Oreo, Tumblr and a Network's Power to Amplify

Really, it was bigger than Oreo.

When Nabisco posted an image supporting gay pride, Tumblr blew it up. Users took the statement of a single snack manufacturer and made a cause that touched many companies.

In this, the second part of a trilogy, major brands find themselves roped to a conversation about love in America. Part one talked about how Oreo cannonballed into the social web by posting an image of a rainbow Oreo in support of gay pride. Part three will use the episode to highlight conversation dynamics unique to the Tumblr network.

It began with maskedman.

“Gay oreo? Oreo suppoert Gays/??” the user wrote, “Never evating cookie again. … Disgustedng. THis is AMERICA, not HOMERICA.”

The post, which would ultimately accumulate some 1,500 notes, landed a day after Oreo’s image and touched off a wave of support for the company.

One user, palahniukandchocolate, made a list.

“Dear people boycotting Oreos for supporting gay rights: The following companies also support gay rights,” she wrote, adding the names of 37 companies, among them Allstate, Gap, Nike and Starbucks.

A day later, monkaroo retooled the tactic:

“Yes, please boycott Oreo for their support of gay rights,” monkaroo wrote before invoking two dozen companies aligned with Oreo, “We’ll all appreciate you going on a diet … [D]o us all a favor, don’t take it all out on a festive cookie… Just stay home and boycott everything.”

The note from palahniukandchocolate ran close to 900 characters. monkaroo’s topped out over 1,800. Together, they used the freedom of Tumblr’s platform to find a community in an ideology. They grabbed allies — and by doing so, they blew up the question.

The notes caught.

By the evening of the 26th, palahniukandchocolate’s message was pulling down hundreds of reblogs per hour. Indeed, that night, the note would lay claim to 75 percent of Tumblr’s Oreo conversation.

Graph Showing Oreo Mentions Spike on Tumblr

Figure 1 presents hourly Tumblr activity about Oreos (blue) and hourly reblogs of user palahniukandchocolate (orange).

The action spread elsewhere. Starbucks had seen a median 11 tumbles per hour in the two weeks leading up to the 24th. Pepsi had seen 14. On the night of the 26th, palahniukandchocolate lifted both brands, driving each to a network peak of more than 400 posts per hour.

Microsoft also bounced, rising to the 400 peak from 15 posts per hour and holding triple digits as late as the afternoon of the 29th. Costco, with barely a pulse on the network the week before, found itself in 7,100 tumbles the day after the cookie.

Figure 2 presents hourly Tumblr activity around Costco, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Pepsi, Sears and Starbucks. Association with Oreo’s pride cookie drove heightened activity for each brand.

palahniukandchocolate named 37 brands in her defense of Oreo. For most, including Coca-Cola, Levi’s,  Nike and Walgreen’s, that single association dominated the brand’s Tumblr presence in the second half of June.

Tumblr’s platform made that possible. Figure 3 shows four brands that bounced on Tumblr thanks to the Oreo affair. None saw pickup on Twitter in the wake of the image — the platform has no room for periphery.

Graph Showing Cookie Brand Mentions on Tumblr
Figure 3 presents hourly Twitter volumes for four brands that popped on Tumblr in the wake of Oreo’s image. Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer drove the brand’s heightened activity pictured here.

In part, it’s not surprising that the Oreo story could cast so long a shadow over so many brands. Tumblr’s largely an extraprofessional platform; presence on the network requires personal connections between users and brands. Figure 3 presents average daily Tumblr volumes for corporate titans. The flows are thin, technology superbrands notwithstanding.
Graph of Brand Activity on Tumblr

Figure 4 presents average daily Tumblr activity around a subset of the 50 largest corporations by market capitalization (ranked Aug. 18, 2012).

Brands with little network presence risk leaving definition in the hands of others. And Tumblr encourages association: The platform provides flexibility in media and speeds the replication of conversation.

The series’ last installment dives into conversation dynamics on the network. If you like trace diagrams, this next one’s for you.