6 Reasons Why The @JCPenney Super Bowl Campaign Failed

Everyone wanted to be Oreo this year. And that was the problem.

During last year’s Super Bowl, a once-in-a-lifetime blackout allowed Oreo to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime social media ad. The phrase, “won the Internet,” was never as apropos during the moments that followed the Oreo tweet – as person after person after person retweeted it.

oreo super bowl ad
I know firsthand the ad’s power as B. Bonin Bough, one of the architects of the ad, will be speaking at NAA mediaXchange 2014 in Denver next month. He has an accomplished resume with many accolades and awards. But the Oreo ad will always be the top-line moving forward. Like Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary or David Tyree’s Helmet Catch, that one play – ad as it were – will overshadow everything,

Leading up to this year’s game, there was buzz – far too much buzz – about who would match Oreo.

Oreo, knowing this was an impossible task, simply dropped the mic and did not tweet Sunday night. They ceded the floors to challengers they knew would not stack up.

That buzz grew louder during the Grammys a week prior when another perfect opportunity presented itself for a brand and Arby’s took full advantage of Pharrell’s absurd hat. That tweet topped 80,000 retweets.

The point of marketing, ultimately, is to sell product. Whether that’s Oreo cookies, Arby sandwiches, car insurance, beer or sweaters. Companies don’t – or they shouldn’t – spend time and resources just for people to talk about them. There has to ultimately be an end result.

Brand awareness can do this. For both Oreo and Arby’s, these were home runs that raised awareness and I’m sure led more than a few people to indulge in the days and weeks after based on goodwill.

But all brand awareness is not equal. As I wrote about the Google Nexus ad with the dying dog, getting people to talk about your company is not the end goal.

Many argued, both on that post and via email, that Google’s ad was successful because I was talking about it. I will never buy a Google Nexus solely due to that ad – co-opting the potential death of a pet is not worth my money. My awareness of that product is 100% – my desire to buy it is 0%.

So as the Super Bowl unfolded in craptacular fashion, Twitter seemed to be waiting for a brand to steal the spotlight. Well, @JcPenney stepped up. And they flamed out in spectacular fashion.

Here are the two offending tweets:

I know in the JC Penney offices this morning, people are high-fiving and slapping each other on the back. They’ll look at the high number of retweets, the sheer volume of interaction and the wave of media stories today.

“We did it,” they’ll shout. “We won Twitter,” they’ll believe.

They will be wrong. Instead, they are a cautionary tale of brand awareness gone mad and missing the point of real-time marketing.

So why did the campaign failed? Let’s count the ways:

1) It Was Staged
It’s called real-time marketing for a reason. Something happens in real-time and you market accordingly. That is what Oreo did. That is what Arby’s did. That is not what JC Penney did.

They were sending out those tweets regardless of the score or situation. They had a gimmick they were going to use during the Super Bowl. And it was easy to see through immediately.

Now, maybe three years ago, it could have been plausible. But it takes only a tiny amount of common sense to know, in 2014, that when a brand leaves a tweet like that up for any amount of time – there’s a reason.

The key to viral marketing is emphasizing the former while making the latter nearly invisible. This had the two flipped.

2) It Had Already Been Done
Brands have given the appearance of something going wrong with that Twitter for a promotion before. And they’ve done it better.

A perfect example is Chipotle, which had a string of “hacked” tweets on a random Sunday afternoon. While people were relatively quick to pick up on it, the lack of a noticeable reason – it turned out to be Chiptole’s 20th anniversary – at least caused people to believe the hack.

This was also an excellent example of brand awareness leading to a cause – Chipotle was promoting a puzzle for their anniversary, which ultimately led people into restaurants. The account picked up 4,000 followers in a heartbeat.

It also brought the notion of a Twitter stunt to the masses. So when JC Penney attempted their own Sunday night, many like myself immediately thought of Chipotle.

Successful real-time marketing needs to be original!

3) It Was Confusing and Easily Mocked
When people thought the Chipotle twitter was hacked, there was bemusement because we have seen that happen to people we follow – hopefully not ourselves. People screw up. People tweet a text. People get hacked. It happens.

The JC Penney tweets, at first, appeared to be that of a drunk person. This is an excellent example of brand awareness gone awry.

For most of Sunday night and even after the reveal, my feed – and many others, I assume – were filled with some variation of “Go home, JC Penney, you’re drunk.”

Sure, everyone was talking about JC Penney during a blowout. But it was almost completely negative. When the whole world is laughing at you, your brand suffers.

With Chipotle, people were laughing with the “hack” because that happens. With JC Penney, people were laughing at the “drunk” behind the keyboard because it was embarrassing.

4) The Reveal was Lame
So once it became obvious that JC Penney was perpetuating a viral ad, the question centered on what the company was promoting.

Maybe they realized the wave of negativity overwhelming them, because the reveal came mere minutes after the offending tweets. And it turned out the cause of the typos were mittens.

Wait, what?

The offending tweets were retweeted in excess of 20,000 times – the reveal was retweeted less than 4,000 times. To borrow a phrase from pro wrestling, the payoff went over like a fart in a church.

You couldn’t even promote something new? We’ve been watching these Olympic mitten commercials for weeks on television over and over – do you really need a Twitter stunt for that? Are people going to flock to JC Penney today to buy mittens they could’ve bought in the past month if they really wanted?

Why was your brand equity risked on a short-term product that will have zero long-term impact on JC Penney? I hated the campaign but if the payoff was say a new agreement with designer or a new celebrity line or, frankly, anything newsworthy – I probably wouldn’t be on word 1,150 right now. But here we are.

And the worst part for JC Penney?

5) It Never Trended
It never reached critical mass. While Oreo trended nationally, JC Penney never crossed that threshold. While Oreo’s tweet dominated a down period in the Super Bowl due to the blackout – again, the once-in-a-lifetime nature of it – the JC Penney tweet remained buried underneath a massive wave of actual game-related tweets.

And for those that believed that did think JC Penney was drunk tweeting or were waiting for something more interesting than mittens – the stunt did nothing but annoy them, so they never discussed the reveal and moved on. The JC Penney gimmick flamed out quickly and quietly.

But that didn’t mean a company didn’t go viral on Sunday night…

6) Old-Time Marketing Destroyed Real-Time Marketing
Esurance made it to the #1 spot on Twitter trends in the United States with its 21st century version of Publisher’s Clearing House. You want to win $1.5 million? Use their hashtag.

And guess what? Everyone did. I did. You probably did. Why wouldn’t you?

I don’t know if Esurance sold any car insurance but their campaign – based upon the premise that saved money allowed them to give it away – made more people aware of its existence. They even included a fun reveal with John Krasinksi, long the unseen voice of the commercials, making an appearance.

Esurance 43, JC Penney 8.

Defense wins championships and giving away a ton of money always trumps a weak attempt at going viral.

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  1. I thought it was stupid. Wouldve been better if they had drunk tweeted

  2. You wrote about it. It worked.

    1. It did? Have you observed a sudden surge in sales from a drunken tweet?

  3. It was cute, geez-click bait much?

    1. Why was it cute? When the whole world thinks your brand is drunk, I don't know why that's cute.

      No click bait at all, just dissecting a terrible Twitter campaign.

  4. LOL their terrible stock is down 5% today. Brutal marketing.

    1. The entire market is down >2% today. 170+ on NYSE alone are down >5%.

  5. What a trite country we've become....

  6. You spent more time posting some whiny garbage on your insignificant little blog and spamming your link on articles praising the success of the stunt than JCPenney probably spent executing the idea. Nice work buddy.

  7. Your analysis of the game is awesome and your insights into the reasons of failure are credible. Good work mate!


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