Ad firm will pay $45,000 for vandalizing S.F. sidewalks, had previously removed some 4,000 ‘Mafia Wars’ decals
SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 12, 2010) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today announced a settlement agreement with Davis Elen Advertising over an illicit guerilla marketing campaign that the firm employed in August to promote a popular social media game for one of its clients. Under terms of the agreement signed by the City Attorney’s Office today, Davis Elen Advertising will pay the City $45,000. The Los Angeles-based ad agency had previously remedied its vandalism to San Francisco sidewalks after it was contacted by the Department of Public Works and City Attorney’s Office, and informed of the City’s intention to pursue legal action.
In August — in the wake of a widespread public outcry and several news accounts about the sudden appearance of thousands of dollar-like stickers defacing neighborhood sidewalks — Davis Elen Advertising issued a statement conceding that its marketers “led a series of street marketing activities throughout the City of San Francisco,” and that they “take full responsibility for the program.” The company hired a subcontractor to vandalize 75 locations throughout San Francisco by gluing some 4,000 decals onto public sidewalks to promote the online game, “Mafia Wars” — unbeknownst to Zynga, the San Francisco-based social media gaming company for which Davis Elen was working. The guerilla marketing tactic, which is a clear violation of state and local law, required Department of Public Works crews to use special steam cleaning equipment to remove the decals from vandalized sites. But the City halted its own cleanup efforts when Davis Elen and its subcontractor agreed to remove the decals at their own expense, after being informed of the City’s resolve to seek legal remedies for the actionable tactics. As a result, total costs to the City were limited to under $2,000.
“The so-called ‘guerilla marketers’ who deface public property in San Francisco may think they’re being clever, but they’re nothing more than lawless vandals-for-hire,” said Herrera. “Graffiti vandalism is illegal, and when it’s done as corporate advertising, it’s also actionable as an unlawful business practice. We take these violations seriously, and I’ll continue to pursue them aggressively to make sure there’s no profit motive for defacing our neighborhoods. I’m very grateful to Zynga for its good corporate citizenship in working with us to identify the culprits, and I’m glad that Davis Elen Advertising accepted responsibility for its wrongdoing. I’m also thankful to the Department of Public Works for their efforts, and to the many San Franciscans who took the time to call 311 to report these acts of vandalism.”