Long Live The #SuperBowl

Once upon a time, marketers would create epic campaigns, unveil them to the world, and sit back to bask in the glow of consumer response. They would spend millions on movie-quality commercials, millions more placing them during the most-watched television programs, and a few more million supporting the message in stores, in print and out of home. Consumers responded only with their wallets, and success came in the form of sales and perhaps a few industry awards. 

As we head into the Super Bowl of advertising, we’re reminded of this “storybook romance” where corporations held the keys to the castle and consumers played along. Sure, we’ll see some user-generated content and a few hashtags on Sunday -- maybe a second-screen experience here or there -- but in the end this is still the ultimate stage for beautifully (and carefully) crafted, brand-engineered messages. And the venerable Super Bowl ad can still be an incredibly powerful, high-reach, high-reward tool.    

But as we all know, the consumer has evolved. Many will watch Sunday’s commercials, if for no other reason than to be part of the cultural zeitgeist. But they’ll be taking to “second” and “third” screens in equal measure as they experience the Big Game -- according to eMarketer, 52% of TV viewers are engaged in real-time socializing during live TV shows, and that’s just on Twitter, on any given Sunday. 

The beauty of social is that participation comes in all forms. So whether you’re running a $3 million TV spot or hoping to leverage the millions of eyeballs glued to their phone, when it comes to social, the Super Bowl -- like the Olympics, or the Oscars, or maybe a random Thursday evening when live theater comes to TV -- is a stage that every marketer can play on.

Real-time social success is all about what you make of it. Watch where conversation peaks, where trends are created out of thin air, and think about what real-time moments are to come in 2014 when your brand voice can naturally chime in. If you’re already running a campaign or just hoping to strike in the moment, here are a few rules of engagement: 

1. Don’t just anticipate talk, plan for it.  Unlike the storybook world I described above, consumer participation should be a critical part of the iterative process. Any moment can be “a campaign.” Get the infrastructure in place (tools, people, process) and build initiatives that invite people to participate.

2. Stoke the fire.  Marketing today is a bonfire that needs to be constantly stoked to burn brightly. What does that mean? It means two-thirds of the effect of any campaign may come from active campaign management and evolving the idea as it weaves in and out of consumer participation. Core to this, the act of Listening is now a cost of doing business. Conversations are increasingly the fabric of campaigns. When a campaign is retweeted, it is not simply passed along. Something is added: it is personalized, enriched and given life. We like to think of these conversations as spontaneous. But in marketing they need to be nurtured. 

3. Social is a series of rapidly evolving prototypes. What products launch without a beta? The tech world has embraced the notion of “perpetual beta” -- marketing has to similarly learn how to build, release, listen, learn, and improve all while incorporating cultural moments and consumer participation.

4. Virality is magic uncovered through fundamentals.  New rules of engagement require brands to solidify what makes them resonate in the social space. Brand personality is more important than ever, and expertise in platform etiquette can mean the difference between viral success and a disastrous crash and burn. Nail down the basics before you even start to engage. Brands MUST define their Shared Passion, have a clear understanding of voice, and know instinctively how to participate on a given platform. Critical to success are hybrid-skilled, wired individuals who know the platforms, the users, and the accepted practices of each unique community. Without this foundation and many months of practice, even the most magical moment will be a fluke of nature that can’t be replicated.

5. Nobody wants to be friends with a one-hit wonder.  Being authentic is everything. This economy is all about brands being real, and consumers believing it. If you only pull out the stops during big multimedia events, it will be clear that you’re only in it for the quick hit. The little moments matter sometimes more than the big ones -- so how are you participating in conversations day in and day out will be the key to building loyalty and consumer engagement.

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