It’s been nearly 30 years since WKRP in Cincinnati aired its famed Thanksgiving Day episode, “Turkey Drop.”
In the time since, that particular show has been voted  —  many times  —  a fan favorite and the No. 1 most watched episode in the five-year history of the CBS  series.

For those who don’t remember this particular show or somehow missed the many, many Thanksgiving season re-runs, the story centers on station manager Arthur Carlson (played by Dayton actor Gordon Jump, later of “Maytag repairman” commercial fame). The sitcom’s plot goes like this: As a promotional stunt for the radio station, Carlson personally arranges to have live turkeys pushed out the door of a helicopter hovering over a shopping mall.

The fine-feathered fiasco, not surprisingly, turns into a bloodbath (you can view the clip on the web at YouTube).
As intrepid WKRP reporter Les Nessman reports from his perch on the ground: “Oh, they’re plunging to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! Children are running to their mothers. ... Oh, the humanity! The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Not since the Hindenburg tragedy has there been anything like this!”

Amazingly enough, the turkey drop storyline was based on a true-life advertising promotion in a small Arkansas town, a live turkey release from the roof of a local courthouse. The annual turkey drop eventually morphed into releasing the gobblers out of a low-flying airplane, but animal rights activists howled — and rightly so.

While the history of radio station promotion in Cincinnati is certainly not without its infamous culprits (remember WEBN’s Plummet Mall?), nothing approaching this travesty of marketing campaigns has ever occurred in this market. With the fictional exception of WKRP, of course.
So what Advertising 101 lessons are to be learned from poor, befuddled Mr. Carlson?

One. Think clearly through your marketing mission, with your current customers and potential future clients firmly in mind.
Two. Never allow the creative types to concoct a scenario intended merely to prompt an emotional reaction from an audience. Emotional responses can turn negative as well as positive.

Three. Consider all future consequences of your promotional campaign, intended and unintended. Ask, is this a half-baked idea?
And four. Never count your turkeys before they’re hatched.