Light on Your Tweet: Agile Marketing in Action

The Fast Pace Of Today's Culture Requires Social Media Marketers To Think Fast

The most famous and oft-discussed moment in the brief history of agile digital marketing came in 2013, when the Superdome in New Orleans experienced a blackout during Super Bowl XLVII.

A social media staffer at Oreo’s corporate cookie base camp (Oreo is owned by Nabisco) tweeted the following: “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.”

Oreo Tweet

The tweet was wildly popular, earning the envy and scorn of marketers who tweet elsewhere and executives who authorize their tweeting.

Depending on how you’ve always envisioned the conception of this tweet, the true story may disappoint you. Perhaps you’re like me: You’d like to imagine that the tweet was just tossed off by a crafty loner (perhaps with some rudimentary Photoshop skills he’d picked up from the streets) sitting in the dark, chuckling to himself at Oreo headquarters.

In fact, there was an agile marketing command center involved.

“We had a mission control set up at our office with the brand and (the digital marketing agency) 360i, and when the blackout happened, the team looked at it as an opportunity,” agency president Sarah Hofstetter told news site BuzzFeed. “Because the brand team was there, it was easy to get approvals and get it up in minutes.”

That’s the tension of agile marketing, it seems to me: It requires a certain level of improvisation and instantaneousness that many marketing firms aren’t used to having to rely on. How the right balance is struck between thoughtfulness and quick-wittedness (and I am guessing the balance is different for every brand) is a topic for another blog.

For example, a blog like this one …

Here are eight high points in the history of agile marketing. It is interesting to note that many of the best examples come from the UK, where (perhaps) it is easier for marketers to be a little cheekier.

AMC Theatres vs. Oreo

Speaking of Oreo, AMC Theatres had a good and quick comeback in September 2012 when the cookie giant suggested via Twitter that folks should sneak Oreos into the movie theater: “NOT COOL, COOKIE.” Some high-profile corporate badinage ensued. “NOT COOL, COOKIE. RT @Oreo: Ever bring your own Oreo cookies to the movie theater?”

“I am a representative of the brand (a brand that I am proud of), so why would I do anything that would harm the brand?”

On a blog on Ragan’s PR Daily website, Shane Adams, digital marketing manager for AMC Theatres, explained how the Twitter battle royale came about and gave some plugs for his concept of agile marketing in the process.

“Eight minutes was all it took for us to craft a three-word response,” he wrote. “No legal departments. No approvals. Our social media team has such a great amount of trust from our leadership that we can speak off the cuff through our brand voice and know that we have their support. It helps when we’re clever, too.”

Well, now that seems to hew a mite closer to my crafty-loner concept.

Adams continued: “I promise this post isn’t meant to be one giant #humblebrag. I have a point to all this. The truth is that an interaction like this is why I believe so fervently in the power of social media professionals within brands. With the proper structure and governance (and a boatload of trust from your superiors), stuff like this can happen.”

Trust matters, Adams wrote: “The trust that we have been given is an invaluable asset in instances like this. And I will continue to live up to that trust — why wouldn’t I? I am a representative of the brand (a brand that I am proud of), so why would I do anything that would harm the brand?

“That ownership in what we do better equips me and my colleagues to do amazing things. It helps if you have a brand whose voice is defined as ‘fun and engaging.’”

Does an agile marketing strategy increase its chances for success when there are fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through? Adams seemed to think so.

Virgin Media vs. Dodgy Burger

When it was revealed that Tesco, the British equivalent of Walmart, was passing off ground horsemeat as beef burger, Virgin Media did something usual. It kicked a horse trader when he was down.

Virgin Media issued a mock apology (modeled after Tesco’s real one) in which it begged faux forgiveness of its TiVo customers for substituting horse movies for cow movies in its cow-movie queue.

I am sure there are marketing professionals who question the value of such spoofs, but everyone likes to share a good joke. And this one had Virgin Media written all over it.

BMW vs. Audi

It was an agile marketing war using billboards, which sounds a little like nuclear war using arrows. But the game of one-upmanship that two luxury automakers played with each other in 2012 was some of the best (not to mention, most expensive) prop comedy anyone had ever seen.

Newcastle vs. Stella Artois

More billboard mischief.

Pilsner seller Stella Artois’s attempt to seem froufrou earned near scorn from ale seller Newcastle in 2012.

Watching brands play “the dozens” (a venerable insulting contest) on billboards certainly makes the morning and evening commutes more interesting.

Sainsbury’s vs. Heckler

My understanding is that Sainsbury’s and Tesco have been locked in a death struggle in Great Britain that mirrors the epic grappling that Target and Walmart have done in the States.

False moves are, therefore, to be avoided. Yet a Sainsbury’s social media staffer had a uniquely boldreply to a smart-alecky Twitter follower.

The follower asked the following question: “Dear Sainsbury’s. The chicken in my sandwich tastes like it was beaten to death by Hulk Hogan. Was it?” Hogan is a pro wrestler, for those of you unfamiliar with the wrestling arts.

This wasn’t the sort of question to which an informed response was expected.

But Sainsbury’s had a clever retort: “[We’re] really sorry it wasn’t up to scratch. We will replace Mr. Hogan with the Ultimate Warrior on our production line immediately.”

This was the perfect rejoinder in that it was savvy, self-deprecating and didn’t insult the asker (who probably deserved to be insulted, then and now).

Addressing bullies, trolls and other social media crazies with humor is a risky business. For safety’s sake, most businesses choose instead to reply with uniform and steadfast earnestness.

Attempting to craft a comeback that is retweeted for all the right reasons can quickly and easily lead to a gaffe that is retweeted for all the wrong ones.

Subaru of Wichita vs. Union Protestors

In March 2014, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 201 began a protest in front of Subaru of Wichita after the dealership had used a nonunion firm to install some drywall.

I wouldn’t debate the merits of this case in this blog post even if I knew what they were. But Subaru of Wichita’s response to the protestors was a triumph of agile marketing and wordplay.

Subaru of Wichita scored major points locally and nationally for preserving its sense of humor in the midst of distress.

The dealership had a sign made up that, when placed next to the union’s sign, changed the union’s message. The full message read: “Shame on Subaru of Wichita … For Having Unbeatable Prices.”

More signs ensued and then a dance party broke out. This jousting ultimately went viral.

However the dispute turned out, Subaru of Wichita scored major points locally and nationally for preserving its sense of humor in the midst of distress.

O2 vs. the Vernacular

The British mobile phone company 02 is known for nimble and urbane responses to social media snark and other exigencies.

But when it received a complaint from a man typing in Jamaican Creole (which is slang-infused English with West African influences), O2’s social media staff outdid itself with its sheer bravado.

Someone at the company started answering the man in his own dialect and apparently did a fairly credible and creditable job of it. The man was helped and the masses were entertained.

O2 is well-known for its social media agility.

A story in the Guardian about O2’s responses to profanity-filled tweets can be found here (but please be aware that the story also contains profanity). Interestingly enough, given the cautiousness with which some companies approach agile marketing in particular and social media in general, O2’s team seems to have a fairly free hand.

“Clearly we’re not happy that we’ve disappointed our customers over the last 24 hours,” an O2 spokesperson is quoted in the article as saying, “but it’s good to hear that some have enjoyed our tweets.”

Old Spice vs. Obsolescence

Certainly one of the most successful rebrandings in consumer product history happened at Old Spice over the course of the past decade.

Old Spice had an image problem in the late 20th century. Its men’s products were not exactly at the top of young people’s minds or on the top of young people’s skins. The nonironic nautical motif of its advertising — which seemed to hearken back to the ancient, bad hygiene, bay-rum roots of all men’s fragrances — couldn’t have resonated with too many males after a certain point.

So the turnaround that Old Spice affected, which didn’t even involve a logo change, is nothing less than a marketing miracle.

Recently, Old Spice made agile marketing history when it responded in real time via a YouTube video to 180 of its customers’ social media questions. The videos starred Old Spice’s popular character, the Old Spice Guy (played by Isaiah Mustafa), and were written in the same exaggerated style as the commercials.

Sales of Old Spice body wash increased 107 percent in a single month in response to these videos, according to Mashable.

The turnaround that Old Spice affected, which didn’t even involve a logo change, is nothing less than a marketing miracle.

If you went back 30 years and told a marketing professional that marketers of the future would look to Old Spice for innovative ideas, he’d probably say, “What? Do you think I’m fresh off the boat or something?”

Then you could smile knowingly at his nautical imagery and stroll back to your time machine whistling the former Old Spice theme song.

Here are visuals of all the examples:


Steve Penhollow

Photos/Embeds: Wonderfulengineering.comTwitter and