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In the spring of 2001, IBM Corp. decided to help itself to free outdoor advertising by defacing the sidewalks of San Francisco with stencils promoting its Linux operating system. The symbols matched those on some Linux billboards and transit ads. When annoyed citizens and City officials complained about the stencils, hundreds of which were painted all over downtown, the story made every paper and TV news program in town and extended IBM's exposure for its guerilla advertising. Unfortunately for the City, the stencils were painted with real paints, not chalk or dust which is sometimes used to temporarily mark sidewalks or pavement and is easy to clean. IBM officials claimed their intention was to use temporary color and that the paints were used by minions contrary to company orders. "Oops," just a little mistake that allowed the markings to remain on the sidewalks for weeks and weeks. San Franciscans were not amused. Later that year, to defray the expense of cleaning the stencils from City sidewalks IBM was fined $100,000, a small fraction of the cost for Citywide media placement that could be seen by consumers here for months.

Copyright 2001 Hank Donat
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