Mark Ritson Columnist

Mark is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Melbourne Business School and is recognised as one of the world's leading experts on brand strategy. His clients have included McKinsey, PepsiCo, Donna Karan, Johnson & Johnson, Dom Perignon, Baxter, De Beers, Krug, Ericsson and WD40.

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If you think Oreo won the advertising Super Bowl with a tweet, look at the social media scoreboard

Published 13 February 2013 09:37, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35

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If you think Oreo won the advertising Super Bowl with a tweet, look at the social media scoreboard

Cookie crumbles ... there’s been much hype about Oreo’s Super Bowl blackout tweet, but the numbers tell a different story. Photo: Fairfax Media

No prizes for guessing which brand was judged the winner of last week’s Super Bowl marketing battle. Journalists the world over were united in praise for Oreo’s impromptu Twitter ad, which ran during the game’s unexpected 34-minute blackout.

“Power Out? No Problem”, accompanied by a picture of a biscuit and the line, “You can still dunk in the dark”, won universal acclaim. Impressive stuff, until you look at the numbers. At the time of the tweet, Oreo had 65,000 followers on Twitter. The average click-through rate for Twitter is just below 2 per cent. About one in 50 followers actually click on a tweet.

Let’s be generous and assume the blackout led to more click-throughs and 5 per cent of Oreo’s followers, or about 3250 people, opened the link. Ah, but I’m missing the all-important interactive part. There were also 15,000 re-tweets as the initial 3250 readers sent message to their followers, who in turn re-tweeted it on. The average American twitter user has 208 followers, so multiplying those 15,000 retweets by 208 followers and then subtracting the 95 per cent of Oreo’s followers, or about 3250 people, who did not see or open the Tweet – we get an additional audience of about 150,000 people. To put that in perspective, Oreos are America’s favourite cookie – with more than 20 million cookies consumed each day. an estimated 80 million Americans will eat at least one Oreo this year, meaning the Super Bowl Twitter campaign reached less than 1 per cent of its target market. Still impressed?

The Wall Street Journal says Oreo “culture-Jacked” the event, Forbescalled it a “real-time slam dunk”, Advertising Age rated it as the “the best ad of the game” while The Washington Post was moved to ask readers: “Can Twitter replace the Super Bowl ad?”. Our own Australian marketers at B&T and Marketing magazine were similarly impressed with Oreo’s match-winning strategy.

TV ads are part of the action at the Super Bowl, where the proportion of ads actually viewed usually far exceeds the traditional “eyes on screen” average of 35 per cent. That’s at least 40 million people – roughly 250 views for each person that saw Oreo’s tweet. Let’s also remember the Oreo image probably was viewed for about two or three seconds, and the TV ads for ten times longer.

Ah, but you might point out that TV advertising is a cluttered and ineffective medium. That’s certainly true – a typical game-day viewer would have been swamped with more than 60 different ads during the four-hour marathon event. But compare that to Twitter where 24 million tweets were sent by Americans during the game. Which medium has the most clutter?

When you reach 150,000 consumers with such an on-brand, clutter-breaking message you deserve plaudits but should you be anointed as marketing champions for reaching a tiny fraction of what other brands (including Oreo) achieved with traditional media?

My problem is not with Oreo, it’s with the lazy journalists and social media pundits who have hoodwinked a generation of marketers into believing that social media is far more potent than it really is.

My problem is not with Oreo, it’s with the lazy journalists and social media pundits who have hoodwinked a generation of marketers into believing that social media is far more potent than it really is. Where do we ever read anything negative about social media campaigns? Did it occur to any of the pundits who wrote about Oreo last week to point out that only one in 10 Americans is actually on Twitter? Since when has a medium restricted to 10 per cent of the population ever been the dominant approach?

Social media has its place, sometimes, in the communication strategy of a well-run brand but that place is too often overweighted by marketers who are too naïve or too nervous to question something that garners such widespread media support.

The advice I give to the MBAs I train at business school is the same now as it was, gasp, 15 years ago. The players might have changed, but the game has always been the same. Treat Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media tools like any other communication option. Ask tough questions. Compare and combine different tools. Remain cynical. Most important: look behind all the hype about social media for the numbers that tell the real story.

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