What Tide’s Super Bowl Success Can Teach Brands About Social Media Strategy

Sick burns can only take you so far

Agencies are focusing more on pre- and post-game social strategies. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Do sick Twitter burns lead to sales? If a brand dunks in the dark, does it still make a sound?

Five years after 360i’s real-time tweet heard ’round the world, brands are reassessing the value of maintaining an always-on social media presence, responding to competitors and desperately seeking the next Super Bowl “Oreo moment.”

“Every brand still wants to be relevant on social media during the Super Bowl. But the days of everyone needing a live, up-to-the-moment social war room have passed,” said Muh-tay-zik | Hof-fer associate partner and group creative director Joel Kaplan, who has worked on the digital elements of multiple Super Bowl campaigns.

To his point, brands actively engaged with one another this year.

And Wendy’s relentless trolling of McDonald’s continued unabated.

But as of Monday morning, the top two brand stories trending on Twitter were Tide’s successful attempt to blanket the Super Bowl with ads referencing other ads and the backlash over Dodge Ram’s decision to use a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech to sell trucks.

Today’s big brands place less weight on viral hashtags and engagement numbers as proof of ROI, according to Kaplan, who said such efforts lead to “a lot of wasting time.”

“I think everyone has relaxed a little bit and realized we don’t all have to be trying to manufacture commentary out of the same mishap,” he added. “The most powerful social moments are ones where our brands have a unique take on them, not ones that are just general commentary.”

Many agree that racing to join the latest social pile-up is less effective than ever.

“The days of real-time marketing brand wars are largely outdated, and consumers are seeing through them. There just isn’t that much scale in that approach, and it’s mostly just marketers marketing at each other,” said Preeya Vyas, managing partner, digital at Tide’s agency of record, Saatchi & Saatchi.

Steve Parker, Jr.—co-founder and CEO of South Carolina-based digital agency Levelwing and veteran of 11 consecutive Super Bowl campaigns—agreed, arguing that consistency in messaging before and especially after the Super Bowl is far more important than game-day banter.

The after-game plan is potentially more critical than the in-game ad itself,” said Parker. “Tide did a fantastic job … making the brand relevant throughout the entire game by stealing from past executions. [But] lots of brands tend to blow their budgets on Super Bowl ads and don’t have continuity after the game, in social or otherwise. They disappear, and you never hear from them again.”

When asked how Tide plans to maintain its momentum, Vyas of Saatchi & Saatchi said, “Pregame dialogue and creative is strategically a place to create intrigue. Postgame, in a perfect world, the idea will resonate and naturally live on … that’s the goal.”

“Our #TideAd work on social media was not just a lift from our in-game broadcast. … Rather, we used the medium to comment on advertising conventions and other ads to both plant the seed that if the next ad they see has clean clothes, it could be a #TideAd,” added the agency’s digital director Alan Lin. “It is opportunistic in a controlled, predictable way.”

When it comes to real-time marketing, 360i now uses a “war room” approach sparingly in cases of big tentpole events and sponsorships in which brands need to maintain an “ear to the ground” to quickly capitalize on real-time opportunities.

Some, however, think the model they established is here to stay.

“Over the years, we’ve seen definite ‘waves of trends’ in how Super Bowl advertisers are supporting their ads with social, from somewhat grasping attempts to recreate the Oreo moment, to user-generated content, to this year—the year of the celebrity influencer as a way to extend social reach,” said Dalton Dorné, svp of marketing at Merkle Americas.

“Whatever the trend, the principles of ‘getting it right’ remain the same, and you need an active social team to deliver on that during the Super Bowl, when the awareness leads new eyes, and new audiences, to your brand,” Dorné continued. “Regardless of if the social tactic is UGC or celebrity influencers, don’t be the person at the party who asks a question and tunes out the answer. No one likes that person.”

This may be true. But given Tide parent company P&G’s widely publicized plans to cut hundreds of millions from its digital ad budget, marketers will undoubtedly continue to weigh whether a full “war room” is necessary for future Super Bowls.

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@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.