Brand Improvisation


When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson arrives at a WWE venue, the 40.000 people sitting in the arena and the millions of people sitting at home watching “Monday Night RAW” all wait for him to say one of two things; “finally, The Rock has returned to [add name of city]” or “if you smell what The Rock is cookin’?”.

These two statements are just two little things that make up the “gimmick” palette of the WWE character of The Rock. All WWE wrestlers have them; The Miz is “awesome”, CM Punk is “The Best In The World”, Ryback needs feeding and Daniel Byran just says “NO” or “YES” depending on what storyline the WWE are currently running him on. Behind the scenes teams of WWE creatives control the storylines and gimmicks of the wrestlers to ensure that the audience have a wonderfully predictable experience that appears to be spontaneous but is, in fact crafted. That’s how improvisation works.

There has been much talk about improvisation in our industry over the last couple of weeks, and that’s all down to a global-televised-advertising event that features some sport, some missing electricity and a cookie. Oreo’s tweet has guaranteed it a place in every single Social Media presentation that will be given in 2013.

The tweet itself isn’t actually that interesting. It is just a print ad which has been conceived and produced very quickly. The fact that it improvises off of an actual event doesn’t make it new either because brands have been doing that in press ads for decades too; they just took longer to approve and produce but even so, the lead times were a maximum of six hours. Something happened (a team the brand was sponsoring won or lost something), they made an advert, it went to press and the advert was in the next morning’s newspaper.

What is interesting is what went into making it happening – the war room – the client and the agency sitting in a room watching the event and waiting for something interesting to happen. The Super Bowl, as with all sporting events, is great for improvisation because at least two things are going to happen; somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose. Any other unexpected turns of events, such as a power cut, are a wonderful little bonus.

Improvisation can only work if something happens. Improvisation requires a framework of predictable things for it to appear random and spontaneous. It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that Oreo did what they did because that’s what Oreo do. In much the same way that the WWE audience expect The Rock to ask them if they can smell what “he is cookin'” we kind of expect Oreo to ask us to “dunk in the dark”.

Understandably, we will probably be hearing lots more about improvisation and real time communications over the course of the next year; we will see a lot more war rooms monitoring and reacting to live, televised events and there will undoubtedly be discussions around the overall return of such undertakings; especially if there isn’t a power cut.

The real power of brand improvisation, war rooms and real time shouldn’t, however, be chained to massive televised events because every second, of every day interesting things are happening all around us. The problem with the version of the war room that our industry is currently discussing is that it is temporary, it’s not actually a room at all; it’s more of a tent that’s set up for an event and then taken down when the lights and cameras are turned off. The war room should be watching and listening to all of the tiny noises, the personal moments, the little disasters and the massive moments of personal joy that surround us daily. We should be improvising with the tiny stories. That requires a lot of hard work, rehearsal and trust between the agency and the client; it requires resources and a completely different workflow too but the rewards for both the brand and the audience, as we have seen with the cookie example, are considerable.