Hacking The Social Super Bowl (Or, How To Take Advantage Of Tentpole Events To Achieve Brand Success)

Only a handful of marketers get a chance to tie an ad campaign to the incredible momentum a watershed entertainment moment like the Super Bowl or Oscars generates. Thanks to the forever-changed landscape of second screen and social activity, you’d expect it to be a simple thing to step away from the traditional TV buy and pump resources into digital channels. Yet, so many brands stumble when they try to run this play.

Success often begins months, or even years, before any event takes place by building a sturdy foundation based upon capability, authenticity and a willingness to interact. And, a comprehensive understanding of the pitfalls that could occur can be critical, helping a brand reap big rewards and cut through the clutter.

Establishing brand credibility at the individual consumer level on platforms such as Twitter or Instagram takes time. This is a function of voice, and ensuring it remains human. Done right, it’s possible to tap into powerful sentiments such as humility and even relatable embarrassment that are hard to convey in more traditional efforts.



Not a marketer was without envy when Oreo’s agency partner put the concept of this social brandjacking on the map with its “Dunk in the Dark” tweet, after a blackout caused a stoppage of the Super Bowl in 2013. Despite Twitter now being one of the older guards of social media, it was a novel approach that generated a lot of conversation. But that was eons ago in social media years, and it’s no longer enough to show up with a pithy or glib comment at the ready.

Today, owned content is meme content and must be timed to launch at moments when audiences are in the mood to be engaged. Take what advertising agency McCann is doing with the final season of “Mad Men.” McCann, the powerful subsuming empire to the relatively scrappy Sterling Cooper Draper Price, is still around today, and would be remiss not to display its copywriting chops around such a hallmark TV moment. One tweet used the deck of the Death Star, while another included headshots in their actual lounge, welcoming Roger, Don, and Peggy into the fold. No Pete, no Joan? Maybe they know something about the finale we don’t.

While it’s hard to trump snack food quips and direct historical relevance to a critically acclaimed television show, there are things every brand can do to prepare to engage their audience around hallmark TV events:

  • Know your content, know your voice, know your brand. Starting with an exhaustive understanding of your content — noting what is corporately viable to use and, more importantly, what is helpful to your audience (including humor) — can yield great results in real-time efforts. Data that gives context to breaking news and emerging trends can be especially attractive in fostering engagement, as well as garnering the attention of the trade media.
  • Know your audience. Good brands know who they’re trying to reach and do it across all channels. 
  • Use the right message at the right time. By understanding your audience, your voice and every aspect of your message, you’re better positioned to plan and even react to topical trends, whether it is breaking news, the big game or the latest Kardashian buzz. But here’s where those of us with a PR background can bring a core tenet forward: Stay. On. Message. 
  • Have great people at the helm. While you can hire amazing community managers who know the intricacies of the latest platforms, most important is to have people in your control room who embody your brand. Plan for a conversation and be ready to surface more content; then reach out to embolden internal and external advocates to reverberate it.
  • Be open to and careful with new platforms. The next Twitbook or Meerkatiscope will always provide novel opportunities to test and learn what motivates your followers, and come with an equally challenging set of risks. Working through a few scenarios ahead of time can help define a brand’s tolerance for risk
  • Mitigate risk. No surprises. Knowing your audience; having a well-defined, curated tone; and positioning your content correctly are the keys to avoiding a reputational disaster. 
  • Plan to be surprised. Inevitably, every major event comes with a twist and someone will always misinterpret the message or just not get the joke. Having these factors in place ensures your team can make the right judgment calls — to keep the original plan in place, to hijack an emerging conversation instantly, or, as is sometimes most apt (and underused), to pull your hands off the keyboard and sit this one out.
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