Lessons in PR: Blackouts, Blunders and the Super Bowl XLVII Tweetfest

Feb 5, 2013

If you don’t like American football, then the Super Bowl is hands down the best game to watch. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out.

Yes, it’s still several hours broken into four quarters of mind-numbing stop action, a digitally super imposed “down marker” that for some reason shifts location every few minutes just when I think I know where it’s going to line up on the field, point scores that make less sense than tennis (minus the whole “love” thing) and enough game jargon – sack, QB sneak, blitz,  Hail Mary, touchback, etc. to make even a moderate fan “take a knee” and sit this one out.

But if you’re a PR professional or anyone who’s interested in pageantry, hype, marketing and money, then Super Bowl XLVII delivered the goods and then some.

Super-Bowl-Black-OutThat the Baltimore Ravens won 34-31 is almost non-news. What did turn heads around the world, however, was the 34-minute blackout that darkened half of the New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A major power outage that minute by minute cost brands, marketers, advertisers and fans serious amounts of cash as a collection of superstar athletes sat on the field and stretched.

Not only that, but after $336 million in post-Katrina repairs, the Superdome’s super failure showed how, seven years on, a beleaguered stadium (and a city) still has a ways to go. The blackout on the biggest sports night of the year proved yet again that the American Century was long over.

Or did it?

The fact is, none of the above dire expectations proved accurate. I was fully prepared to read some harsh language in Monday’s news articles and op-eds.

For starters, the infamous blackout was not a blackout after all but rather a brownout, a partial loss of electricity. Or in the words of Dr. Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University’s Center for Hospitality and Sports Management ”the equivalent of a circuit breaker flipping.”

Without knowing it, Dr. Hanson delivered one of crisis management PR’s most valuable lessons: don’t hype the hysterics of a situation. Or in the British lingo that decorates the ThinkInk office: “Keep calm and carry on.”

It also helps when Crescent City Mayor Mitch Landrieu resorts to humor,”People were leaving and the game was getting boring, so we had to do a little something to spice it up,” he said, according to an Associated Press article.

Oreo-Super-Bowl-tweet-jpgThen of course you had the ingenuity of brands like Oreo, Tide and Walgreens each resorting to Twitter and online ads to capitalize on the unique circumstances. Oreo’s tagline, “You can still dunk in the dark” and Tide’s “We can’t get your blackout but we can get your stains out,” earned 14,600 retweets by Monday morning and 1,300 retweets respectively. Walgreens tweeted: “We do carry candles.” Talk about finding an opening.

Of course, there’s no getting around the fact that whether it’s a brownout or blackout, Super Bowl XLVII had some humiliating moments and a serious investigation will likely ensue as to the cause of the problem. But at least it wasn’t due to the half time show. Beyoncé is in the clear.

With brands and even city government working hard to put a positive spin on this blunder, I think I’d take an electrical malfunction any day over a “wardrobe malfunction.”

We don’t need to repeat that again, now do we?

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