult Swim's 'Aqua Teen' bomb scare in Boston

The supposed bomb attached to the 14th St. bridge that tied up the Downtown Connector Monday afternoon reminded a colleague of mine of an Adult Swim "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" guerrilla marketing campaign gone bad eight years ago featuring cute little electronic versions of characters from the show placed all over Boston.

In that case, Boston officials called the bomb squad and shut down roads and subways. Officials naturally were not amused.

Here's former AJC reporter Scott Leith's story from the AJC on Feb. 1, 2007. (Leith, not long after, ended up working at Turner Broadcasting and recently moved to Coca Cola.) I contributed a bit to the story courtesy of former 99X morning DJ Fred Toucher, now a Boston talk show host. 

If Atlanta's Turner Broadcasting System wanted publicity for one of its offbeat shows, then mission accomplished.

A promotion for a cartoon called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" went badly awry Wednesday in Boston, where 10 or more electronic devices that had been placed at various locations sparked enough concern to bring out the bomb squad. Even the governor of Massachusetts was irritated by the campaign, which led to temporary shutdowns of subway service, some streets and part of I-93.

"It's a hoax --- and it's not funny, " Gov. Deval Patrick told The Associated Press.

Turner officials apologized. "We appreciate the gravity of this situation and, like any responsible company would, are putting all necessary resources toward understanding the facts surrounding it as quickly as possible, " said chairman and CEO Phil Kent.

The promotion involved devices with blinking lights that were meant to draw attention to the "Aqua Teen" TV show, which will soon be the subject of a movie. The cartoon appears as part of Adult Swim, a block of grown-up targeted shows in the late-night hours on Turner's Cartoon Network.

The publicity stunt brought no laughs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which mobilized federal counterterrorism teams for what officials thought was a coordinated threat in a major city.

"Hoaxes are an enormous burden on law enforcement and counterterrorism resources, " said Russ Knocke, spokesman for agency. "And, in a post 9-11 world, there's absolutely no place for hoaxes."

Turner issued a statement about the odd affair, saying the company was in touch with officials about the devices, which were placed in 10 cities two or three weeks ago.

"We apologize to the citizens of Boston that part of a marketing campaign was mistaken for a public danger, " Kent said.

"As soon as we realized that an element of the campaign was being mistaken for something potentially dangerous, appropriate law enforcement officials were notified, " Kent said.

The promotional light boxes were developed in Atlanta by Cartoon Network marketing staffers. They wanted a low-budget, guerrilla-style marketing campaign. The "Aqua Teen" movie is set to debut in March.

The boxes had neon lights that lit up at night. Some featured a character named Ignignokt that gives passers-by the middle finger.

For the uninitiated, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" is an action-comedy that features three stars of sorts --- Meatwad, a meatball-shaped character; Frylock, a talking container of fries; and Master Shake, who is, as the name implies, a milkshake.

The program is meant to appeal to an audience of males in their teens and 20s. The snarky Web site Wonkette opined that "Aqua Teen" is "watched only by college students who smoke marijuana."

Maybe that's why some concerned Bostonians didn't get it. Fred Toucher, a former radio personality at Atlanta's 99X, now works for rock station WBCN-FM in Boston. Toucher said that when he and another former 99X jock saw photos of the so-called "bomb" Wednesday, they instantly identified it as a character from "Aqua Teen."

"One of our listeners said that they had been up around town for weeks, " Toucher wrote in an e-mail after the brouhaha died down. "It is a big deal here, even though it seems pretty dumb now."

The mess in Boston hasn't been repeated so far in other cities. Turner said the devices were planted recently in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

Joe Cobb, Atlanta Police Department public information officer, said his department was unaware of the devices and had received no complaints. Nonetheless, APD's Homeland Security unit was notified Wednesday to be on the lookout.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said he wants to punish those responsible. After Turner made its announcement, Menino said he was "prepared to take any and all legal action" against the company and its affiliates "for any and all expenses incurred during the response to today's incidents."

The Boston Globe reported that Peter Berdvosky, a Massachusetts artist who said he installed the objects for a New York-based guerrilla marketing firm, was arrested in the case.

Kent said the company told officials where to find the devices in all 10 cities where they were planted. "We also directed the third-party marketing firm who posted the advertisements to take them down immediately, " he said.

The Associated Press and staff writers Rodney Ho, Richard Eldredge, Julia Malone and Jeffry Scott contributed to this article.