Not Another Super Bowl Ad Review (or Brands Must Nail Their Interactive Strategy – or Else)

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Not Another Super Bowl Ad Review (or Brands Must Nail Their Interactive Strategy – or Else)

Super Bowl spots have expanded beyond traditional broadcast channels, and brands are beginning to rely solidly on interactive media to support their game day push. As BuzzFeed so aptly observed regarding Sunday’s online activity, “the most powerful bit of marketing during the advertising industry’s most expensive day may have been free.” Some brands are embracing social media well… and the credit is going to those PR units and agencies that “get” this whole interactive business.

Take Oreo, for example. This nostalgic brand had already aired a solid TV ad with their “Cookie or Creme” spot (which, by the way, immediately tripled their Instagram follower base to more than 25K fans). And they were also poised to capitalize on social media when the lights went out. Within minutes of the Super Bowl blackout, Oreo uploaded their power-outage-related ad to Twitter. Impact on retail sales aside, this social maneuver no doubt nudged Oreo’s image and positioning in a positive direction. Overnight, the post had been re-tweeted more than 14,000 times (and the Facebook post had garnered more than 20,000 likes). And folks who had not seen any Super Bowl commercials are still talking about the Oreo tweet.

Who gets the credit for masterminding this brilliant tactic? All fingers point to 360i., the agency behind the on-the-fly ad. “We had a mission control set up at our office with the brand and 360i, and when the blackout happened, the team looked at it as an opportunity,” agency president Sarah Hofstetter told BuzzFeed. “Because the brand team was there, it was easy to get approvals and get it up in minutes.” Yes, you need “a brave brand to approve content that quickly,” but you also need a cutting edge PR guru who “gets” social media and pulls it all together. This is social media done right. And by right, I mean the brand and PR team had already assembled to capitalize on and maximize unexpected opportunities.

Now compare this agency-relegated, social-media-done-right, success story with an interactive faux pas reported also this week.

“Hell hath no fury like a Facebook scorned.” So wrote journalist, RL Sollar, of Applebee’s overnight social media meltdown, which happened just days before Sunday’s big game. With a nod to the “hounds of Reddit, the Twitter armies, and Facebook vigilantes,” Sollar reminds us that in the immediacy of tweets and posts and other interactive content, PR can’t “hide behind privacy statements or legal jargon or appeals to company policy to pacify an Internet mob.” Bad press spreads quickly among Netizens, and the person in charge of social media must understand how to react in a crisis.

Oh, Applebees… talk to me. I can share some insight. Eventually, you have to “get” this social media thing. Internet is unforgiving.

The issue, really, is less on who was at fault regarding the termination of a restaurant employee who posted to the Internet a picture of a customer’s credit card receipt, but rather the handling of Applebee’s ensuing PR crisis through their corporate social media channels. Many of us in the industry are scratching our heads wondering how Applebee’s part of the conversation regressed so quickly.

Applebee’s set themselves upon an unnecessary defensive stance from the get-go, posting a lengthy, legalistic justification of action taken; allegedly deleted pictures and negative comments; blocked people from its Facebook page; tagged people repeating the same comment over and over; and even argued with individuals.

Followers were furious at being censored, abhorred the copy and paste response repetition, and called out Applebee’s on perceived inconsistencies of story. Many of us watched in horror as Applebee’s continued its digression toward social media suicide, just hoping that someone on the team would advise whoever was posting to lay low and let things die down.

Guess who gets the credit for this communication fiasco? Again, all fingers point toward the PR team. Applebee’s lost some positioning points, its image eroded through the incident, and its restaurants were not near capacity on Super Bowl Sunday. Some poor person in PR is probably taking the rap right now. The messages did not resonate with the audience to whom they were being posted. Timing of the posts, placement within the comments, redundancy of message, argumentative tone were all PR problems in this case … as was the inability to recognize when to allow an issue to just run its course. This is another reason why this important area of social media should not be relegated to the unseasoned corporate intern or someone’s brother’s friend.

As brands continue to rely on interactive media, this powerful tool will increasingly be utilized to accomplish marketing objectives. Used poorly, it can cut deeply and will absolutely hurt a brand; but in the hands of a seasoned professional, can enhance a well-executed campaign. Avoiding the interactive playing field is really no longer an option. Those organizations and agencies that add social talent and capacity to their marketing teams will have the best chance of success.


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