Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

Why I Wasn’t Impressed with Oreo’s Super Bowl Blackout Tweet

I’m going to say it: I wasn’t impressed by Oreo’s blackout tweet

As I brace for the backlash, I’ll try to explain myself. I do realize that Oreo is making all the brands that invested $4 million for 30 seconds of interruption look foolish. Oreo is the talk of the town, and it’s not because of its own quite funny Super Bowl commercial (that’s right: I’m not going to call it the Big Game or El Plato Supreme) or it’s impressive efforts on Instagram re-creating photos sent by fans out of either Oreo cookie or Oreo cream, which I insist marketers would be talking about today if there hadn’t been a blackout. No, it’s because of a single tweet (I realize that it was also a Facebook post, but let’s call it a tweet for simplicity’s sake). It was a photo of an Oreo cookie in a pool of light surrounded by darkness and the words “You can still dunk in the dark”—and it was re-tweeted more than 15,000 times.

It was timely, on-brand and a much faster real-time response than any other brand (though brands like Tide and Audi had some great responses as well). If you were scouring the online marketing rags on Monday morning, you couldn’t click twice without running into an article about Oreo’s success.

But I wasn’t impressed by the tweet.

As Christian McMahan, former CMO of Heineken and a founder of Smartfish Group, said, “Think about it: How hard was that to do? So some ABM was at the agency with the brand team, and they slapped a half-clever blackout line on an existing piece of creative. Whoop-de-do.”

Red Bull’s Stratos campaign was tough. Setting up Beyoncé’s monstrous stage during a commercial break was tough. Even Oreo’s 100 Days campaign was tough (the creative in itself was such a storytelling device that barely any copy was necessary). Creating the blackout photo and writing the caption was easy. 

I wasn’t impressed by the tweet. I was impressed by something else Oreo did.

I’ve read at least a dozen articles on the topic. Only a few looked past the tweet and mentioned the key to Oreo’s success that night. What was difficult, and what truly propelled Oreo to viral status, was that a brand and all its agencies worked together, ready to react in real time to anything and everything that happened during one of television’s biggest nights of the year. That was the key to its success. That impressed me (so yes, I was impressed after all).

A Year of Evolution in Social Viewing

As the years pass and major events recur, the rapid evolution of social viewing (or second-screen viewing) becomes more apparent. Every year, the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and U.S. presidential election are more and more involved with the real-time web. This year, 85% of all Super Bowl ads between kickoff and the end of the game integrated technology hooks into second-screen experiences, a 7% increase from last year, according to Altimeter. The use of hashtags increased 31% from the previous year, while the use of corporate URLs and microsites declined 8%. Audiences are responding to real-time engagement mediums and abandoning destinations.

Social media was always a 24/7/365 proposition. Brands have to be ready to respond at any moment (within reason). But now brands have to be present at major pop-culture events, too. It won’t break a brand if it isn’t present, but that brand won’t have the opportunity to newsjack the event and earn millions of dollars’ worth of media exposure for the cost of an order of Chinese food and some major elbow grease.

It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts

The real-time web is here, whether brands want to admit it or not. Collaboration between brands and their agencies, particularly during major events, is critical. If audiences are becoming accustomed to hearing from brands in real time, how is a brand going to look if it takes days to respond to a simple Facebook comment or @ reply?

Maybe you’re a fan of the Oreo cookie outside, but in this case the creamy inside made the difference. Granted, Oreo’s original intent was to monitor conversations about its own commercial, but there is still a lesson to learn. The brands that are willing to do what it takes to respond in real time, finding ways to remove the red tape and reduce the time required for brand approval, will be in the best position to succeed in today’s social landscape. 

Oreo is killing it lately. There’s no argument there. And that’s because they are fully submerged in the world of social media and creative fan engagement. Now it is up to other brands to try and catch up. 


  • Marc Scibelli

    While reading this glowing review of Oreo’s super bowl blackout tweet, how they were nimble and worked quickly with their agency, how they proved that the real-time web is here and that other brands need to catch up… I must have missed where you were “unimpressed” with it.

  • Jon Thomas

    I’m quite the crafty writer, Marc! The title is the hook, and it’s true, but all is not what it seems. I’m sure most people click on the article because they’re expecting a rare lambasting of Oreo. I aaaallllmost go there. But I tried to get to the point quickly in this article, so I couldn’t spend all day bashing them.

    It is true, though, I wasn’t impressed with the tweet. Compared to the creative in their 100 Days campaign as well as the crazy cookie/cream sculptures they were creating in real time during the Super Bowl, the creative in the tweet was not worthy of 15,000 ReTweets. It was okay, but the only thing it had to do with the superbowl was that they mention darkness. At least Audi’s tweet about sending LEDs was relevant to their brand story (LED headlights, as I’m sure you know). Their Instagram campaign was light years better than that tweet, but few people are talking about it (and they put millions of dollars into it).

    Even though the creative was “meh,” and the copy wasn’t nearly as good as some other brands, everyone is talking about Oreo and how their tweet was a “slam dunk” (pun intended). It wasn’t amazing. What was amazing, and what impressed me, was the speed. Less than six minutes. And what made that possible was that they positioned themselves for success. They were ready. Not “I have my phone next to me in case I need to tweet” ready. They were “All our agencies are going to be with the brand in one place we can collaborate and approve relevant creative in seconds instead of days” ready. You can count on one hand how many brands are willing to commit those kinds of resources to social media. Again, I realize that if they didn’t have the commercial/Instagram campaign they wouldn’t have been there, but they were there, and it was all gravy.

  • Kirk Cheyfitz

    I have to admit I was impressed both by the tweet and the collaboration between brand and agency. I was impressed by the tweet because it only worked as a result of all the work done during the Oreo Twist campaign of 100 days. That work established the trope of seeing the whole world on a cookie and that work hard work made the Super Bowl tweet possible. But the other impressive

  • Jon Thomas

    Funny you mention that. It did give them an authority to publish photos like that, but it paled in comparison to the 100 Days creative. It made it look very average. They sacrificed quality for speed, which is fine and probably what won them so much earned media, but bloggers are singing its praises as if it was six minutes of brilliance. I just wanted to frame the praises properly.

  • Jenna Bordy

    Hi I am studying social media with @DR4Ward #NewhouseSM4. I think what Oreo did outside of the tweet was unfortunately overlooked. I think you do bring up some good points though. The tweet itself was not the most innovative or interesting but it is the timing of it that allowed it to get so much traction. Brand have not really responded in the fast pace, real timing that consumers use social media. This was really the first of its kind, being able to respond so fast and get out an effective message at the same time. The collaboration really is the winner of the tweet though not really thought of by many. I think what is important to take from Oreo’s actions is the real timing, which we are likely to be seeing much more of in the near future. It is was consumers want and expect, especially after Oreo’s Actions.

  • lc828

    I’m with you Jon. Anyone who has ever worked at an agency, particularly doing Social Media with big brands, knows first-hand how remarkable that tweet was. And to your point, not because the concept was all that clever, but simply because it HAPPENED. Social demands agility, even on weekends and yes, even during “the big game”. And while most organizations have embraced Social Media on paper, they haven’t enabled the right processes or empowered the right people to allow for another ‘Oreo Blackout’ moment to happen. But trust that they’ll continue scratching their heads wondering why can’t we get 15,000 RT’s like Oreo did??

  • Brain On Digital

    You’re right. The tweet itself wasn’t impressive, but the extreme cultural relevance in real-time was. Outside of the context of the blackout, this Tweet made no sense. But in the context of the blackout, it was similar to a Reddit comment - quick, smart, and relevant and worth a few laughs. That’s why it got proverbial upvotes from the ad community and beyond. Luck is the residue of hard work. They put in the work to make that moment possible and the struck.

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  • aboer

    I think you were right on point…the Oreo tweet was only half-funny. The Audi and Tide ones were weak as well. Shall we give them points for identifying an early opportunity to get heard? Sure. But next year we are going to be awash in semi-clever branded tweets — and we will then figure out how to tune them out. Content is better, generally, when it is thought out. This 24/7 improv thing will get old and hopefully peter out. Do I really need Poland Spring to make a snappy comeback during Mark Rubio’s State of the Union response. God no. Its just more noise.

  • Jon Thomas

    Reacting in near-real time isn’t easy, so it’s not something we must expect from every brand, but there are many that can’t even respond in “acceptable time.” Those are the brands I hope will learn from this the most.

  • Jon Thomas

    “They put in the work to make that moment possible and the struck.” <- My article boiled down to one sentence!

  • Jon Thomas

    Very valid perspective Andrew. There are conversations going on as to whether Poland Springs should have responded as quickly as possible to their appearance via Mark Rubio (they eventually responded the next day). I think they had to only because so much was expected of them in the shadow of the Oreo tweet. But I do agree, these are fleeting memes. It’s the commitment to quality content over the long haul that will ultimately improve a brand’s bottom line.

  • Jon Thomas

    Thanks for the comment Jenna! Just in the few weeks after the Super Bowl and Oreo’s tweet we’ve seen audiences expecting real-time reactions from brands, with Poland Spring being the case in point. I’m interested to see if the expectation for all brands to react immediately is just fallout from the Oreo tweet or if it’s a new barometer for social media effectiveness.

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