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Super Bowl Spots Get Social

|Originally posted on PRevolution on Feb. 8, 2011

What were your favorite Super Bowl ads? Mine were Coke’s Border Friends and Chrysler’s Imported from Detroit, but that’s just my personal taste. The more important question is what spots will we still remember in six months or a year? And how much can social media help a commercial hit that elusive sweet spot?
In other words, who’s this year’s Old Spice Man? Yes, most people forget that last year’s social media sensation actually started as a Super Bowl spot. And although it wouldn’t have grown without social media, it would have been much harder to get the ball rolling without an enormous jump start on Super Sunday. As a friend of mine (and one of the hosts of this blog) once said, “integrated campaigns rarely suck.”

Big Game, Huge Stakes
There really is no other way to match the Super Bowl’s audience, (111 million people), or its price tag ($3 million for 30 seconds). All eyes really are on its commercials. At least for a day. After that, they can simply fade away. And with more than 60 spots in play, it’s best to think of these ads as very expensive seeds that need plenty of nurturing to keep their buzz alive.

Often, the plan is to simply keep running them. Buy more time, keep them in front of viewers, and rely on the power of repetition to bring the message home. After all, unless you’re dealing with Apple’s legendary 1984 ad, you won’t get enough bang for your bucks by only running your spot once. And frankly, that ad ran plenty of times. Apple just didn’t have to pay for it. You see, that ad was really one of the first viral videos, re-run in TV stories, in people’s minds, and online more times than we can accurately count. In fact, just one of the many YouTube versions has more than 6 million hits.

Building Buzz
There are now many other ways to go viral, or at least get social. One of the oldest is sending your spot to TV stations and hoping to get some early momentum from their coverage. But now, spots are released directly to the public on dedicated websites, Facebook pages, and YouTube channels. That’s how Volkswagen got 13 million views for Little Darth Vader before the Super Bowl ever began. There’s even a cottage industry for building campaigns around ads that have supposedly been banned. Like all strategies, some are better conceived and executed than others, but they certainly showcase the importance of nurturing – before and after the game – these very expensive communication seeds.

And that brings us back to the Old Spice Guy. Wieden+Kennedy spent plenty of time and money creating the original ad, then brought it to life with an integrated campaign that still has a strong presence on Facebook and YouTube. Then they kicked off this year’s version of the campaign with an interactive contest that let a “super fan” reveal the new ad online ahead of time – an interesting twist, because they didn’t end up buying time in the game.

I realize there are concerns about conversion rate and ROI, but I think Old Spice is a winner from one simple perspective. Before last year’s game, few people knew Old Spice even sold a men’s body wash. Now it seems everybody does. On the other hand, how many people remember that last year’s other Super Bowl star, Betty White, was eating a Snickers bar? Old Spice succeeded by directing the conversation to their product, rather than letting the conversation go wherever it wanted (that Betty White is such a good sport). Old Spice built their own, virtually unknown, brand, while Snickers sat on the sidelines and let us build up Betty’s.

This Year’s Buzz
So, what about this year? I’m certainly intrigued by Old Spice’s approach, but wonder if it’s just the end game from last year’s campaign. I’m also very interested in the way the NFL and Foursquare partnered during the game, but think it’s just a nice way to build basic awareness for Foursquare. The Groupon vs. LivingSocial battle should be fascinating to watch, since it looks like both will have to defend their ads in the social space after people called each of them offensive. I was frankly underwhelmed by Audi’s attempt to incorporate a Twitter hashtag into its very funny Kenny G ad . It felt like they just grabbed onto the next cool tool, without really applying a strong strategy. On the other hand, I’m very excited by the way Best Buy is asking its Facebook fans to pick a different version of What’s a Bieber? to use at the next big event, the Academy Awards.

Better yet, that’s just the start. Since social networks stretch the Super Bowl ad season out so much, I’m sure we’ll see many other strategies play out over the next few days, or even weeks. After all, Old Spice didn’t make its personalized videos until July. So, there’s still plenty of time for brands to build their buzz, or drop like duds. That’s the fun – and the pressure – of playing in this Super Bowl.


Look Before You Tweet. Lessons From a Hockey Player

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Do you know Dan Ellis?  You should.  He’s a hockey player who’s trouble on Twitter can teach the rest of us some important lessons about social media and the importance of understanding your audience.

More than a sports story

Ellis is a goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose tweets have been much discussed in the sports world, but they should be just as interesting to folks who care about communication strategy.

It all started when he tweeted about the way the NHL’s labor agreement holds a large part of players’ salaries in escrow.  It’s a complicated issue that was guaranteed to come across poorly in 140 characters.  And it did.

I didn’t take long before he was called a whiny millionaire.  And as word spread online, he quickly became the new poster child for ungrateful athletes who shouldn’t complain when they’re getting paid to play a kids’ game.  DanEllisProblems even became one of Twitter’s trending topics.

The ensuing tweetathon set off passionate debates about the NHL’s labor situation, the fairness of the escrow deal, athletes as ingrates, transparency in online communication, and cyberbullying.  All are worth discussing, but I’d like to focus on something that’s simple and universal, the importance of understanding your audience.

Should have know better

I realize celebrities get ridiculous amounts of positive feedback from their starry-eyed fans, but those fans have no interest in hearing about players’ money woes.  Never have, never will.  I’ve been covering sports for more than 25 years, and fans almost always side with owners against players, and mock any player who thinks he should be getting paid more – no matter how reasonable the concern, no matter how well it’s explained.

I often talk about The Golden Rule of Communication – that the most important part of any message is the receiver – and in this case, the reaction of these receivers was remarkably predictable.  In fact, Ellis’ audience was not only guaranteed to disagree with his statements, it was highly likely to mock him, argue with him, and trash his reputation.

So, why didn’t he see it coming?  How could he tweet “Kind of bored today … what can I stir the pot about today?” without realizing the consequences?  Either he was totally disarmed by the positive echo chamber of athlete-fan communications, or he wasn’t properly trained.  Probably both.

Tools are not strategy

Ellis was actually  considered a pioneer among jocks on Twitter.  He had 12,000 followers, and was known for open interaction with his fans.  But knowing how to tweet is far different than knowing what to tweet – or why.  Just ask any company that’s trusted its social media to a cool kid who seems to know what he’s doing.  Or ask Kevin Love, who had his own brush with Twitter immortality when he tweeted about Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale getting fired – before the team announced the move.  It became a cautionary tale for athletes in all sports, and drove Love off Twitter altogether.  The same scenario – the cautionary tale and the exit from Twitter – is playing out with Ellis.

Like many businesses, most teams are run by people who don’t quite understand social media.  They realize there are opportunities available on these new channels, but they’re concerned about the impact of open communication.  As a result, they provide little , if any, social media training for their athletes.  Agents also see the potential of social media, so they’re also encouraging their players to “get social,” but since they’re also new to the game, most of the training still comes from college friends and personal experience.

Send everybody to training camp

Players get plenty of media training, because teams realize their public comments are key components of their brand.  Why not include social media? Those comments are just as public, and just as important.  I got great reaction at the Social Media Breakfast when I said that “in TV we treat all microphones like they’re open, and I do the same thing with Twitter.”  At the very least, teams should use that rule.

Social networks provide plenty of wonderful opportunities for players and teams to interact with their fans, but like all businesses, they must remember that information going out over these informal channels is just as official as anything else going out under their brand name.  At least that’s how the audience is likely to see it.  So, while transparency is a wonderful goal, it should always be balanced with common sense.  We shouldn’t expect companies to air their dirty laundry, reveal key business strategies, or badmouth competitors online – unless it fits into some kind of well-thought strategy.  We shouldn’t expect it from teams or athletes, either.

What else can we learn from athletes’ experiences in social media, and what business experiences are similar? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Apple, Android, and Your Living Room

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Scott Litman, Magnet 360 Managing Partner

If you’ve read my posts, or heard me speak, you know I’m fascinated by the future of all media.  And so is my brother.  Scott Litman is a leader in the marketing community, Managing Partner of Magnet 360, co-founder of the Minnesota Cup, and the best businessman I know.  So, we’ve decided to share some thoughts about the battle between Apple and Google, and its impact on the future. Interestingly, Scott has used iOS since day one of the iPhone, and I have used Android since the day Google launched the G1, so we have some useful experience with these platforms.  And much like our collaboration on Major League Baseball’s poor video distribution model, we hope you find our ideas insightful.

Battle brewing

It’s hard to miss the battle that’s playing out on our TV screens, the high-profile showdown between iPhone and Droid.  But while it’s easy to get caught up in commercials about coverage maps, and who has the most apps, this is quickly becoming the tech war of our times.  And even though it’s currently limited to phones, it will soon enough be full-on, with tablets and in the living room.

And while the living room today gets the least attention, it may be the most important and decisive area – because once a winner is established there, it will flow backwards to phones, tablets, and every other way we consume data and media, because there is tremendous value when all of your devices are completely in synch.  And once that connection is established, users reinforce it by continuing to purchase products  (and content) that synch easily.

The living room of the future will certainly have a video display, but where will its signal come from?  While there may be multiple sources of content (TiVo, SATV/CATV boxes, XBox, Playstation, etc.), Apple and Google are about to join the fray with the goal of dominating not just your living room, but becoming the OS for how you consume all of the content that matters to you – no matter where you consume it.  And while on the surface there are many similarities in features and functions, there are fundamental differences in how these camps are approaching their solutions.

Learning from the past

Like battles of an earlier era –  Mac vs. PC (80’s), Explorer vs. Netscape (90’s), iPod vs. a legion of MP3 players,  and iPhone vs. Palm/ Windows Blackberry (00’s) – the stakes are massive, with big winners and losers in the making.

Apple has mastered the UXP (user experience) on the desktop, mobile phone and maybe best of all on the iPad, but Apple TV (ATV) thus far has not measured up.  ATV has also been hindered by Apple’s belief (or goal) that everyone wants iTunes at the center of their universe.  To that end, iTunes has been a tremendous asset in the establishment of the iPod, and it has worked well with the iPhone App Store, but an iTunes-centered strategy has thus far been a liability in the living room.   While iTunes does a good job of bringing the music, video and photo libraries you already own to the living room via ATV, it excludes almost all of the (quality) online video that isn’t already on your computer.  Hulu, Fancast, NetFlix,, ESPN3 and more are shut out, unless you want to pay $1.99 for what is often readily available for free via a web browser. In Apple’s defense, though, it has been hampered by a highly reluctant media industry that isn’t sure how to defend (much less grow) revenues from the content they produce in a digital era.

Googling the future?

Android has yet to show up on a TV via Google TV, but it soon will.  And it puts, at its core, that consumers want to get what’s available on the net on that big screen in the living room.

Google is hardly the master of UXP, but it has a compelling vision for Google TV,  which is centered around doing what Google does best – making it easy for users to find what they want, right when they want it.  Also, like Microsoft has done with Windows, and as Google has done in mobile, Google is licensing Android to a wide array of partners that will create TVs and other devices which will give consumers a wide range of choices.  How this plays out  – and pays out – for content producers, though, is an open (and scary) question, because too much free content without a decent monetization model is bad for Hollywood, broadcasters, etc.  Overcoming these concerns – with licenses or more partnerships – will be crucial for both Google and Apple as they move forward.

Competition is good

So far, it appears Google TV will give users half of what they want most, which is easy access to all of the great stuff that’s on the web, whenever they want it.  Today, Apple provides the other half,  bringing all of the assets that you already have on your computer to the big screen.  Whoever brings all of this together in the most elegant package is going to get a huge leg up in the iOS vs. Android battle.

Which piece is more important at this point?  Iconoculture’s Sean Captain says buying habits have changed significantly in the past year, to the point that  “access is the new ownership.”  In other words, if Google can bridge its UXP gap, and put all of those streams in our hands seamlessly, it may be able to take a lead in this battle.  In this respect, Google has a decided advantage with its experience managing and organizing massive cloud-based web systems that millions of users rely on daily.  While Apple is no neophyte in this regard, services like MobileMe have fewer users and yet lower performance and reliability.  But never count out Apple, not with billions of dollars at stake – not when both sides know that  the winner/loser won’t just be in the living room, but that it will flow back to the handset market, tablets, and the rest.

In fact, we’re now seeing numerous reports that say Apple is expected to overhaul its strategy for the living room and base it on iOS.  Inspired by (or worried about) the new, improved competition in an arena he once called “a hobby,” Steve Jobs is ready to re-launch ATV for the third time.  Will the next generation of ATV finally deliver a UXP that is up to what we expect from Apple?  Will it finally provide access to the depth of video content available in our web browsers?  And for both Google and Apple, how will they manage the push-pull with the media giants that own all those licenses?

But while many questions remain, one thing is clear, with so much investment being made into the products and services of iOS and Android, consumers will be the biggest winners of this intense competition.