Marketing at the Grammys: How a Tweet from Arby’s Beat Pepsi’s “Halftime Show”

Before the Grammy’s official telecast even started on Sunday evening, Pharrell Williams (the 2014 Producer of the Year) already had the Twittersphere lit up with talk of his absurdly oversized hat, including the creation of its own Twitter account. Initial critiques compared it to the headwear of Canadian mounties, while others drew comparisons to Smokey the Bear. The ultimate came when someone suggested that Pharrell was “thinkin’ Arby’s.” In swift, real-time reaction comparable to Oreo’s 2013 Superbowl power outage, Arby’s sent a simple tweet to Pharrell asking him to give them their hat back.

This is the epitome of digital PR.

  • The right channel: Twitter is the choice social platform for all awards shows, but especially for the Grammys. I’m not talking about promoted tweets that were planned and purchased weeks in advance of the event; I’m talking about live, in-the-heat-of-the-moment discussion of what’s being seen on screen.
  • The right message: Arby’s wasn’t trying to find artificially relevant ways to connect roast beef to the Grammys. Instead, they were listening to the conversation and saw an opportunity when someone (most likely not from the Arby’s camp) made the hilarious realization that Pharrell’s hat really did look like the Arby’s hat.
  • The right CTA: Arby’s resisted the temptation to state the obvious. Of course, they want you to buy their sandwiches, but they had the good sense not to dilute the humor of the tweet with sales speak. The unsaid message was, “Be our friend because we’re hip and funny.” And by being Arby’s friend (following them, RTing or Favoriting the tweet), you’re announcing your commitment to their brand which, in the end, is what their marketing team really wants from you.

Conversely, Pepsi threw a bunch of money at a two-and-a-half-minute commercial they attempted to disguise as a “halftime show” for the Grammys. Littered with celebrity endorsements from NFL icons, Pepsi positioned the ad as a gift to the music community for all their years of providing Super Bowl halftime entertainment.

Here’s why it didn’t work:

  • The wrong channel: Everyone is checking their Twitter feed on commercial breaks, not looking at the TV.
  • The wrong message: How thoughtful of the NFL and Pepsi to take it upon themselves to give back to the entire music industry with a pretentiously cheesy “show” featuring football players with microphones in their hands, cheerleaders in cowboy outfits, monster trucks, pyrotechnics, and Mike Ditka swinging on a football-shaped wrecking ball.
  • The wrong CTA: Pepsi hopes viewers saw this dog and pony show as a preview to the upcoming Super Bowl halftime event that they’re (not coincidentally) also sponsoring, which translates into, “Hey music fans! Come watch us sink a bunch more of our limitless supply of money into another ostentatious show (this time with SPORTS!) in a week!”

Less than 24 hours after the Grammys, the Arby’s tweet boasts more than 77,000 RTs and over 40,000 favorites, as compared to Pepsi’s promoted tweet for those who “can’t get enough” of the commercial, which has yielded a mere 200 RTs and 300 favorites. This is a classic example of the power of marketing segmentation. If you’ve split your markets into segments to target, make sure you truly understand the psychographics of the groups you’ve defined. By understanding a segment’s attitudes and beliefs, you can best discern the right channel, message, and CTA to achieve your desired results.

Get any of the three wrong or fail to segment properly and you risk a missed message — or even worse, you’ll piss off your existing customers.