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Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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The Twitter Ads Spawned By Super Bowl Blackout

Feb 5, 2013
Originally published on February 5, 2013 2:05 pm



This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan.

And now, a look beyond Baltimore and Beyonce to the enduring possibilities of an ephemeral event. When the lights went out at Superdome on Sunday, Twitter lit up. Advertising teams from several companies tried to capitalize with instant ads. Like many of the regular ads, almost of these flopped, but one produced an idea that people are still buzzing about, Oreo cookies. If you work in the ad business, how does social media changed the game? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email:

Bob Dorfman is executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco and joins us from his officer there. Good of you to be with us today.

BOB DORFMAN: Thank you, Neal. Good to talk to you.

CONAN: So for anybody who's out there who did not see this ad, paint us a picture. What happened?

DORFMAN: Well, the blackout happened, first of all. And, obviously, there's a large following on Twitter and everybody's tweeting about it. And Oreo, who had their digital team, you know, at the ready, they're mobilized, they created a little ad that said, you know, power out? No problem. And there was a little, you know, almost like a print ad image, but they posted it on Twitter. It said, you can still dunk in the dark, with a picture of an Oreo cookie kind of surrounded by darkness. Again a clever little way of capturing, you know, the moment, what's going on and in a live activity, which is what's happening, what Twitter is all about. And it was fun, it was clever, it was playful, and it was, you know, attracted a lot of attention. And it's kind of, you know, the beginning of a new trend, I think, that we'll be seeing a lot more of.

CONAN: It turned out, there were other companies who had their teams at the ready as well.

DORFMAN: Yeah. I think Audi did. We did something, talking about the LED lights on their car, kind of, poking fun a little bit at the fact that this is the Mercedes-Benz superdome...


DORFMAN: And there was a blackout.


DORFMAN: Which also, again, a very clever competitive way of, you know, using Twitter. So - and there were a couple other companies that did similar things. I think nothing really have the attention that Oreo did, and that's probably because maybe it was, you know, the product is a little bit more of a fun product. It's less serious. It's just a cookie. So they didn't have to be as serious about it or didn't look as, kind of, mean or nasty or anything. It was just a fun, little way of pitching their product.

CONAN: But it - I had not thought that advertise, you know, the ads we see during the Super Bowl, these are crafted months in advance, cast with a care that you put into a major motion picture, orchestrated, all that sort of stuff. They spent $3.5 million. The buzz is all about something Oreo did on the whim of the moment.

DORFMAN: Yeah. And that's what's interesting. You know, Oreo also had a commercial during the game and it was, you know, a very effective and fun commercial set up in a library where everybody is going crazy over whether you like the cream or the cookie. And it was really their tweet that got a little bit more attention, you know, and is still getting talked about more than their commercial, I think. And, again, it's - and sort of a new way of advertising.

And the challenge here, obviously, is, you've got to be ready, you've got to make quick decisions. This was a, you know, you had a 30-minute blackout during the game. They pretty much came up with this idea and got it out and online in five minutes. So you've got to have all your marketing people who are the decision-makers, all your tech people, everybody in a room together watching the event and kind of at the ready for any kind of situation where something might pop up that you can take advantage.

CONAN: There goes the idea of going over to the boss' house to - for the Super Bowl party.

DORFMAN: Yeah. That's true.


DORFMAN: It kind of turns their bow into a working session.

CONAN: It sort of does. And you got to do it fast because that's a 34-minute blackout. If you can do it in 35 minutes, you're too late.

DORFMAN: You're too late. Exactly. And it also presents problems, too, because you have to act fast, but it also presents the - the problem of acting too rashly. You know, if you come out with something that's, you know, obviously, Super Bowl commercials are researched and over thought and thunk again and, oh, you know, every - so many people get their hands on them before they're finished. It's very hard to do something that's, you know, that's going to cause problems.

But when you only have, you know, a few minutes to come up with an idea, there is the chance that, you know, something is going to offend somebody in some way. So you have to be a little bit more careful, and you have to make sure that you've got, you know, all the people, the big decision makers, the people responsible making, you know, making the call to do it so that, you know, there won't be any problems down the road if there are issues.

CONAN: You're right. There is a possibility for - just as there is for that buzzy moment there is for that buzzy-for-the-wrong-reason moment.

DORFMAN: Exactly.

CONAN: Yeah. And the next - this is coming off something that is - it's one of those rare moments in American life these days where just about everybody in the country is gathered around a screen somewhere watching the Super Bowl. There aren't too many of those moments.

DORFMAN: No, there aren't. And, you know, everybody talks now about the second screen. So, you know, Twitter - somebody joked that Twitter is really just, you know, a bunch of people sitting around watching TV and commenting on it. And this whole second screen phenomenon is, you know, referring to people using social media on the computer, on Twitter, on Facebook while they're watching an event, you know, unfold on TV.

And it - when you have these big live events, it does present that opportunity for a, you know, social community to comment on the event. It's - obviously the Super Bowl is the big one. I think you'll be seeing more of this happen during the Academy Awards telecast, which is also another big event for advertisers. Any kind of live sporting events, you know, I suppose any live political events, any sort of newsy events that bring big collective crowds to social media, I think that will all draw this type of advertising.

CONAN: And how do they get people to see it though? I mean, I assume they have a list of people who, for some reason or other, have signed on to like Oreos or follow Oreos. But that's probably a fairly limited...

DORFMAN: That would be a - that's the big challenge. You know, a lot of this is coming down to hashtags, you know, putting the...

CONAN: Could've been a blackout hashtag or something.

DORFMAN: ...hashtag at the end of your message so that it does get people who are looking at that same topic collectively. And then it's also just, you know, word of mouth and, you know, people, you know, sending it out to other people and retweeting and retweeting, and then that just multiplies.

CONAN: And the delight of it is other than whatever overtime you were paying that creative crew to sit around and watch the Super Bowl in the office, it was free.

DORFMAN: Yes. Absolutely free, did not cost a dime except, yeah, again, except for the hours that those people are spending watching the game together and working.

CONAN: We'd like to hear from others of you who work in the advertising business. How is social media changing the game? 800-989-8255. Email: Mike's on the line with us from Boston.

MIKE: Hi. How are you?

CONAN: I'm good. Thanks.

MIKE: Good. Yeah. I run a number of social media teams. I work on the agency side with a number of big clients. And I actually just want to back up real quick. In regards to kind of the Oreo example, one of the, I think, really important things you kind of pull out from that is that they have 31 million fans just waiting for messaging, right? So these are people who already signed up, that clicked like on their Facebook page. So when we start to talk about it really not costing much to do. It doesn't. But there still is kind of this initial cost to acquiring kind of this fan base that then you can activate at kind of a moment's notice when you want to. So I just think that's kind of just important kind of point to pull out.

CONAN: Well, also they have the, as you say, the advantage of, you know, all these people waiting around for 34 minutes for something to do.

MIKE: Yeah. Absolutely right. And so I think, you know, one of the real challenges, and you guys kind of touched some of them a moment ago, is kind of operationalizing(ph) agility. When you have somebody like Oreo who has both an agency partner and they have a client, on both sides you're going to have lawyers that are going to be assessing the risk associated with saying what you're about to say, and that can get very, very difficult trying to get, you know, kind of two legal teams, a client and a creative team and then kind of a social media strategist all get on the same page. And Oreo does it very well. But from an organizational standpoint, that's a huge shift in terms of kind of agency relationships. That's taking a long time for a lot of clients to kind of get on board.

DORFMAN: That usually takes weeks, you know, to do that kind of thing, if not months. And to do that in real time is, you know, pretty ridiculously difficult.

CONAN: So, Mike, do you expect to - suddenly you're going to be working on Oscar night?

MIKE: Oh, yeah. Thankfully, we have a couple of great clients that we always kind of plan for this sort of thing. And, you know, we did something during the blackout that was one of, you know, our most highly-engaged with pieces of content in the past year. But, yeah, like, these are the kind of (unintelligible) which you get into when you start to get into social medias and kind of...

CONAN: You say we always do. How long have you always been doing this?


MIKE: Well, we've been doing this for about two years with kind of the majority of our clients. And it's certainly evolved, you know, since we first kind of started using engagements and, like, you know, both sides of the people are learning kind of every day as to how to, you know, continue to refine what we do. But it's really clear that this is, you know, not something that's going away, so making kind of an early investment issue kind of ahead of the game, you know, as we move forward.

CONAN: All right. Well, thanks very much, Mike. Appreciate the phone call.

MIKE: Thank you very much.

CONAN: And as we talk, Bob Dorfman, clearly, that's - people - this is brand new. This is - he's been doing two years.

DORFMAN: Yeah. That's the thing. It's kind of funny that this has been going on, but it's sort of taken this Oreo tweet to really bring it to the forefront. And it, you know, it does make it seem like this is a new thing, a new trend. But, yeah, it has been going on for a little bit of a while. This may be kind of a tipping point to, you know, make more mainstream, I guess.

CONAN: And do you do it at Baker Street Advertising?

DORFMAN: With our clients, not as much. It's something we're getting into a little more. We definitely do work with digital partners on our clients. Most of our clients are more regional, so it's not quite as appropriate for us.

CONAN: But the moment of some bright young spark raises a hand, it says, I've got an idea. It's crazy, but it just might work.

DORFMAN: Absolutely.


CONAN: As you look at the future of this, and clearly it does have a future, where does it go next do you think?

DORFMAN: Again, it's going to be, you know, a lot of big companies of these types of events, you know, all kind of being mobilized to do this kind of thing. You know, the challenge now is that it's going to get - it's going to start to get very cluttered. You know, now that everybody has seen that Oreo has had success with it. It's going to be jumping on the bandwagon. We want, you know, we've got to have our digital team ready. We've got to be doing this. So how do you kind of stand out? How do you cut through the clutter? Again, it's still a learning environment and agencies, and clients are still kind of, you know, feeling their way. But, again, it's going to be who's got the most interesting message and the most the interesting way of getting it out there.

CONAN: And which events are big enough?

DORFMAN: Exactly.

CONAN: Certainly, the Oscars, but maybe not the Grammys.

DORFMAN: Probably not.

CONAN: Yeah.

DORFMAN: Well, you never know.

CONAN: You never known. With certain products, it might be in a less cluttered field. All of a sudden, you're getting it to niche social advertising, which is, I guess, what the social advertising is all about anyway.

DORFMAN: Exactly.

CONAN: All right. Well, Bob Dorfman, thank you very much for your time today.

DORFMAN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Bob Dorfman is the executive creator director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. He joined us by phone from his office there. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.