How brands and agencies are prepping this year’s hybrid Super Bowl war rooms

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This story is part of Digiday’s annual coverage of the Super Bowl. More from the series →

Super Bowl Sunday is just mere days away and brands and agencies alike have once again locked and loaded their war room strategies, ready to react to the Big Game’s cultural moments in real time. 

But even as the return to physical, in-person gatherings have picked up post-pandemic, a number of agencies and their clients will return to the Big Game with virtual or hybrid war rooms this year. It’s a trend that will continue from 2020.  According to marketers, the virtual element is in large part to make room for remote workers — something that became more mainstream during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has really changed the way those war rooms are set up. They used to be actual, in-person war rooms. Now, for us, it’s just a Teams channel,” said Shelby Jacobs, senior social strategist at Dentsu Creative. “Hoping one day we’ll do those [in-person] again, but depends on the landscape of return to office.”

As the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs go head to head at the State Farm Stadium in Arizona, Dentsu Creative, Tinuiti, Modifly and Barstool Sports media will tune into the Big Game remotely, looking for opportunities to chime in on cultural moments and trending topics on social media. Keeping up with those moments in real time allows agencies and their clients to not only become part of those conversations, but to lead them.

Modifly will have about 15 people in its own war room to stay on top of the Big Game, according to Brandon Biancalani, head of paid advertising at Modifly. Meanwhile Barstool is taking a hybrid approach with eight people in the physical war room and 25 more people working remotely across other Barstool brands, said Paul Gulczynski, Barstool’s head of social media.

“We have a team of people who will be in a war room, we’ll have a group chat going. We’ll have a Slack channel going with all different ideas,” he said. “We’ll be watching the game on one screen. We’ll be watching our Barstool personalities [and] watching the game on another screen.”

Meanwhile, as the pandemic has subsided, major brands like State Farm and, of course, the NFL, will have in-person war rooms and activations to quickly react to Super Bowl plays, brand spots and other cultural moments. Given State Farm’s naming rights this year, the insurance brand will be “boots on the ground in Arizona at our stadium,” according to Alyson Griffin, State Farm’s head of marketing. 

Also at the stadium is the NFL, which will have two additional war rooms in Los Angeles and New York City throughout the length of the broadcast. That said, there will be two separate social media teams, one for the Philadelphia Eagles and one for the Kansas City Chiefs, said Ian Trombetta, svp of social, influencer and content marketing for the NFL. 

“It will be very real time in the sense of what’s happening on the field and what’s going on in and around the stadium,” said Trombetta. 

Speed of the Internet

In the age of social media, war rooms have become hubs for real time marketing. Ever since Oreo’s Dunk in the Dark Super Bowl tweet in 2013, in which the cookie brand was able to capitalize on a massive power outage by posting a a tweet that said “You can still dunk in the dark,” it has been a race to capture attention.

This year is no different.  (Read the definitive oral history of the Super Bowl war room here.

“The speed we try to move, the speed of the Internet [is] if you’re not first, you’re last with reactions,” said Gulczynski, noting the importance of fast reaction time to hone in, capitalize on pop culture references and become part of unfolding cultural moments.

That said, agencies and their clients have already started social listening strategies, tuning especially into Twitter and TikTok to tap into cultural moments. TikTok, especially, will be a big focus for agencies this year as the platform has continued to gain popularity and recently made a play to own the second screen for the Super Bowl. 

“We love to keep tabs largely on Twitter as this is the fastest platform people offer opinions on (and is also the easiest way to keep track of trends),” said Biancalani in an emailed statement to Digiday. “However, this year we will also have a tab on TikTok with a big focus on pulling user generated feedback to hear how people genuinely reacted to the ads in the TikTok community.”

This year, as with years’ prior, the Super Bowl will have an all hands on deck approach for many agencies and their clients, especially as the digital media landscape continues to be fragmented and new platforms present new opportunities. For Jameka Whitten, CEO and principal publicist of JSW Media Group, it’s the Wild West more this year than previous years, given the changes.

“I’m expecting the unexpected. Anything can happen, you just have to be ready for it,” Whitten said.

Julian Cannon contributed reporting to this story.

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