A recent marketing campaign turned Boston bomb scare exposes the fragmentation and generational divides that modern day marketers are confronting. There intent is to cut through the noise in an effort to present relevant messages to people who care. To do this successfully they must increasingly find ways to reach smaller and smaller niche audiences with more and more relevant content.

Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim is a pipeline into the hearts, minds, and wallets of the 18-24 and 18-34 adult population coveted by the advertising industry. Aqua Teen Hunger Force, one of CN’s shows has been so popular it supported a recent spin-off movie.

And that leads us back to a clever idea for a Gorilla Marketing campaign gone bad. As part of a larger campaign to promote the new ATHF movie, light-up signs of the show’s characters were placed around the city of Boston.

At first it appeared that the campaign was set up for success but a fragmented audience responded in ways the marketers hadn’t anticipated.

The Boston Globe exposed the fragmentation in its piece “Marketing Gambit Exposes a Wide Generation Gap.” The author pointed out that people like Todd Vanderlin, a 22-year-old design student, were photographing the signs and blogging about the campaign just as anticipated.

“I knew it was art, and I knew it was part of the Adult Swim ads, because I saw a billboard for the same thing,” said Vanderlin, referring to a series of cartoons on cable television. “I see it in New York all the time.”

Unfortunately on the other end of the market spectrum a subway worker less hip to the ways of gorilla marketing and Adult Swim called the police after spotting one of the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” cartoon characters on an overpass in Charlestown Massachusetts. What followed was a terrorism scare and a massive police response that practically shut down the city of Boston.

Once it was discovered the electronic boards were part of a viral marketing campaign the dichotomy was again exposed. One one side serious condemnation flowed from officials in Boston and Washington while it was clear the 20-somethings had a different take. one 29-year-old from Malden Massachusets blogged it this way:

“Repeat after me, authorities. L-E-D. Not I-E-D. Get it?”

Nothing could have illustrated the schism more than the press conference held by Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky, the two men responsible for posting the signs, following their release on bail. Referred to as artists by their attorney they agreed to make a formal statement to the press. As they described it, they preferred it to be more of a conversation than a statement. The topic? In there own words:

hair cuts in the 70s–we really want to discuss the style of them”.