You, KLM, Are No Oreo

Date: 2014-07-08 16:47:05 // Categories: Advertising, Trends,
By: Zimmerman Advertising
Date: 2014-07-08 16:47:05 // Categories: Advertising, Trends,

Real-time marketing bridges the gap between content marketing and social media, and it’s been a hot topic for a while. Consider Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet during Super Bowl XLVII’s blackout at the Superdome. A year and a half later, pundits still reference and celebrate that tweet.

KLM’s World Cup tweet…no.

Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet was clever, timely, topical and true to the brand. It was retweeted over 16,000 times and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know about it. The tweet brought Oreo so much free publicity that today no one even remembers that the company also ran an ad during the game.

But it helped that the brand’s advertising agency had set up a social media command center for the event, with representation on hand from all of Oreo’s advertising, marketing and public relations agencies, as well as several members of the brand team. With all the decision makers present, the approval process was swift and easy.

Yes, you can bet there was a rush of adrenaline that night in 2013 as the social media team prepped their now-famous tweet. They knew their planning had readied them for this moment. They knew victory was imminent.

The social media team representing KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) may have had that same feeling…but they couldn’t have been more wrong.

For KLM, the opportunity was the Netherlands’ victory over Mexico at the World Cup. The global nature of the tournament provided a platform of visibility before plenty of international travelers.

But in their haste to take advantage of the moment, KLM tweeted “ADIOS, AMIGOS!” accompanied by an image that many found racist and offensive: a mustached face under a sombrero.

It would be interesting to know how that tweet went from concept to execution without someone in the room saying, “Hold on here. Let’s take an extra 60 seconds and think this through.” Who was involved in the approval process? How many people had to sign off on that tweet? Were there no public relations or marketing personnel on hand to explain all the ways this could go wrong?

We’ll probably never know. A public outcry commenced, and KLM quickly deleted the tweet. They later apologized for it, but the damage was done. The airline had offended a large number of fans of the planet’s most popular sport, and a large number of Hispanics, a demographic deeply invested in soccer.

Brands should see KLM’s misstep as a cautionary tale. While it may be exciting to jump into a real-time event, it’s better to be prepared for one. The lessons are simple: Be prepared. Be true to the brand. Be careful.

With the right process in place, brands can mitigate negative outcomes and unintended consequences.


  • Know your goal.
  • Understand your audience.
  • Painstakingly analyze all possible scenarios.
  • Prepare content in advance for any outcome.
  • Always have a contingency plan.
  • Have the right stakeholders “in the room” for effective vetting and decision-making.


There’s always another “live” event coming up. An event that will be watched, tracked and socialized online. Smart brands aren’t just thinking about it, they’re ready for it. Prepared, buttoned down, vigilant, and creatively and flexibly poised to act. Because this is one thing you do not do in the dark.