Volkswagen of America is looking to capitalize on an expected broad use of social media by viewers of Sunday's Super Bowl.
As the automaker's Super Bowl commercial generates huge page view numbers on YouTube -- 3.7 million as of this afternoon -- Volkswagen says it's also created what it calls a "war room" of employees ready to pounce any Super Bowl social media opportunities.
"We've always pushed the envelope with social media," said Jennifer Clayton, a Volkswagen media manager. "The Super Bowl is one of the most talked about days of the social space. We wanted to further expand our engagement." Last year's Super Bowl game was seen by analysts as a watershed event for social media.
Consistently the top rated television program each year, the Super Bowl is now a huge day for social networks as viewers tweet their views and post comments about and pictures of their favorite plays, touchdowns, game day parties and, of course, the commercials.
The halftime show last year drove more than 24 million tweets, many with hashtags touted by the competing teams, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
"Social nets are where the most activity will be during the Super Bowl," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. "People watching the game will makes comments in real time about action on and off the field. Twitter and Facebook will light up with commentary. It makes sense for companies to want their brand up there getting attention."
To get in on that social media action, Volkswagon launched its game day commercial, Wings, ahead of time on YouTube, along with Budweiser, Mars Inc.'s M&M candies and Audi.
Volkswagen is taking a page from Nabisco's 2013 efforts and says it's fully prepared to take advantage of any big trending topics.
During the 2013 game, a blackout stopped play for about half an hour. Nabisco jumped on it, posting a tweet and twitpic in the midst of the outage reminding readers they could "dunk in the dark." The clever post quickly had Twitter abuzz, with Oreo becoming a trending topic.
By the next day, the twitpic had nearly 15,000 retweets and had been favorited more than 5,000 times.
Walgreens followed suit with the tweet: "We do carry candles. #SuperBowl."
Volkswagen learned from those and is prepared to launch not only tweets but videos that take can advantage of any goofs, big plays or other notables.
The company is stocking its war room with people who will monitor social networks to find out what's trending. They'll also have the actors used in the Wings commercial, along with writers, videographers and lawyers on hand to work on the fly. About a dozen people will be on the job.
"Using those [actors] in their video content, they'll push out responding videos and tweets to various topics," said Clayton. "We don't know what it will be. We don't know what topics will be trending. It could be something really amazing that happens during the game or a malfunction of some sort. If there's a horrible winter storm, we might take that on."
She added that the team has been busily practicing.
"We're making up scenarios and writing scripts and seeing how they feel," said Clayton. "They have to feel organic and be within brand tone. We're not actually shooting -- just testing scenarios to warm up, if you will. We're not going to force it. If it doesn't feel right, we're not going to push it out."
Volkswagen's strategy is a good one, said Jordan Atlas, the executive creative director of Ignited, a Los Angeles-based advertising company.
"This idea of real-time marketing isn't a new one but it's blown up since last year's Super Bowl," he said. "The idea of preparing for it is good but I would caution people not to be overzealous. It worked with Oreo because it was so seamless. If you came in 10 minutes later, it'd look like you missed the moment."
Atlas warned that companies need to be wary about moving too quickly and missing that a joke might be offensive or simply not sound like the brand's usual tone.
"If you miss it and look gratuitous, the negative response can be big," said Atlas.
"There might be somebody on the team who thinks they've spent all this money on the team and it's the third quarter and nothing has happened so they need to do something. That's when things might feel a little forced," Atlas added.
Clayton said the Volkswagen team is also making sure it can recognize when something doesn't make sense and having the discipline to let it go.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.