"Mission: Impossible" Marketing Blowup

Los Angeles explosives squad blows up music device playing Mission: Impossible theme found in news rack after customer mistakes plastic box for bomb

By Natalie Finn May 01, 2006 11:45 PMTags

Your mission, should you choose to accept it--make the newspapers go boom!

A Mission: Impossible III marketing scheme went haywire--literally--Friday when a Los Angeles Times reader in Santa Clarita mistook his friendly neighborhood newspaper rack for a device on the verge of spontaneous combustion.

In this day and age, you really can't blame the guy for being a bit concerned when he inserted his quarter, opened the lid and saw a small plastic box with a few wires poking out of it sitting on top of the papers.

He subsequently called the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department at 9:05 a.m., according to sheriff's office spokeswoman Deputy Dana Camarillo, and the Canyon Country division's arson and explosives team was dispatched to investigate, arriving on the scene about 20 minutes later.

After spying the red plastic box, authorities proceeded to "render the device useless," Camarillo said. Or, to put it in more Mission: Impossible-friendly terms:

They blew that sucker up!

As it turned out, that sinister-seeming object was one of approximately 4,500 digital music players placed in Times dispensers throughout the city programmed to play the Mission: Impossible theme when the rack's door was opened.

The third installment of the billion-dollar franchise, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Keri Russell and shrinking violet Tom Cruise, opens Friday. (You can go to the film's official Website and count the minutes and seconds until its arrival, if you'd like.)

Law enforcement officials received several other calls later in the day and the West Los Angeles federal police called in the sheriff's office bomb squad at one point, but by then the various departments had received word of Paramount Pictures' marketing campaign.

"I think Paramount is pretty happy about it," Mark Kurtich, senior VP of operations for the Times, said, referring to the bonus publicity that inevitably accompanies an actual explosion.

Seriously, in preparation for a movie that's bound to have lots of 'em? What's better than that?!

Paramount's aim was to "turn the everyday news rack experience" into an "extraordinary mission," according to the Times, which had to give the studio permission, of course, to turn its newspaper racks into movie teasers.

"This was the least intended outcome," John O'Loughlin, the Times' senior VP of planning, told reporters, saying that the music players weren't supposed to be visible. "We weren't expecting anything like this."

"With the wires leading to the micro-switch on the news rack doors, I can easily see how someone might have misconstrued it as an improvised explosive device," retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sergeant Mike La Perruque told the Times.

Meanwhile, if you're in the L.A. or Ventura County area, you still have a chance to be serenaded by a news rack, as the promotion will be in effect until Sunday.

It looks as if Paramount is looking to reach a wide swath of people with one blow(up) by appealing directly to the Times' 2.4 million-strong daily readership.

Although the Times reported Monday that some Paramount execs are "privately worried" that TomKat, baby Suri and other Cruise PR missiles will put a damper on female moviegoers' desire to see Mission: Impossible III, the film's director, J.J. Abrams, told the paper that Paramount had all of its marketing bases covered.

So far, we've got teenage boys--check. Action fans--check. Bomb squad--check.

For the ladies, there's also a romantic subplot (Cruise's secret agent Ethan Hunt is engaged to be married--and eventually must come to the rescue of--a character played by Michelle Monaghan).

Abrams seems to be keeping his fingers crossed that outside influences, be they bomb scares over misguided promotions or Cruise's offscreen antics, don't alienate potential filmgoers, whatever the demographic.

"You obviously worry when you're doing a show or a movie and you realize that if that person does anything in an extracurricular way, is that going to affect what you do?" Abrams, small-screen dynamo (creator of Lost and Alias) and first-time movie director, said. "But you have to live in a practical way in that you try to control to the best of your ability what you can control."