It was the lunge seen round the world: Senator Marco Rubio got cottonmouth during his live, televised response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. So Rubio suddenly lurched left of camera range to gulp a spot of Poland Spring water.
A gift to comedians, the awkward GIF became an instant Internet meme, with most of the tweets joking about a possible product placement. Even Rubio himself showed a self-effacing post-speech sense of humor by tweeting a photo of the rather unappetizing-looking mini-bottle in question.
Response from the PS brand itself? Crickets.
“ Poland Spring Water hasn't Tweeted since July, 2010. Right now, their rep is frantically trying to remember the password,” @JoryJohn tweeted.
Another tweeter even mused that Poland Spring had missed its “Oreo Moment,” referring to the now famous, insta-response to the recent Super Bowl blackout. In a prodigious stroke of social media genius and creativity, even before the power was restored, Team Oreo released an ad featuring a visual of the cookie, with text reading: “Power out? No problem. You can dunk in the dark.”
Try to top that.
The actual media cost was zero, as opposed to the almost $4 million for the brand’s actual Super Bowl spot, a giant production number showing a silent, choreographed fight in a school library over the concocted issue of preferring “cream or cookie?” (The sandwich cookie version of “Tastes Great, Less Filling.”) Viewers were then asked to vote their tastes on Instagram.
A team from 360i was already assembled, war room-style, to deal with the votes, and, with all the stars aligned, managed to jump on a response to the sudden blackout.
Given its immediacy, the quickie brand message intended for the Internet, or tweeted on the fly, can often have more resonance than the carefully planned mainstream campaign with byzantine levels of concurrent on- and offline components.
At the Big Game itself, this was the case not only for Oreo -- but, with variations, also for Pepsi and Coke.
In an attempt to surpass last year’s digital play with responsive, team-scarf-waving polar bears, Coke sought a more interactive, “gamifying” experience for consumers. “Mirage,” the richly cinematic spot shot in South Africa, involved three teams of characters -- showgirls, cowboys, and Mad Max-types -- fighting it out in a desert for a giant bottle of Coke. Viewers could vote for the winning team.
Arab groups immediately objected to the depiction of the secondary characters in the background: caricatures of Bedouins on camels. Even the LGBT community objected to the Vegas showgirls in the pink bus being played by women, rather than the transvestites from the movie “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” on whom they seemed to be based. (Never mind the opinions of women who would prefer not to be objectified in heels and plumes.) Plus, there were online glitches in voting. In the end, though, the showgirls won.
But what really connected for Coke was the sleeper spot that snuck in during the first quarter. Called “Security Camera,” it started as a series of viral videos in Latin America. Showing acts of kindness captured (or recreated) on video, it carried the upbeat feeling of the “Open Happiness” campaign preceding it. This version ended with hundreds of the individual videos in tiny squares forming the Coke bottle. The spot ran in Latin markets and on the London Olympics this summer. In the end, on game day, the little video-that-could, a last-minute contender, outranked the big, badass “Mirage” production.
Meanwhile, the early release of “Mirage” allowed arch-rival Pepsi to play its own knowing game. For Pepsi Next, the giant bottler created “Vending Machine,” an almost-instant video parody complete with similar showgirls, cowboys, and biker dudes shown walking off the obviously fake set to cool out with a soda. One of the Mad Maxxers takes his plastic axe to the Pepsi machine when it malfunctions. They all gather together to open the machine, rather than choosing the working Coke machine right next to it.
It was a clever, kick-ass response, and in my view would have done better on the game than the Pepsi Next spot that did run. Called “Party,” it was a copy of a copy of a mash-up of about 25 more-inspired previous Pepsi spots, showing suburban parents arriving home unexpectedly and interrupting their teen kid’s verboten blow-out. Much to the kids’ shock, the parents are not furious -- because, get this, they taste the kid's Pepsi Next and they like it!!
The point is that the past few weeks -- and even Rubio’s speech-- prove that every brand needs to be on its feet to take advantage of a pop cultural glitch, or lunge at whatever big glug becomes part of the cultural vernacular.