How co-opting external events, humour and timeliness can help marketing campaigns

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Marketing

Dr Sourindra Banerjee is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Leeds University Business School. His research addresses managerially relevant questions by applying cutting edge econometric models on large empirical datasets.

Beans on weetabix

Pakistani social media lit up on 6 February 2021 when 19-year-old Dananeer Mobin posted a four-second video on Instagram. In the video, Dananeer (who goes by the Instagram account @dananeerr) is filming herself on a mobile phone while showing her car, her friends and her party, and saying in a rather humorous way:

“Yeh Hamari Car Hai” (This is our car)

“Yeh Hum Hai” (This is us)

“Aur Yeh Hamari Pawri Ho Rahi Hai” (And this is our party)

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font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:550; line-height:18px;"> View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style="padding: 12.5% 0;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; margin-bottom: 14px; align-items: center;"><div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(0px) translateY(7px);"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; height: 12.5px; transform: rotate(-45deg) translateX(3px) translateY(1px); width: 12.5px; flex-grow: 0; margin-right: 14px; margin-left: 2px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(9px) translateY(-18px);"></div></div><div style="margin-left: 8px;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 20px; width: 20px;"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 2px solid transparent; border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4; border-bottom: 2px solid transparent; 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overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;"><a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CK9JmaXBEtc/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none;" target="_blank">A post shared by Dananeer |

The short video was widely viewed in Pakistan and in neighbouring India and has so far garnered more than 7 million views by 23 February 2021.

The social media hype around this short video was so high, that in India leading brands joined the bandwagon to make the most of it. They co-opted this external event and used the humour of the video to put up timely content on their social media accounts.

India’s leading online food delivery platform, Swiggy, posted an update on Instagram with the same words but with pictures of a Matar Paneer (peas cottage cheese curry). The content garnered 4,000 likes in a day.

Instagram post from Swiggy India with the text "Matars have a social life too (guess who doesn't" with a photo of Matar Paneer

Competing food delivery platform, Zomato, posted its take on the #pawrihorahihai trend and got 23K likes on Instagram.

Instagram post from Zomato with images of an online order for pizza, a promoto code, and illustration of person eating pizza

Netflix India posted with similar words and pictures from the humorous movie Golmaal: Fun Unlimited. This update attracted a thousand likes in a day.

Tweet from Netflix India with images from the film Golmaal: Fun Unlimited and the text "Yeh Hamari Car Hai. Yeh Hum Hai. Hope we're not too late to the parrrty."

Our research, focusing on social media actions that are composed and executed in real-time to tie-in with an external event, shows that such actions are able to garner lot of attention from audiences. The social media posts by Swiggy, Zomato and Netflix are a perfect example of how to co-opt an external event to engage social media users in conversations that are happening now.

This happens because people in general, and internet users in particular, have a desire to engage spontaneously with events as they happen. This helps users contribute to their communities in more valuable and meaningful ways than they could with outdated and uninteresting events. It increases social media users’ social capital by sharing something that signals to others that they are up-to-date with current activities and are “in the know”.

The social media posts also show the importance of humour for brands. Brands face significant challenges in breaking through the clutter of competing messages in the marketplace and reaching out to an increasingly wary audience. Situational humour is a popular way of making an impression on consumers. Our findings show that standalone humour does not drive virality however, but must be paired with timeliness.

Other examples that show how humour and timeliness can work together to create successful viral campaigns include Oreo’s famous tweet in response to the power outage during Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. Within moments of the power outage, Oreo tweeted, “Power out? No problem,” along with a starkly lit image of a solitary Oreo cookie. A caption within the photo read, “You can still dunk in the dark.” It received 14,000 retweets within the following eight hours, creating significant publicity for Oreo at minimal expense.

When Tesla delivered an embarrassing demonstration of its new Cybertruck in November of 2019 by breaking the supposedly bulletproof windows, Lego was quick to react by posting a picture of a Lego brick on wheels with the tongue-in-cheek caption, “The evolution of the truck is here. Guaranteed shatterproof”. The humorous and timely tweet alone received almost 28,000 retweets and over 100,000 likes.

More recently, British breakfast brand Weetabix had huge success on social media after tweeting a picture on 9 February 2021 with the text “Why should bread have all the fun, when there's Weetabix? Serving up @HeinzUK Beanz on bix for breakfast with a twist. #ItHasToBeHeinz #HaveYouHadYourWeetabix”. Brands were quick to join in the conversation with their own take, including Ford, Specsavers, KFC, Tinder UK, and even police forces and the NHS taking part.

Tweet from Weetabix: "Why should bread have all the fun, when there's Weetabix? Serving up @HeinzUK Beanz on bix for breakfast with a twist." Photo of beans on Weetabix.

Brands that reacted quickly and with humour managed to capitalise on this external social media activity to raise their own profile and prove a hit with consumers.

 

Article based on research published in: Abhishek Borah, Sourindra Banerjee, Yu-Ting Lin, Apurv Jain, Andreas Eisingerich, “Improvised Marketing Interventions in Social Media,” Journal of Marketing, 84 (March 2020).

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