Mark Ritson: Inane tweets were the Super Bowl’s big losers

Super Bowl weekend has just passed. You probably noticed the gigantic clash of egos, bullshit and total pointlessness that ensued. I refer, of course, not to the game itself but the surrounding social media charade which, once again, engulfed marketers at the start of the month.

It has become de rigueur for American brands to set up ‘war rooms’ for the big day and populate them with a ragtag assortment of individuals who spend the ensuing 12 hours in hot, sweaty huddles furiously bashing out inane messages to a few people and then, after a suitable pause, retweeting the responses of those few people in ever decreasing circles.

Volkswagen, for example, filled its game day war room with social media strategies, writers and a production crew, who were primed to jump on every little moment to generate the all-important social conversations. As Denver slipped further behind an increasingly dominant Seattle team, the Volkswagen team sent a “Hang in there, Denver,” tweet accompanied by an 11-second YouTube video in which VW’s engineers tried to develop a formula to reverse the team’s losing streak.

Raashee Erry, media and connections planning manager for Volkswagen, said its timing was spot on. “It was in line with our strategy,” she told Computerworld. “We weren’t playing favourites, but we saw an opportunity to boost the conversation, boost the momentum. We had a lot of fun. We got what we set forth to do and all in all it went really well.” Ten days on from that tweet, just over 7,000 people have watched the YouTube clip and, even less impressive, 91 people have retweeted Volkswagen’s original tweet.

Automotive brand Hyundai had its own war room in operation on the big day. The 30 executives gathered in the brand’s California office ranged from the obvious (the head of integrated marketing) to the bizarre (a caricaturist). The team spotted a user (with 750 followers) who had praised Hyundai’s Super Bowl ad on his Twitter account and the team decided to “surprise and delight” him by sending him a caricature of his son taken from his Twitter page and the message “Cheers to fatherhood”. Later in the day the same team responded to the success of Cheerio’s stirring TV ad by tweeting a thank you, which incorporated a Vine message in which the little round cereal pieces were positioned to spell out ‘#thanks cheerios’ across the bonnet of a new Hyundai. The message has so far been retweeted 25 times.

The inanity of it all was only matched by the number of brands attempting to jump on the bandwagon and the disappointing lack of audience or interaction. It had clearly not occurred to any of the marketers involved that sending tweets on the one day when most Americans are: a) watching the game; b) socialising with others; and c) being sent hundreds of inane tweets by marketers locked in war rooms, possibly did not make a lot of sense. They also probably had not collectively considered the wisdom of a war room in which targeting, positioning and strategy were thrown out of the window in favour of real time, non-strategic, entirely generic mass marketing.

The only people who did appear to be impressed by any of this were the gullible marketing press who reported in exhausting detail the activities taking place with the kind of hushed reverence and crucial lack of objectivity only they can achieve. Having crowned Oreo the ‘winner’ last year, despite reaching a tiny fraction of those who were exposed to TV ads during the big game, they were once again blowing up social media’s impact out of all proportion.

The media appeared disinterested in the actual impact or audience that these war rooms were generating. Instead, we were repeatedly told that more than 25 million tweets had been sent during the game. But there are two problems with this. First, the majority of these messages were not related to brands but the game. Second, the puny reach of these branded social media messages pale into insignificance when compared with the whopping 111 million people who tuned in for the game and watched much of the TV advertising broadcast around it.

But who cares about TV or actual impact when we can talk war rooms, real-time marketing and social media conversations. I appreciate I am past my sell by date.

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