Reactive Advertising Creates Social Splash (Or Ugly Puddles)

News happens, and every so often a brand responds by launching quick ad campaign that tries to play off the event. It’s brilliant it if works. The Oreo cookie “Dunk in the Dark” Twitter ad  when the 2013 Super Bowl blackout left millions of Americans slaw-jawed,is the classic of the genre.

I don’t know if you would call Pepsi’s disastrous protest commercial a “reactive ad (it sure did cause one) but it did try as badly as possible, to piggyback off the the news of protest marches that are now more frequent and acrimonious than they’ve been in years. Whatever Oreos did right Pepsi did not.

Maybe there’s a message in that. If a brand chooses a reactive commercial scheme it better know what it’s talking about, and be ready to have a reason to be doing it that goes beyond responding to the chatter out there.



That’s what I get out of tips from Dan Mazei, head of Reebok’s global newsroom I read about on a blog from NewsWhip. (Those brand newsrooms have become somewhat common, attempting to match brands with causes and events that resonate.)

“If you’re just jumping in for the sake of jumping into a conversation, you’ve already lost,” he told Gabriele Boland at NewsWhip  That analytics company is Reebok’s ally. It continually scans social media matched against what’s in the news  to provide an almost instant monitor of what people are talking about.

A brand is dead if it tries the reactive route without really have a feel for it--I’d say that was Pepsi’s problem.

“But if you’re trying to land your brand’s point of view, if you’re trying to reach new audiences, if you’re trying to fill a natural conversation or news gap, then you have a reason,” Mazei told NewsWhip.

It seems to me that commercials that are going to reflect a current or recent situation should be kind of quick in-and-out, so a point of view doesn’t become a lecture or, as in the nearly five minute long Pepsi ad, goes on long enough to pile one objectionable scene on top of each other like slices of meat on a submarine.

“Is it worth it for the brand?”  Mazei advises asking yourself, adding a bit later,  “We all read the same stories about brands that get beat up for making mistakes.”  

But when it works, it works. When the Trump Administration nominated Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Sen. Elizabeth Warren kept trying to use procedural gambits to delay the vote on his his confirmation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used obscure Senate rules to shut her up. Later, he said he tried to get Warren to stop, but, he said, “Nevertheless she persisted.”

That phrase launched a quick social media ad and a product--a Reebok t-shirt repeating that McConnell line which quickly became a catchphrase for activist women and still sells out.  “For a 24-hour turnaround, there were a lot of moving pieces,” Mazei said.  “To get that done, for people to say ‘Hey, Reebok might be a brand for me because I believe in what they’re doing,’  that felt a lot more satisfying for us. Intrinsically, politics, religion, racial diversity — these are topics that are trickier to navigate than others. That’s when the filter really matters, and you have to really think if it makes sense to put something out the door.”

Reebok has a team that meets daily to kick around ideas, knowing 1) their reactive spot might swing and miss and 2) it’s not necessary to always have one ready to go. Sometimes the hits are simple: A group of exercisers in a park wearing Reebok shoes--and simultaneously playing Pokemon Go was to the point and told Reebok customers the company was paying attention to them.

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