Oreos in the Dark

$4,000,000 for 30 seconds. That's how much airtime for a Super Bowl ad cost this year. $130,000 per second. And that is just the airtime. Don't forget all the money paid to the advertising agencies. And the celebrities who got paid to appear in those ads.

And for all that, the best ad of Super Bowl XLVII was not even on TV.

In the middle of the Super Bowl, the lights went out at the Superdome in New Orleans. A power outage. CBS put up its best talking heads to try to fill the time. And over on Twitter, everyone at home was having a great time making Super Bowl Blackout jokes.

In the midst of it all @Oreo posted this:

No need to pay for air time. Oreo captured the moment perfectly. Or rather their social media team did. 15,500 retweets later, Oreo had a viral hit their hand. And how much does their Twitter presence cost the company? Oh yeah, that's right. Nothing. Nada. (Sure, sure. They pay their social media team. But no air time cost. No celebrity endorsements to pay.)

And here is the kicker. Your congregation has the exact same tools at their disposal.

That is the power of social media. The playing field is leveled. Everyone has the same tools. Everyone has the same power to share their message. Everyone has the same megaphone to talk about their work.

Which really only leaves me with one question: Why is the church not making better use of this tool? Why would the church pass up this opportunity to share the good news with the world?


  1. Brilliant on Oreo's part! You are right, we should learn from this...

  2. The primary reason churches pass up social media as a tool to share the good news? Fear. Fear and lots of it: fear of technology, fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of learning something/anything new, fear of allegedly losing control...and even/especially the fear that "everyone has the same megaphone."

    Speaking as someone called to the ministry of communications, I'm afraid of people who use these powerful tools without learning how and why they work! The team that got "You can still dunk in the dark" up was a team of skilled social media users working within a branding strategy that included an agreed-upon message.

    My questions: Why isn't the church getting smarter about communications strategy? Why doesn't the church help members understand the Gospel message clearly and deeply enough to convey it via social media or face-to-face?

    1. Nice, @Rev_David! Why not the church? Because too many in church leadership think that their hierarchical, one-to-many strategy (that often mirrors their organizational strategy) is still the most valid way to communicate. And yes, what you & @MeredithGould said about control.

      Like oreo, the church must learn to look at events and publish on-message.

    2. Meredith, one thing comes to mind about why the Church isn't getting smarter about communications strategy. There aren't enough translators. What I mean is We have really smart and wise leaders that are, shall we say, graying and have knowledge of the way it has always been done. (This isn't a slam in anyway - we often miss the value in the way it has always been done. Many times the way it has always been done has been learned through hard learned lessons.) We also have really brilliant young people that only know what they've been brought up on and "the next big thing" that came out today. I love the creativity and the ability these folks have to ask "why?" The link that is missing in a lot of places is the translator that answer the "why" and say trust them to the older group.

  3. 1. What Oreo did was FUN. Or maybe funny. Or both. In the middle of a shared experience of some angst (initially some people wondered terrorist attack, others simple annoyed at the delay or hearing the announcers blather on), Oreo did a cute, little, fun thing. Will it make me buy Oreos? Probably not. But, at least, I have more respect now for Oreo than Applebees. But as far as the church thing......the social media I see is prayers of the day, snippets of bible passages, quotes from Sundays and Seasons (an ELCA thing)being twitted and posted on fb passages. It is the equivalent of hearing announcers that have never experienced a power outage (i.e. not know what they are doing) drone on. Or pastors preaching. I think this Oreo thing can remind us of that. Which leads me to.....

    2. At first glance, it's hard to see that what Oreo did as part of a social media strategy. There certainly wasn't a group of people sitting around waiting for a power outage to happen. Nor is there a guide book that says what to do if there is a power outage at a Super Bowl. But there must be a strategy of what social media is. Not one person preaching. Not one person teaching. Not one announcer announcing. Not prefabricated words. Here's what I would like to believe. That Oreo had a plan to let people know about their product. Maybe there is a team that does it. But in that moment, there was one person that saw an opportunity to share about something that they believed in. And they did. Maybe that's the strategy I want for my congregation, for them to find moments to share what they believe in rather than post things that others have said.

    1. Jeff,

      Thanks for reading!
      1) Yes. Most church social media use is broadcasting - posting announcements, news, sermons, etc. We miss the *social* of social media. Social media does not work for broadcasting. It is an inherently relational medium.

      2) The Oreo bit was a strategy, make no mistake about it. It was not just one person. It was the marketing agency, the social media team, and the corporate execs, working together to share a message. (see this account of how the ad happened).

      One of the biggest mistakes churches make (besides not using social media at all) is not having a plan. There is a reason that the people from the ad agency and the social media team were sitting together with the corporate execs on the most important advertising night of the year. It was a part of the plan.

      So then I wonder, why does the church not have a plan? Why is our strategy not as thorough as secular communicators?

    2. Good points. I think Oreo had a strategy. But it was not a strategy of doing. It was a strategy of waiting and listening, and being prepared when an opportunity presented itself.

      Too often, when we make church strategy, we frame it as things we should do. What about, instead of thinking of things to do, we make a plan to deepen our own spiritual gifts, and our ability to communicate them. Then, when the opportunity presents, the expression of the spirit can come spontaneously, like the tweet of a message during a power outage.

      Oreo may not have had a plan for this specific action. But they had a plan to be prepared when the opportunity arose. That is what Jesus call us to do too. "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." Our plan is not an action plan. Our plan is one of preparation and being ready for the Spirit.

  4. I agree with Meredith that fear is definitely involved, but would add from my own experience that there's also a sort of odd resentment. Resentment that somehow those computer users or smart phone users are getting more information. It's weird. The number of complaints I've gotten that I put too much out "on the computer" is absurd (and probably reveals more about the fears of some of the folks in a primarily elderly congregation about their young(ish) priest than anything else). I could understand if folks were somehow being deprived of information in a medium it was once available to them in, but that is not the case--primarily it seems some folks just don't appreciate the fact that a conversation is going on in a forum they choose not to participate in.

    And I suppose that's where the fear comes back in. The same sort of fear that starts to label new affinity groups in the parish as "cliques," and laments the fact that we're growing beyond the point of everyone being involved in everything, or that not everyone has the same interests.

  5. As a 30 year old fairly savvy social media user that happens to be a youth pastor at a mainline church, it drives me slightly crazy how little our church uses social media of any sort. Outside of a weekly email blast (which is only really good for communicating information and announcements) and my own attempts at maintaining a social media presence for the youth, there is nothing else happening. I've made the conscious decision to friend people from the church from my own personal Facebook and I can't tell you how many great connections I've made, conversations that have been started online that continue at service, or just general "Hey, I LOVE seeing what you post on Facebook during the week." It's such a great tool.

    However, it should always be kept in mind that social media is at its best a conversation starter, a spark maker. It functions at the surface or just under the surface. Any church's social media strategy must ultimately focus on starting conversation that are able to be continued face to face (or at least over the phone) amongst our congregations when we gather. I suspect that may be where some of the trepidation comes among church leaders to use social media. They worry about losing members to 'the cloud'. They should instead see the cloud as a great place to begin relationships, encourage members, break down social barriers between leadership and member, and maybe even make them laugh a little bit. If done correctly, I think social media can make our gathering times much deeper because much of the surface level chit chat that takes up time when we gather has already taken place online. We just need to be diligent in following up in person and picking up the conversation where we left off.

  6. Your commenters made so many good points!! I found myself nodding along with much of what they've said. When I do congregational social media training with Vibrant Faith Ministries, I remind churches that using social media well is a way to make their members feel like they've been a part of something, even when they're physically unable to be (a mission trip, VBS, etc.). Using social media congregationally is a shift in how we connect with our members, market ourselves, even how we portray our hospitality. I disagree that social media should 'function at the surface or just under the surface'. Why can't we ask the real questions, go beyond the morning announcements, and honestly relate? Why can't we be watching our streams closely, (similarly to the way the Oreo marketers were) for opportunity to truly connect?

    I've found that most, if not all, of the fears expressed by congregations dipping their toes in social media are fairly irrational. They are fueled by ignorance (which sounds so very harsh, and I don't intend to be! However, I do think ignorance and lack of knowledge is the reason for the fear) When fear rules us, we lose the chance to move forward.

    It's been such a joy - true joy - to hear from congregations I've coached who have taken their 'leap of faith', used social media in a creative and knowledgeable way, and had wonderful connections and stories come out of it. If we can conquer our fears with knowledge and caution, and be bold with our posts, the rewards can truly be great.

  7. What I appreciated about the tweet from @Oreo was someone had permission/freedom to post. I know that sounds silly, but the one of the frustrations that can happen is when everything has to be vetted six ways to Sunday before hitting that send/tweet/post button. How do we raise trust levels and raise leaders in communications to have the knowledge and talent to say the right thing without fear of offending someone?