Social Team 6

As we fast approach another Super Bowl marketers may recall one of the few (only?) corporate social outreaches that achieved mass awareness – Oreo’s “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” post. The Ambility team, after much discussion, decided that that was the last example of a social post getting wide airplay that we could remember. We also felt it was a good time to ask “Why?”

There’s an old saying that war is months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror.  It’s likely that someone has said something similar about the marketing world (particularly if they’ve spent time within agencies) but situationally there is no justifiable metaphor between battle and the world of marketing. There are, however, perhaps some lessons marketers can learn from those who practice combat well. Beyond the rigorous physical training (including the Seals’ famous, though studiously unconfirmed, Hell Week when trainees must run, swim in cold water, and crawl through mud almost non-stop for up to six days with only a total of four hours sleep during that time to restore them) the bulk of time spent in elite fighting forces is dedicated to practicing scenarios again and again on the off chance that the same or a similar situation will be confronted. In fact it would not be a far reach to suggest that the mission success of these elite fighting forces is as much about anticipating a situation and preparing for it as it is about training their minds and bodies to function under duress. And here is where marketing teams can look for lessons.

Anticipation & Preparation

The greatest opportunities for marketers to surprise and delight in the social spaces on a mass scale come from being prepared to respond quickly during events that have mass appeal. The Super Bowl, of course, is an example of something people schedule their day (even year) around, but what can be overlooked in this age of time shifting TV watching is that there are plenty of events that Americans seek to enjoy live; events that appeal to our desire for collective engagement, where the very timeliness of social networking can stand out and create mass impressions.

The examples of corporate posts or tweets that achieved mass awareness during such events so far are very few indeed, but those that have are less examples of amazing creative than they are operational success stories. That so few brands even appear at all with timely social messaging around mass events is also more an operational failure than a lack of creative juice.

Oreo’s “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” post during the 2013 Super Bowl after the lights kicked off and delayed the game for over a half hour is a great, though unique, example of when the preparation and creative action came together to take advantage of an unexpected situation and gain enviable positive brand perception. No one, I think, has suggested that 360i (Oreo’s social agency) anticipated a loss of power to the 2013 Super Bowl but they did recognize that America’s biggest sporting event offered a real opportunity to make a positive brand impression at relatively tiny cost.

It’s Operations Not Creativity

All these years later there are arguments about how well that tweet drove business for Oreo. Oreo’s sales growth has indeed gone from the low single digits to around 20% per year for the last couple of years, but a lot of that is explained by expansion into emerging markets. More notable is that it remains an exception all these years later. It’s clear that this is due not to a lack of creativity on the part of brands and their agencies, but rather the lack of effort in anticipating opportunities and streamlining operations around mass events.

Don’t get me wrong, the meat and potatoes of social engagement for brands is rightly focused on problem solving. In both Gizmodo and HBR’s rankings of brands that practice social media well, they focus more on companies’ use of social networks as customer service channels than brand messaging platforms. The heavy lifting social engagement provides through almost one-to-one exchanges when problems or questions are posed is a very effective way for brands to show what they stand for, gain valuable customer and product insights, and are great opportunities for turning bad brand experiences into positive ones. LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, who frequently engages with customers and his development team publicly on the platform, wins compliments on his posts responding to user’s comments, exhibiting both a high level of executive engagement with the core product offering and pretty effective brand-building. But social channels as mass media branding mechanisms is still a largely unexplored opportunity.

As Facebook’s monthly active user base approaches 2 billion (it’s now over 1.55 billion and counting) and Twitter’s remains over 300 million (and holding) social media’s potential as a mass media outlet relevant for brand building will inevitably be explored. For marketing departments and agencies advising them, the top task should simply be to anticipate opportunity, assemble a few good creatives, prepare a streamlined approval process among decision makers who commit to be available, and then review the attributes of the brand you want to reinforce should an opportunity arise. Then cross your fingers, which is safer than sabotaging the electrical supply of a major sporting venue…