Digital and social media channels allow organizations to be incredibly innovative, clever, “human” — and stupid. We saw plenty of all of the above in 2013. Here’s my take on some of the best and worst moments.

Oreo Wins the Superbowl!

The 2013 Superbowl was billed as the Harbaugh Bowl. The Baltimore Ravens (coached by John Harbaugh) faced the San Francisco 49ers (coached by his brother Jim Harbaugh) in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Of course, as someone in communications, I’m far more interested in the ads, the communication and PR around the ads and the attempts to disrupt the model of buying really, really ridiculous ads with incredibly high expectations that are largely panned. Even before kickoff, the buzz was that a few companies were seeking to pull some of the audience to their products via content on second — and sometimes third — screens.

Oreo was one of those companies. Oreo bought time early in the Superbowl. The call to action in the ad (“Whisper Fight”) was to follow the company on Instagram. Oreo spent (approximately) one gazillion dollars to get more Instagram followers.

To provide a little context, it’s worth noting that Oreo celebrated its 100th birthday in 2012. Part of the celebration was the company depicting a couple dozen milestones in the versatile medium of cookies and cream. The images were widely shared on Oreo’s social media channels, and website and fans and friends picked them up, spreading the Oreo love even further.


But, back to the Superbowl. Throughout the game, Oreo saw huge increases in followers on Instagram and Twitter and Likes on Facebook. And then, early in the 3rd quarter, a partial power outage suspended play for 34 minutes.

With a single tweet during that fateful power outage, Oreo won the Super Bowl. It didn’t matter who was on the field.


The “how” it happened has been widely analyzed and then analyzed again and again, of course.

I think the very most important part of the story, however, is that, while the specific content of this image was spontaneous and “real time,” there was a system in place in advance to make it happen. Creatives, copywriters, social media strategists and decision-makers were literally and physically in the room. And that decision was in line with a longer-term strategy for the brand.

“Real-time marketing is the next big thing!” the pundits triumphed! Which of course meant we saw a lot of really, really bad attempts to mirror Oreo’s success. Just chiming in on some pop culture trend doesn’t make you of-the-moment cool or authentic — it makes you look desperate.

Exhibit A: Glade (as in the air freshener) during the Emmys

They say the Oscars and Emmys are the advertising equivalent of the Super Bowl, except for women. And of course, nothing speaks to the ladies like room freshener. Glade tweeted pics that were apparently connected to a #bestfeelings campaign of some sort. That included two types of nonsense: fictional fragrances inspired by the nominees and other meaningless crap.


Exhibit B: SpaghettiOs on Pearl Harbor Day

Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs. I wonder what the meeting was like that resulted in the decision to create a freaky, grinning SpaghettiO mascot holding an American flag as an appropriate way to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of Japan’s attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base.


Need more?


I swear, if you get me a meat thermometer for Christmas, I will punch you.


Um, yeah. Bounty and I are besties.


Ugh. And no thanks.

The takeaway? Don’t try so hard. Think like an actual person talking to other actual people.

Be clever, have a system within which you can be creative and spontaneous. Here’s to 2014 providing a little more Oreo and a little less SpaghettiOs.