A Marketer’s Guide to Social on the Second Screen

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The new Golden Age of TV programming combined with the social TV trend has presented a marketing windfall for some brands, like Oreo and Old Spice. For others, like McDonald’s, it’s been at times an embarrassing failure. If you watch the premiere of the final season of AMC’s “Mad Men” on April 13, you’ll probably see a little of both.

You do watch TV with your smartphone or tablet at hand, don’t you? A recent Pew study found that 88% of the American population is on their smartphone or tablet while watching TV. Tablet usage actually peaks during prime time TV hours. People are using these devices to connect: to communicate, share, and generally distract themselves on social platforms. According to Facebook, between 88 and 100 million users log in between 8 and 11 pm.

So what does this mean for marketers? First, there’s a sizable audience all doing the same thing at the same time. On one evening in April, ABC’s “Scandal” and “Grey’s” were the Top 2 most social TV shows of the night, with 339,727 and 40,768 tweets, respectively.

Second, that audience hangs out on platforms that have highly developed, super-efficient targeting capabilities (Facebook and Twitter) or will soon have those capabilities (Instagram and Pinterest). That adds up to opportunity.

It’s easy to see why marketers have taken note. But before you stage a branded second screen takeover of the next big TV premiere, here are a few simple principles that will keep you from turning your great brand opportunity into a great brand fail.

You might be thinking: This is a big opportunity to get people talking about my brand.
The truth: People don’t need your brand in social media to have a good time. In fact, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up getting in the way of their good time. Your goal should not be to get people talking about your brand. It should be to gain acceptance as part of the conversation by becoming a meaningful contributor.

Highlight reel: @POLERSTUFF. Poler is a Pacific Northwest outdoor brand that understands its audience. The highlight is their Instagram account – consistently beautiful imagery that mirrors what their indie outdoor enthusiast audience wants to talk about.


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Blooper reel: #McDStories. Are you sure you want people telling tales of their “restaurant” experience? McDonald’s promoted the trending topic #McDStories in hopes of getting some good promotion, but instead, people used the hashtag to tell horror stories about the food.


You might be thinking: Let’s link to the commercial in social; people might want to see it again.

The truth: Nobody wants to see your commercial again, and if they do, they can just Google it. In fact, they probably didn’t even see your commercial the first time. As many as 38% of cell phone users use their phones to keep them occupied during commercial breaks. Instead of pushing first-screen content on the second screen, provide access to new content that naturally aligns with what your consumers are already talking to each other about.

Highlight reel: HoneyMaid got a lot of attention with their “This is Wholesome” spot featuring a two-dad household. They responded with a new online video that responded to critics and celebrated love—winning even more attention for the original ad and its heartwarming theme.

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Blooper reel: SodaStream tried to drive viewers to an “uncensored” version of its SuperBowl ad starring Scarlett Johansson, but the online version of the ad didn’t offer much of a payoff. This manufactured faux-scandal was drowned out by the real scandal about the location of the company’s factories.

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You might be thinking: I need to plan all my content in advance and get it approved through typical internal channels.
The truth: For second-screen content to succeed it needs to be as relevant as possible to the content on the first screen. Establish basic content ideas and creative guardrails in advance, and then watch the show like your consumer. Listen to what your consumer is saying, and use that as a guide for how to engage.

Highlight reel: “You can still dunk in the dark.” Need we say more? Another recent favorite came from Arby’s in reaction to the hat Pharrell wore to the Grammy’s: “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs







Blooper reel: The social media world moves so quickly that planning too far in advance can actually backfire. A number of brands have learned the hard way not to write and schedule their tweets in advance. For example, LiveNation once sent out a prewritten tweet encouraging people to tweet about a Radiohead show—after the stage had collapsed, killing one person, injuring several more, and forcing the cancellation of the show.

You might be thinking: Hashtags get people to engage.
The truth: A hashtag is no different than a call to action in a print ad or a link in a banner. It’s just an invitation to engage, not a reason. You have to work as hard strategically and creatively on your social content as you would on your commercial. It all starts with the idea.

Highlight reel: Our agency, NORTH, just launched a social campaign for Aladdin, a great company that makes food and beverage containers. It’s built around a character named Jeanie who tweets about taking the stress out of throwing a party and generally stopping the pinsanity from her handle, @Jeanieality. We do use the hashtag #HeyJeanie, but we also focus on associating with hashtags people are already interested in, where Jeanie can add something relevant and entertaining to the conversation – like #MarchMadness, #Oscars, or #TheMindyProject.


Blooper reel: #ILoveWalgreens. This was a promoted trend, paid for by Walgreens. There’s no concept. They’re just asking people to be shills for their brand without offering anything in return.



People don’t want to shill for your brand. They’re not going to just do your work for you. But if you find a creative way to become part of the conversations they’re already having, you’ll be able to connect with your audience in the same places and in the same ways as they connect with their family and friends. And you’ll create a much more authentic bond with them while you’re at it.

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