Advertisers scramble to stand out amid Super Bowl Twitter, Facebook chatter

NEW YORK, N.Y. – If it’s on TV, it’s on Twitter, at least when it comes to blockbuster events such as the Super Bowl.

Advertisers, in particular, are ready to capitalize.

“What advertisers have realized is that Super Bowl advertising doesn’t just take place on TV, with your 30-second or 60-second spot that you paid millions of dollars for,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst for research firm eMarketer. “You really need to have a broader presence.”

Last year’s Super Bowl was interrupted by a 34-minute power outage — luckily, for one advertiser at least. Oreo seized on the opportunity and tweeted “you can still dunk in the dark.” It was retweeted and mentioned on Facebook thousands of times.

Every brand wants to be this year’s Oreo. Brands are setting up social media “war rooms” so they can respond to memorable events as they happen — be it another blackout, a snow storm or a wardrobe malfunction — with clever, retweetable quips.

Volkswagen has set up a studio in Los Angeles to create quick, catchy video responses, said Jennifer Clayton, media manager at the automaker. There will be about a dozen people in the room, from creative and production folks to community managers in charge of monitoring chatter on social media. Once a video is shot, it’ll be sent to Volkswagen’s lawyers for approval and, within 20 minutes, posted on Twitter.

“We are taking advantage of all the conversations going on out there and making it even more impactful,” she said. “We’re taking a 30- (or) 60-second spot and turning it into a campaign that’s multiple days and multiple screens.”

The game is a big day for Twitter, too. The company will have its own employees in the “war rooms” of some advertisers, helping them identify what people are tweeting about the most and helping them develop quick, clever reactions.

Beyond advertising, people will be conversing with fellow fans, using Twitter hashtags such as #Seahawks, #Hawks and #12s for the Seattle Seahawks and #Broncos, #Denver and #UnitedInDenver for the Denver Broncos. There will be #SB48 for the Super Bowl and #AdScrimmage to vote for your favourite Super Bowl ads. People have also created unofficial ones — such as #PotBowl — a reference to the fact that the teams hail from states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

Advertising, though, is where a lot of money is at stake.

For every Oreo, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of tweets that fall flat, even if they were conjured in a room full of social media experts and marketers. During last Sunday’s Grammys, “a lot of brands tried to do it but only one stood out,” Williamson said.

That one was Arby’s. Singer Pharrell Williams showed up at the awards show wearing an oversized, puffy brown fedora. It quickly got its own parody Twitter account (with more than 18,000 followers), not to mention all the Twitter mentions. The fast-food chain known for its big cowboy hat logo quickly tweeted “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs.”

It went over well. Arby’s tweet got more than 83,000 retweets and a response from Williams himself: “Y’all tryna start a roast beef?”

“Brands need to have the perfect storm of the right opportunity, the right message and most critically, a relationship between your brand and whatever it is that you are trying to connect about,” analyst Williamson said. “If it’s forced or if (it looks) planned, it’s going to come across negatively.”

Admitting that the right moment may never come up, some brands are taking a different approach.

M&M’s marketers plan to use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the video-sharing app Vine to distribute short animated videos made from peanut M&M’s. The clips will include commentary from the legendary retired quarterback Joe Montana.

Seth Klugherz, senior director for Mars Inc.’s M&M’s brand, said in a statement that the brand is “not simply hoping to ‘win the night’ with a single post or tweet” but add to viewers’ experience throughout the night.

Elsewhere in candy land, Butterfinger plans to riff off its brand name, which is slang for someone who tends to drop stuff — such as a football.

“The idea of a Butterfinger moment, organically, the name of our brand will come up,” Butterfinger brand manager Jeremy Vandervoet said. “We can’t predict it but we’re going to be ready to respond. We don’t know how it will happen.”

Even without a blackout, Sunday’s game is likely to be the most tweeted, Facebooked and Instagrammed-about Super Bowl, simply because more people — and brands — are tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming than a year ago. There were 2.8 million tweets about the 2011 Super Bowl. That grew to nearly 14 million in 2012 and more than 24 million in 2013.

Not wanting to be left out when it comes to public chatter about big events, Facebook recently introduced its own take on trending topics. The feature is starting to come to users in the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere. It lets users see what topics others are talking about, whether that’s the Super Bowl or their favourite commercial.

Still, Williamson said it’s still unproven how effective all this real-time marketing is. People might be tweeting about Oreo and Arby’s, but are they eating their cookies and roast beef sandwiches?


AP Business Writer Mae Anderson contributed to this story.


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