Don't Call #TweetingWithMittens Real-Time Marketing

JC Penney Talks About the Stunt that Won the Super Bowl

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In the leadup to the Super Bowl, Sean Ryan, J.C. Penney's director-social and mobile, was looking for a way to talk about the Big Game. But he wasn't eager to compete with the myriad other companies who would be trying to create their own "social media moment" in the wake of Oreo's "You can still dunk in the dark" tweet from a year ago.

With the game taking place outdoors in cold weather, Mr. Ryan, along with agency partners Evolution Bureau and Victors & Spoils decided to highlight the retailer's Go USA mittens and its partnership with the United States Olympic Committee -- a no brainer, given the Olympics were just days away.

"Instead of trying to find the perfect tweet for the perfect moment, we essentially created our own," Mr. Ryan said. "In the process, other brands even drafted off of us to find their own 'moment.'"

J.C. Penney settled on a plan to send out garbled tweets throughout the game, eventually revealing that it had been #TweetingWithMittens. But the tweets started to get attention right away, because the game was a blowout and consumers, brands and media outlets turned to social media for entertainment.

Mr. Ryan, who was manning the J.C. Penney account, anticipated people would catch onto the joke well before they did. Instead the overriding narrative became that J.C. Penney's social-media manager was drunk. For that reason, Mr. Ryan -- who was most definitely not drunk -- and his team pulled the plug earlier than planned, letting people in on the joke a little more than an hour after sending out the first garbled tweet.

"We knew there would be a lot of speculation, ranging from people thinking some intern tweeted from the wrong account to someone hacking the account. And yes, we thought some people would think the tweeter had a few too many -- just due to the nature that is was the Super Bowl," Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Ryan -- perhaps giving social-media watchers a bit too much credit -- expected people would quickly realize the garbled tweets were intentional. After all, 20 minutes prior to sending out those tweets, the brand tweeted a photo of its Go USA mittens noting it was "ready for the big game no matter the temp."

"We were surprised that the buzz continued, likely aided by tweets from Ad Age, Kia, Coors Light and others, but it certainly was never our intention," Mr. Ryan said. "We wanted to create a moment of discovery for those being entertained by the tweets … However, when the overriding narrative on Twitter was that we were 'tweeting drunk,' we let people in on what was happening."

After the unveil, J.C. Penney, as planned, rewarded eagle-eyed Twitter users who had guessed the ruse with pairs of Go USA mittens. It also engaged with brands that had been following the stunt, posting pictures of the Go USA mittens with a Snickers and a bag of Doritos.

Despite J.C. Penney's reputation as a rather conservative company, Mr. Ryan said the internal response to #TweetingWithMittens has been positive. After all, even though the brand was accused of being drunk, the stunt garnered more than 150,000 brand mentions, millions of media impressions and the addition of 10,000 new followers on Twitter. Sales of the mittens nearly doubled in the week following the Super Bowl.

"We didn't spend a dime, and hopefully gave America a little something to laugh about on their second screen during the game," Mr. Ryan said.

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