PR Roundup: Elmo’s Empathy, Super Bowl Ad Preview, Higher Ed Crisis Prep

Elmo provided a platform for empathy this week on Twitter

This week's PR Roundup looks at Elmo's impact on mental health, a preview of Super Bowl advertising themes and a new frontier for niche PR: Higher education.

Elmo Goes Viral for Caring

What happened: In a month where the only good news seemed to be the images and headlines of musician Taylor Swift and NFL tight end Travis Kelce’s storybook romance, Elmo broke through

Our fuzzy red friend took to X (formerly known as Twitter) this week for a seemingly innocent vibe check. 

The seemingly innocent question received replies from everyone—brands like Popeyes, Sour Patch Kids, public figures Paddington Bear and actor Rainn Wilson and just about everyone else on the planet who just needed to vent. 

As of today (Feb. 1) Elmo’s post (tweet) has received over 202.2 million views and 17,000 replies. It’s also demonstrated the importance of sharing and showing empathy for positive mental health (even with some of the dodgy replies). 

Comms takeaways: No social media manager can plan for this kind of enormous engagement. No one person can make something instantly go viral. So what can we learn from Elmo and the Sesame Street gang in this simple, yet successful instance?  

Nicole Pappas, Vice President, CLYDE, says Elmo resonated with so many users just by being authentically Elmo. (And it can’t hurt that he’s super cute as well.)

"Elmo went viral because his content was authentic to what he is best known for, while also checking in with people in a way that felt personal and relatable,” Pappas says. 

“Brands need to remember they can't talk about their products or services 100% of the time; it's unlikely that they are going to generate the engagement they are looking for. A balance between thought leadership, promotion, and authenticity will be more likely to attract followers and drive engagement. Brands must find ways to 'check-in' on their consumers and relate to them in an authentic way to build loyalty and prove that they understand the importance of individual wellbeing." 

What to Expect from Super Bowl Advertisers in 2024

What happened: Just over a week away, the biggest weekend in broadcast advertising is ready for championship performances. The Super Bowl brings together some of the most creative, memorable and expensive messages of the year, catching the attention of communicators everywhere.

Charles R. Taylor, professor of marketing at the Villanova School of Business, is a nationally known expert on advertising and marketing and has done scores of interviews regarding Super Bowl ads over the past decade. He also has an ongoing column in Forbes, serves as the editor of the International Journal of Advertising and the past President of the American Academy of Advertising

Prof. Taylor revealed his expectations and questions for this year’s Super Bowl ads which include: 

  • Heavy use of celebrities, humor and emotional appeals due to their relationship with likeability.
  • Returning advertisers campaigns will be interesting to watch as well. For example, Hellman’s is running its fourth consecutive Super Bowl ad focusing on food waste. Will this commitment to a specific socially responsible issue be memorable?
  • Some are calling this year’s Super Bowl “The Junk Food Bowl.” With only a portion of the ads announced, there are already nine ads in this category. Four are candy or dessert brands: Drumstick (ice cream), Nerds, M&M, Reese’s. Two soda brands: Mountain Dew Baja and Starry. Two salty snack brands: Doritos and Pringles, and one for Popeyes focused on its addition of chicken wings.
  • Gambling will be well represented in this year’s Super Bowl.
  • Post-controversy, what will Budweiser do with Bud Light?
  • While there has been no announcement yet, don’t be surprised if at least one major Presidential election sponsors a Super Bowl ad.
  • Expect nostalgia and some “younger” celebrities.
  • Expect iconic brand symbols like Clydesdales and VW Beetles.

Communication takeaways: Prof. Taylor says that with bad news swirling around the globe, audiences should not be surprised by the overarching theme of humor in ads this year. 

“In an environment with lots of issues at home and abroad in the news, we are seeing a lot of light themes in ads,” he says. “This includes humorous ads from brands like Kawasaki and Uber Eats and even the use of the hilarious “Mayo Cat” with actress Kate McKinnon by Hellmann’s to reinforce its food waste message.”

Prof. Taylor also notes the mix of internet creators and nostalgia themes to catch the attention of a very wide audience demographic.

“Nerds’ use of [influencer] Addison Rae…is a smart strategy as Rae has a following of over 100 million that skews across channels,” he says. “The e.l.f. cosmetics brand is also wisely capitalizing on the [resurgent] popularity of “Suits” on Netflix by using celebrities from it in its ads.”

However, advertisers can throw all the big names and big budgets at a 30 or 60 second message—what really matters, Prof. Taylor says are those advertisements that can help achieve a sales or awareness objective.

“The ads that perform the best will differentiate the brand effectively,” he says. “An ad being liked does not mean that it sells the brand. Ad liking is not the most important force in brand building.”

Marathon Strategies Launches Higher Education Practice

What happened: Marathon Strategies launched a new practice dedicated to higher education crisis management called “DefendED.” As colleges and universities enter a new era of unprecedented public scrutiny, leaders need a new playbook for communicating their message and managing their reputations. DefendED will provide vital independent counsel to help schools navigate political, social, financial and workforce risk. 

Escalating criticism of colleges and universities has reached fever pitch over the past several months in regards to everything from legacy admissions to state governments introducing legislation to rein in DEI programs.

The DefendED program will include services such as full risk assessment, a crisis playbook, 24-7 strategic communications support, plagiarism review to ensure leadership and faculty integrity and sentiment monitoring.

Communication takeaways: It’s difficult to see the uncomfortable battles an institution like education must prepare for. However, Ray Hernandez, Managing Director of Research at Marathon Strategies, says staying ahead of impending issues is important. 

“Addressing risk before it becomes an issue is paramount in higher education crisis management,” says Ray Hernandez, Managing Director of Research at Marathon Strategies. “We empower universities to lead the narrative rather than being subject to it by staying one step ahead of emerging issues. This ensures they not only uphold their reputation but also fulfill their educational mission.” 

And Phil Singer, founder and CEO of Marathon Strategies, says these issues will not be going away any time soon.  

 “Higher ed leaders are between a rock and a hard place: They need to defend their values and address criticism on hot-button cultural issues without alienating their faculty, students, and donors. It’s a tightrope that will only get tighter,” Singer says. 

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal