It’s Sunday. Game day.
This particular Sunday is special, but not because tonight’s matchup in Miami determines the NFL’s best football team. Nor is it special because everyday Americans put their differences aside and come together (for a few hours, at least).
No, this Sunday is special because so many people look at the exact same thing at the exact same time—a feat that’s becoming increasingly rare in an era of Disney+, Fortnite, Pinterest and Pornhub. Today, several brands are paying a record $5.6 million for 30 seconds that they hope about 100 million people will watch all at the same time, and millions more later. Pressure to make that moment count is high.
I’m currently standing in a 16th floor conference room in an office building not far from Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. Tonight, it’s a war room made up of 40 people, all supporting one brand with multiple spots in today’s Super Bowl: Tide. Most of the people in the room are from Procter & Gamble’s Woven agency, a hybrid of PR and creative teams. The goal of the night: to amplify Tide’s message across social media, get attention and make sure that attention is positive.
The 1,000-square-foot room includes a long white table running down the middle, with three big TV screens at one end. The left monitor displays data from a company called NetBase—impressions, net sentiment, emerging topics, stuff like that. The right monitor shows Tweetdeck, with 10 columns tracking various Tide-related terms and phrases. The middle screen, naturally, shows the game.
Snacks and drinks are everywhere—popcorn, mixed nuts, Doritos, tiny Twix and Snickers bars, Coke, Sprite, Corona Extra. In the kitchen, just adjacent to the war room, is a make-your-own Chipotle burrito buffet. There’s also a green cake meant to look like a football field with a Tide logo on the 50-yard line.
One woman is wearing a red Tide shirt and another, a blue Tide shirt. Absolutely no one is wearing anything that identifies them as a fan of either the Kansas City Chiefs or the San Francisco 49ers.
The core members of Team Tide are Henry Molski, communications manager at Procter & Gamble; Matthew Wormington, brand communications manager at Procter & Gamble; and Jenny Maxwell, brand manager at Tide. The three of them sit directly across from me.
When I show up around 5:30 p.m., they’re doing final checks. They’ve spent months preparing and have an arsenal of GIFs and copy in preparation for almost any scenario. Like the game itself, the outcome of how the public perceives and reacts to their campaign isn’t predetermined. Molski, Wormington and Maxwell are here to make sure Tide wins.
But, what could go wrong? Tide is the leading laundry detergent brand in the nation, according to market research firm Euromonitor. The campaign is shot, edited and ready. And it’s not like Shakira is going to eat a Tide Pod during the halftime show. If anything, Maxwell tells me, her biggest concern is living up to the standards set by Tide’s latest campaigns, “Laundry Night” and “It’s a Tide Ad.”
Then again, probably the worst response imaginable is apathetic silence. Team Tide doesn’t want that.
“You guys ready?” asks Maxwell with enthusiasm. “Here we go!”
For what feels like the first time since I arrived, the room approaches something close to quiet. Everyone is staring at a screen, whether it’s a laptop, smartphone or one of the three TVs. I can distinctly hear someone crack open a can of something in the kitchen behind us. Someone’s toddler is ambling around the room.
A guy sitting next to me, who works on the PR side, gets a text. It’s from Emily Hampshire, the actress starring in Tide’s spots alongside It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Charlie Day. He shows me the message. “OMG I’m so nervous,” it reads.
Soon after, it happens. Tide’s first spot of the night, a 45-second one, airs.