During the 2013 Super Bowl game, there was a brief blackout. Quick as a wink, Oreo® cookies tweeted a photo of an Oreo in the dark with a spotlight on it, with the caption “You can still dunk in the dark.” It was a clever ad, executed with lightning speed. Marketing publications declared that Oreo “won” the Super Bowl with that ad.
I am 100% positive that this moment was of no consequence to regular Americans, but for anyone in marketing or advertising, it was the worst thing that could have happened to us. Thus started a frenzied quest in the marketing universe. Before every impending national event, higher-ups across the country said, “How can WE get a BIG WIN, like OREO at the Super Bowl? That’s what WE NEED!”
My sad story
I experienced this first-hand the following year, when the Super Bowl was scheduled to be held in the MetLife stadium across the river from New York City. I had been working for an agency, managing the social media of a well-known regional drug store chain for two years. I was a “one man band,” like, straight-up Burt in Mary Poppins, with a musical instrument attached to every available surface area of his person.
Leading up to the Geographically-Proximal-To-NYC Super Bowl, said drug store chain was in a frenzy, with a laser-focused determination to get a Big Win on social media. They were the official sponsors of the “Super Bowl village,” which may have been a big deal from a corporate perspective, but from the consumer perspective it was an unimpressive bunch of booths set up like a trade show giving away promotional stuff like stress balls. Eager to please our drug store client, my boss came up with the idea that the drug store Twitter handle (aka, me) should LIVE TWEET the Super Bowl, giving a play by play of the whole shebang.
I thought it was a terrible idea, and I had my reasons:
- No one is asking a drug store for live coverage of basically anything, but especially sports analysis.
- I, the person who would do this, appreciate football, but I don’t know enough about football to create meaningful tweets in a rapid-fire manner.
- It is stupid.
First I tried to gently steer the conversation away from this idea, voicing my objections as tactfully as I could. (I mean, I know that it’s a faux pas to say “your idea is really stupid” in business meetings. But, c’mon. This idea was really stupid.)
Not only did my coworkers (who were NOT the social media experts in the room) not listen to my reasons that our drug store client should not live tweet a sporting event, they TATTLED on me, equating my rationally-expressed reluctance with “combative behavior.” They even went ahead and had their intern write tweets to be pre-scheduled to go out during the game, you know, a real-time, anything-can-happen live event. What could go wrong?
At this point I started to feel sweaty. This was spiraling out of control, and I was desperate to prevent a professional nightmare. After reaching out to the client on my own, to confirm that this was in no way how the drug store itself wanted their Twitter account handled during the Super Bowl, we came up with a casual way for them to communicate that on a future call to shut all the Live Tweet Bandwagoners up about it.
In the end, I did not have to live tweet about the Super Bowl.
But the result was painful, and I didn’t feel victorious. In this scenario, nobody won. Eight weeks later they fired me, and I think the real reason was because I refused to give them what they still believed would have been The Big Win.
Why your Oreo moment won’t happen: Resources, resources, resources.
I wanted to do great work for the client, but I knew I couldn’t deliver an Oreo moment.
Oreo had a dedicated PR team. A team that would have included a copywriter, a social media manager, someone doing real-time monitoring of the account and handling of customer service replies, plus a graphic designer and a photographer.
You know those memes that compare a photo depicting grand “client expectations” to a scraggly DIY nightmare image of “client budget”? That was my complete reality.
Here’s what that looked like in my case:
- I performed all of the above roles for our clients BY MYSELF. Yes, I was a team of exactly ONE.
- Having no previous professional photography or graphic design experience, I was tasked with going to the drug store, buying the items they wanted to feature on social media, and artfully photographing them on my iPad during my lunch breaks.
- It was all the more weird because this client paid my agency $3 million dollars a year, but that budget sure wasn’t trickling down to support my work.
- Maybe I spoiled the powers that be, because I had gotten incredible results with no budget and no support before. But the problem with doing something amazingly well for an amazingly cheap price once is that they want you to do it again and again and again. The people in charge of selling my skills to clients thought the “spinning straw into gold” situation could last forever.
- In addition to the lack of people power, I was supposed to submit copy for social media posts one week in advance for client corporate approval. So I didn’t even have the authority to post spur of the moment witticisms based on a real-time event, even to score a Big Win.
- Finally, it’s worth noting that Oreos are cookies. Cookies are fun. Drug stores are a lot less fun than cookies.
Here’s how to get a “big-ish” win without spiraling into despair.
- Make sure your agency’s dreams are aligned with client goals. In my sad story, the client didn’t even want to live tweet the Superbowl, but the agency worked themselves into a frenzy, in love with their own idea!
- Remember personal social media use ≠ strategic social media marketing. Social media marketers leverage analytics and algorithms to post brand-aligned copy on the right platforms at the right time and with the right scripted responses lined up. It ain’t that easy!
- Ask your subject matter experts first what they think would be most realistic, achievable, and successful, given the resources at hand. (And what resources would be required to hit more extravagant goals.) Everyone from the CEO to individual sales account executives may think they know what should be delivered, but they rarely also know the big picture.
- If your team gets a big win, celebrate it! Don’t expect (or demand) them to be able to recreate it ad infinitum without additional support. Encourage excellence, but don’t kill your golden goose!
I hope my sad story provides some lessons that will help my fellow marketers get The Big Wins they want.