Hyundai didn't even try to dazzle the Twitter masses with an Oreo moment last night.
Instead, knowing that virtually every other Super Bowl advertiser and plenty that weren't in the game would also have some version of a social-media "war room," trying to seize onto buzzworthy moments in the game with their own brand of cleverness, Hyundai decided to play it safe by focusing on banter with other brands and replying strategically to specific users. Unlike brands like Butterfinger, Bud Light and Domino's Pizza, it didn't make an effort to weigh in on the game.
Even with its more modest goal of being in the conversation without being a show-stealer, Hyundai's social-media newsroom at the Huntington Beach, Calif., offices of its agency Innocean was a hive of activity, with about 30 people gathered yesterday. They ranged from Hyundai's head of integrated marketing, Hue Johnson, who was there to assemble a report for company executives that required social metrics, to a caricaturist to help develop social content.
Twitter feeds, social-media management dashboards, news articles and, of course, the actual game were projected on two walls of the small room where half the people were gathered, huddled over their laptops and tablets and sitting on couches or the floor. In the corridor outside, creatives were sitting in front of another bank of TVs working up copy and graphics for ideas for tweets that had been floated. Innocean's managing editor and creative director seemed to move in between those areas the most.
The creative director, Tom Pettus, said toward the end of the game that only about one in 10 ideas for tweets that had been circulating actually ended up being tweeted.
The pre-game strategy
Prior to game day, the social-media team had had a notion of being more responsive to events during the game. In strategy sessions, it had gamed out likely on-field scenarios that would make for good Twitter fodder, such as the first touchdown and New Jersey's cold weather, as well as the seven-layer dip that some viewers would be preparing for parties. But after fully absorbing how the great frenzy among would-be successors to Oreo, they decided against trying hard to be clever and to focus instead on people and brands who were mentioning Hyundai.
"Our takeaway was not to hijack moments on the field," said Nguyen Duong, Innocean's director of digital strategy. "[Hyundai director of marketing communications David Matathia] encouraged us to demonstrate some restraint."
Hyundai had previously operated a social-media "newsroom" a week earlier for the Grammys, which was effectively a trial run for the Super Bowl, according to Jon Budd, the company's senior group manager for new media. Before that, the team had used Google+ to coordinate social strategy remotely during an October episode of "The Walking Dead."
Prior to kickoff yesterday, Hyundai already had a couple of real-time tweets in the pipeline. The team had noticed that several YouTube comments for its first-quarter Genesis spot, "Dad's Sixth Sense," referenced the Mitsubishi Evo, which makes an appearance in the ad.
Mitsubishi wasn't a Super Bowl advertiser this year, but Hyundai gave it some attention.
The team had also spotted a tweet published in the morning that praised "Dad's Sixth Sense" for its depiction of fatherhood. With less than 750 followers, the writer didn't have a large social footprint like other Twitter users Hyundai and Innocean would target later that day, like AOL's David Shing. But the notion was to create content that would "surprise and delight" a specific user, according to Innocean's managing editor Robert Moritz.
The caricaturist drew a picture of a little boy presumed to be the writer's son, who is pictured in his Twitter handle. The team tweeted it to the writer when the game was already well underway.
After "Dad's Sixth Sense" aired in the first quarter, Innocean's assistant account executive Elizabeth Swiontek -- who handled much of the actual Twitter publishing yesterday after the content of the tweets had been finalized -- was inundated with tweets mentioning @Hyundai that she favorited one at a time after reading them to make sure they were positive.
In the case of one tweet that praised Hyundai at the expense of Maserati, whose ad the user disliked, she turned to Mr. Budd for advice.
"Do you want me to like stuff like this?" she asked.
"No, it's a little too snarky," he said. "We want to celebrate their creativity."
Hyundai did subsequently find opportunities to hug it out with other brands on Twitter after Verizon Wireless, Beats Music and Cheerios praised the first-quarter ad. The first two got simple responses that nonetheless required some deliberation. Hyundai's answer to Beats didn't go out until the third quarter, when one person in the room thought it was already too late. But opinion prevailed that it was too good of an opportunity to miss, and a tweet was sent out after it was drafted and edited in a Google doc that was projected onto a TV screen for team members to weigh in on.
The group put more effort into a response to Cheerios. They decided to write a message in Cheerios on the hood of a prototype of the not yet available Hyundai Genesis. There was some discussion about whether to write #thanks or #nice -- a reference to Hyundai's Super Bowl hashtag, #nicehashtag, which it had bought as a Twitter promoted trend on Wednesday -- but the former was picked.
Cheerios were at hand, since the team had stockpiled the products of other Super Bowl advertisers on a conference room table in the event of such a need arising. A photographer shot a Vine video at the curb outside of Innocean's office, and Ms. Swiontek later tweeted it out. Innocean copywriter Brian Chin had the laborious task of actually moistening each Cheerio with his tongue to make it stick to the hood of the car.
Some ideas that made it to production ended up on the cutting room floor, however. There had been an idea to make a play on the "superb owl" meme that had been getting traction in places like Reddit and Imgur after Stephen Colbert used it on his show (as a riff on the NFL's famously strict stance on use of its trademark.)
The notion had been to make a play on words to the effect of Mr. Colbert being first to be on top of "superb owl," but now a "superb owl" is on top of a Hyundai. There would be an accompaying graphic to show an owl on a Hyundai.
But that felt too niche for a general audience, so the decision was made to tweet at David Shing, AOL's "digital prophet," who had praised the first-quarter ad. To direct the joke toward someone likely to appreciate it, the team produced a rendering of Mr. Shing's Twitter profile picture, a sunglasses-wearing silhouette of a head with spiky hair, with an owl on his shoulder.
But in other instances, the decision was made to stay quiet. After "Nice," the fourth-quarter ad, aired, comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted, "Women are evil!" -- Hyundai #SuperBowl." (The spot depicts a man going to dramatic lengths to impress a woman who's also behind the wheel of an Elantra and is singularly unimpressed with him.) After some discussion, the team made a call not to dive into potentially perilous negative waters.