Over the past 27 years, Discovery's "Shark Week" has grown from a curiosity into the ultimate summer TV pop culture phenomenon, becoming a magnet for marketers in the process. They're drawn to its enviable number of eyeballs: Last year's incarnation was watched by an average of 2.1 million viewers in prime-time, with 29 million people tuning in to the network at some point to sample programming. It was also the most-watched programming among 18-to-49 year olds for the week, beating out all of broadcast and cable at the time. It also drove more than 10 million interactions on Facebook.
But it's also still enough of a curiosity that marketers take it as an opportunity to try similarly unusual tie-ins, whether at stores or in real time on Twitter as the programming unfolds.
Because, of course.
The travel site tried to tie its services to "Shark Week" with this tweet on Sunday:
Gillette actually got underway in social media early, posting a promoted tweet last Friday. Twitter users who responded included consumers who didn't see the connection.
@Gillette Maybe instead of teaming up with Discovery - Gillette can donate to real shark causes & partner with real scientists!— MissMolaMola (@missmolamola) August 11, 2014
As a first-time sponsor, Dunkin' Donuts is doing a few conventional things -- a limited-edition donut that looks like a life preserver, a temporary logo with a bite out of it, a social media sweepstakes -- but it's also trying out a second-screen experience via Xbox. Viewers who watch "Shark Week" through their XBox One can open a live feed of "Shark Week" content, designed by Dunkin' agency of record Hill Holliday, including quizzes and real-time polls. Dunkin' hopes it helps keep its brand in front of viewers far longer than a 30-second spot would.
The enviable social impact of "Shark Week" makes it attractive to marketers, but this year it has already attracted plenty of conservationists who have grown tired of what they see as manipulative, misleading programming. Why Sharks Matter, a nonprofit that recently merged with WildAid, took to Twitter to fact-check "Shark of Darkness," a show about a possibly fictional shark called Submarine.
Even Matt Myers, one of the week's biggest devotees and a guy who dreams of hosting it one day, wound up seizing the #sharkweek hashtag to criticize things.
I've worked in mkting & advertising my entire career. I get what #SharkWeek is doing. Stop docudramas, please. Entertain with science.— Matt Myers (@Matt4SharkWeek) August 11, 2014
No word yet on whether those critiques will leave any marks.
Lush avoided the wrath of shark fans by using this week to highlight the enduring problem of finning, a hunting practice that's reduced the global shark population by 90%. Lush partnered with a nonprofit called United Conservationists on a campaign that includes a PSA that will air 15 times over the course of "Shark Week," a first for the conscious cosmetics brand, and the release of a limited edition specialty "shark fin" soap whose sales revenues go toward United Conservationists. Though Lush has a history of partnering with nonprofits and raising money for environmental and animal rights causes, the campaign reaches a bigger scale than they've achieved before.
"It's such a bigger audience than we could reach through our stores and our social media," said Mandy Kirschner, a publicist Lush. "For them to help spread the message is great."
The effort was noted approvingly on Twitter:
There were some less-than-serious critiques on Twitter as well:
Perhaps the most disastrous tie-in took place north of the border, where a bit more consumer skepticism is apparently in order. "Shark Week" is a big deal in Canada too, so for the first time Discovery Canada decided to roll out some of its own content. Presenting sponsor Nissan and Discovery Canada co-owner Bell Media, in conjunction with OMD and TBWA, created an integrated, interactive campaign that centered around the question of whether sharks could survive in the Great Lakes.
The campaign had it all: a homepage filled with exclusive digital content, a variety of interstitial cuts starring Canadian TV star Teddy Wilson and a documentary, "In Search of Canada's Rogue Shark," promoted by the Nissan Rogue (natch). It also, unfortunately, featured a YouTube video that purportedly showed sharks swimming in Lake Ontario. The clip created such a panic that Ontario's Minister of Natural Resources was forced to reassure the public that there were no sharks living in the lake.
For its third consecutive partnership with "Shark Week," but first as a presenting sponsor, Volkswagen is aiming to capitalize on a series of TV spots to promote the 2015 Golf TDI Clean Diesel and will release three short form videos featuring the cast of Discovery's survivor-based series "Dude, You're Screwed."
A Volkswagen "Shark Week" site will also invite visitors to scroll through a 567-mile-long website, a reference to the highway miles the car can achieve on one tank of diesel; look out for sharks during a loop of the animals; and "swim" through underwater footage using a webcam.
Volkswagen took not only to Twitter but Vine to spread the word.