Innovative or No, Oreo Crows in Afterglow of Its Super Bowl Social Media Coup

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Oreo’s quick response to the Super Bowl power outage is in the branding history books by now, given it took the cookie brand just 20 minutes from the time the lights went out to create and tweet the image at right, along with its customized  tagline: “You can still dunk in the dark.” 

The twitpic went viral, was retweeted more than 17,000 times and won the Twitterverse award of the game’s “Ad Bowl.” The Wall Street Journal called it “culture-jacking” while CNET called it “brilliant,” and the brand saw its Instagram following soar. Even Scott Monty, global head of social media at Ford, tweeted that Oreo “gets it.” 

Writing for the Harvard Business Review’s blog this week, B. Bonin Bough, VP Global Media and Consumer Engagement for Mondelēz International, which owns the Oreo brand, seized upon the success. 

“The ubiquity of digital technology and mobile devices enables people at far corners of the globe to share moments together, regardless of where they’re located, their economic status, or how old they are,” he wrote. “By focusing content development around these shared cultural moments, marketers can transcend the demographics-driven targeting that has for so long defined the industry, reaching more people in a more relevant way.”[more]

But as comments on the HBR blog post and as Digiday also highlighted, it’s debatable whether the move truly resonated beyond the realm of digital advertising, and whether it did more than drive awareness and momentary buzz for the brand.

“I think making too big of a deal out of the one tweet, or the result, is misguided,” said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus. “When talking about the retweets, it’s such a small number in the context of the Super Bowl audience.”

Brian J. Maynard, director of Jenn-Air brand marketing at Whirlpool, said that while “reacting quickly to a real-time incident isn’t anything new,” there is now “more opportunity to do so in today’s ‘always on’ world. Having a team in place to react to something that might happen during an event like the Super Bowl is really smart.”

John Leeman, CMO of FreshDirect, told Digiday the move shifted Oreo’s brand image. “If Oreo’s brand was suffering because of its old-school, non-digitally savvy image, I suppose this kind of a reaction might have helped make a positive difference,” he said. But since Oreo is a timeless brand that most people probably hope will never change, it seems unlikely this would help much, beyond the fact that you are publishing an article to your readers about it for free.” 

However, the move was certainly cost-effective. Oreo’s nimbleness “helped demonstrate the power of ingenuity over money, and social media over traditional forms,” Lyneka Little wrote on on The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog about the “culture-jacking” pulled off by Oreo and its agency during the game. “Oreo’s instant Twitter ad stood out on a night when 30-second ads on TV cost $3.8 million.”

Oreo’s Cookie vs. Creme campaign launched at the Super Bowl with about 2,200 Instagram followers. Fifteen seconds after the ad aired, the number jumped to 22,000 followers and as of Friday at 4 p.m. was at nearly 69,000.

The effect on the Oreo brand remains to be seen in the long run, but Bough and others at Mondelēz are ending the week very pleased.

“By giving everyone access to the same data-driven picture, you put the onus on the group to understand and act on the trends, challenges, and opportunities that emerge,” he wrote on the HBR blog. “This culture of listening, accountability, and collaboration is what brands need behind them to succeed in a real-time world.”

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