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In Hour of Darkness, Oreos Ad Shines

The instant-advertising era may not have been born Sunday night, but it took its first assured steps during the 34-minute power outage at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Oreo (of all products) was the runaway winner, with a now legendary tweet-cum-ad that tied the 100-year-old cookie to the zero-dark-34 minutes at the Superdome. As players milled on the half-lit field, Oreo created the ad and pointed its thousands of followers to it: “You can still dunk in the dark,” read the headline on an image of an Oreo set in light, shadow and darkness.

The ad — simple, surprising and instantly topical — became a viral hit, retweeted more than 15,000 times in the first 14 hours. The approval was nearly universal: “Social media rapid response at its finest,” wrote one commenter.

Other advertisers tried to play the same game during the Big Game, but to limited effect. During the game delay, Calvin Klein tweeted and posted brief clips on the new Vine video-sharing service of its buff TV model working out. Tide detergent tried to play off the event, too, linking to a simple insta-ad reading, “We can’t get your blackout. But we can get your stain out.” Volkswagen sent a tweet reading, “Lost power during the Big Game. . . . Don’t worry, GetHappy” along with a link to its white-guy-talks-like-a-Jamaican Super Bowl commercial.

Neither ad drew quite the same response as Oreo. Perhaps it was because the Klein clips had nothing to do with the news of the moment. Or because Tide’s ad — really just a headline framed in its familiar orange packaging — was more of a sponsored quip than a true ad.

As every Mad Men fan knows, advertising typically takes months to produce, from ad agency idea to client approval to media placement. Even Walt Disney’s famous post-Super Bowl “I’m-Going-to-Disney World!” commercials were set up long in advance.

Ads like Oreo’s piece presuppose a 21st-century leap in both process and form. The process is, of course, lightning fast; Oreo’s ad team took just five minutes to conceive and produce the ad, according to company spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati. It also required that ad agency and client executives be at the same place at the same time. Marketing executives from Oreo’s parent company, Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods), were assembled during the game in a “social-media command center” at its digital ad agency in New York.

360i, ready to jump on any development. The group included the agency’s creative directors and its tech-support team.

The form - social media - also speeds response times by eliminating the middlemen, that is, the mass media. By posting to a social media channel, Oreo didn’t need to reserve TV airtime or print space in advance. It was able to move at the speed of the news.

Advertising pros were among those impressed. The ad was a “brilliant use of the medium,” said Bob Dorfman, a creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco who assesses the marketability of sports stars. He called it, a “textbook example of how Twitter can be used in real time to tailor a product message.”

Oreo’s success means more advertisers will try to swim in this pool, if they’re not already there now. “This is just the beginning,” Dorfman said. “During live events, marketers will have their digital agencies at the ready to seize the moment.”

Next up: the Oscars.

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