Monday, February 4, 2013

Look for the Dark Spots

One of the most heralded adages in marketing is "timing is everything." Opportunities come and go, often unplanned and with a very small window in which to act upon them. Sure, strategic planning is important, but the chance to benefit from the spontaneous must be part of a marketer's mindset. This idea came into play during last night's Super Bowl. Early in the third quarter, play was disrupted by a power outage that lasted 34 minutes. Not only did the unexpected darkness sideline the two teams, the highly scripted TV broadcast was derailed as CBS had to scramble to fill time.

Too bad for CBS that it did not have quick thinkers like some of the brands that immediately took to Twitter to post blackout-themed messages. Four Super Bowl advertisers - Audi, Oreo, Tide, and VW - posted humorous brand messages on Twitter during the blackout. These brands enjoyed additional exposure beyond their televised spots; Audi's message had nearly 10,000 retweets, and Oreo's blackout-themed tweet had more than 14,000 retweets. Not only was the ingenuity of these brands impressive, but their quick response was even more noteworthy given the speed with which these impromptu brand messages were approved internally.

What can we learn from the blackout of Super Bowl XLVII? The takeaway is to look for the dark spots. We have been conditioned to look on the bright side, run to where there is daylight. But, there are times that darkness sets in, creating a gap that can be filled. Audi, Oreo, Tide, and VW walked the line of tastefulness very adeptly - using humor to alleviate the awkwardness of an extended delay in the game. Some brands have not been so tactful at responding to dark spots. For example, J Crew was criticized heavily last fall for running a free shipping promotion with a theme related to Super Storm Sandy. The tactic came off as insensitive to severe weather conditions that millions of people were facing.

In addition to being in good taste, looking for dark spots requires good timing. In a world in which today's headlines are soon old news, good timing of marketing efforts in response to unplanned events is critical. When the recent woes of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o captured national attention, the Florence (KY) Freedom of the independent Frontier League soon announced a Manti Te'o Girlfriend Bobblehead promotion on May 23. Not only will fans get a bobblehead doll resembling Te'o's girlfriend (actually it will be an empty box), but a section of the stadium will be reserved for fans to sit with their imaginary girlfriends or boyfriends. The team gained exposure for the promotion by announcing it at the peak of the story's media coverage. Impact of the announcement about the promotion would have been diminished had the team waited until closer to the season to announce it.

Timing is everything - for strategically pursuing bright spots and quickly acting upon dark spots.

Ad Age - Marketers Jump on Super Bowl Blackout with Real-Time Twitter Campaigns