When the lights went down for 35 minutes at the Super Bowl last night, Twitter and other social media lit up – not only with viewers asking each other what happened and whining about delaying the game, but with tweets from advertisers reacting to the power outage in real time.
Unlike previous years, many advertisers were in a position to, because they were already online monitoring buzz and views for the broadcast commercials, online tie-ins and the consumer reaction both provoked.
At 360i, Oreo's digital agency, for example, two Oreo brand team members and about "a dozen creatives, strategists, community managers and social-media listeners" were already huddled in a social-media "mission control center" at the agency's Tribeca headquarters when the lights went out in New Orleans. They leaped into action to create a tweet and accompanying graphic that was "designed, captioned and approved within minutes," according to agency president Sarah Hofstetter.
To many observers, including Nat Ives and Rupak Parekh, posting on Advertising Age's Creativity blog, their "simple little execution" arguably "overshadowed Oreo's far more expensive TV ad" featuring a library riot over whether the cookies or the filling was better.
They weren't the only ones with good reflexes.
Bud Light, in an effort reminiscent of their 1982 introductory campaign ("Gimme a light – I meant a Bud Light.") bid against Speed Stick for the Twitter term "power outage" so that people going there would see their tweets.
Audi zinged competitor Mercedes, after whom the arena was named, by tweeting, "Sending some LEDs to the @MBUSA Superdome right now..."
Not to be outdone, Tide tweeted a brand-oriented message and graphic (the latter, of course, with small white type centered in a black background), "We can't get your blackout. But we can get your stains out." This being before their commercial ran, they didn't say anything about Joe Montana-shaped stains.
Volkswagen followed through on their overall campaign positioning with a link to their Rasta commercial and a tweet saying, "Lost power during the Big Game...Don't worry, #GetHappy:voa.us/VDSvjj"
And Oreo's tweet and graphic reassured consumers, "Power out? No problem. pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC YOU CAN STILL DUNK IN THE DARK" This was retweeted over 10,000 times within the following hour.
Even brands that didn't advertise on the Super Bowl were smart enough to get in on the act.
Over on Facebook, Mayhem – Allstate's living, walking, breathing jinx – posted, "I meant to turn off the scoreboard. Sorry, everybody. Wrong switch." This reinforced the brand message and got over 39,000 likes.
Maybe the medium's maturing
Whenever a new medium develops, it takes a while for people to figure out exactly what it is.
When television first started growing in the 1950s, programmers and advertising agencies saw it in terms of older media – was it shorter, simpler movies, stage drama, vaudeville, or radio with a camera looking on? Shows from the so-called Golden Era of Television fell into one of these categories, from Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" (vaudeville) to Paddy Chayevsky's "Marty" (stage drama) to soap operas and situation comedies moved over from network radio.
It really wasn't until 1961, when Roone Arledge pioneered the use of slow motion, replays from different camera angles and other techniques we take for granted today, that television became a distinct medium on its own.
The Internet has gone through similar teething pains. Was it a newspaper, a gossip column, an anytime, small-screen television station, a music library, a shopping catalog, a brochure, a set of games, or a collection of substanceless, direct-mail-like techniques to trick consumers into responding?
As of yesterday, it would appear that the Internet's distinct feature is its ability to involve everyone in shared events in real time. And to think that, like television, it took a sports broadcast to show it.
Read about how to make your advertising more effective.