Rat's tricks cancel treats on San Francisco streets

When the Rat arrived in San Francisco for yet another information technology task force meeting, he found the city abuzz about IBM Corp. Only it was probably not the kind of buzz that IBM expected.

'No press is bad press,' the whiskered one intoned to several acolytes as the waiter served their breakfast bagels, apparently toasted over disposable lighters during the latest rolling blackout. 'But this isn't exactly good press.'

IBM, it seems, had turned loose its advertising wizards'no doubt the ones behind the recent 'codernauts' campaign'to come up with a hip, cool, edgy marketing strategy for the company's Linux products.

The result was an iconic 'Love, Peace, Linux' ad campaign'a heart, a peace sign and Tux the penguin.

Besides placing traditional print ads, the marketeers decided to tear a page from the steal-this-book school of marketing and stencil Linux icons on San Francisco sidewalks. The theory: The icons would direct foot traffic downtown. They would build buzz and raise consciousness'and, perhaps, confuse skateboarders.

The edgy guerrilla tactic, however, did not win over the locals, particularly city officials. They did not appreciate that the ads were stenciled with cool-colored chalk rather than the usual guerrilla spray paint. In fact, the city imposed a fine on IBM for such tomfoolery: $500 per stenciled icon.

IBM didn't understand the big fuss. The stencils after all, as one spokesman noted, were drawn with biodegradable chalk.

'Must be some new kind of chalk-eating bacteria out there,' cackled the Rat as he read the news to his underlings using his BlackBerry e-mail pager.

About a dozen cups of coffee later, the cyberrodent and company decided in a gesture of goodwill to help IBM remove some of the offending stencils. They donned Rollerblades and grabbed a few old can-style fire extinguishers from their meeting space on the former Presidio military base. Then, they barreled down into the commercial district, drafting off a Muni bus.

Unfortunately, in their zeal to erase the peripatetic penguins from the sidewalks, some techies fired on anything that looked even remotely like a penguin. In their collective caffeine-charged consciousness, that meant just about anyone wearing black, which happens to be a popular color in Bay area wardrobes.

Then, there was the unfortunate incident with the mime. '

Fortunately, the Rat crew's antics were mistaken for avant garde street theater, and they all managed to escape the high jinks unmolested.

Either that, or San Franciscans just aren't fazed by the sight of a giant, anthropomorphic rodent on Rollerblades spraying people with a fire extinguisher.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].


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