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Snoop Dogg's OK, other Zynga stunt backfires

A marketing campaign for Mafia Wars Las Vegas--no, not the one that involved Snoop Dogg blowing up a truck--hasn't gone over so well with San Francisco authorities.

On Thursday night, rapper Snoop Dogg detonated an armored truck to smithereens in the Nevada desert as a promotional stunt for social-gaming company Zynga's Mafia Wars: Las Vegas title, and that seems to have gone smoothly. But another Mafia Wars marketing stunt is ticking off authorities in San Francisco, according to a blog post on

The promotion, which entailed gluing dozens of fake $25,000 Mafia Wars-branded bills to the sidewalk in several locations in the city's Hayes Valley neighborhood, is designed specifically to spread the word about a "Mafia Wars" contest with a $25,000 prize. And it reportedly earned the ire of the San Francisco Department of Public Works--which is tasked with cleaning up the bills. The office of City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a legal notice to Zynga over the campaign, which it says is costly and time-consuming for cleanup crews, and has requested "e-mails, work orders, scope of work, contracts, marketing plans, or other records--that show when and where the graffiti in San Francisco was placed, and by whom."

Zynga is not commenting on the matter; advertising agency Davis Elen Advertising, which had been hired to orchestrate the stunt, provided a statement.

"In doing work on behalf of Zynga for the recent Mafia Wars Las Vegas game launch, Davis Elen Advertising led a series of street marketing activities throughout the City of San Francisco," the statement from the agency read. "We take full responsibility for the program, regret any inconvenience this advertising has caused to the city and its residents, and are working with the City to immediately resolve the issue."

That makes the whole snafu sound a bit like a New York incident last year in which an edgy marketing agency in the employ of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) hired a well-known local street artist to vandalize the client's own ads; MoMA, unaware of the campaign at first, dumped the agency.

Plus, it's by no means the first stunt to backfire when "guerrilla" tech marketing clashes with local authorities. In 2002, Microsoft earned the wrath of New York City authorities for plastering MSN butterfly decals around town to promote the launch of MSN 8, and spray-painted Linux penguins on the streets of Chicago and San Francisco got IBM in trouble in 2001.

The nuttiest of them all was likely the incident in Boston in January 2007, in which LED displays to promote the forthcoming "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" animated film were flagged as suspicious electronic devices, resulting in road and river traffic shutdowns and subsequent transit headaches.