SAN JOSE, CA: Digital recorder company TiVo racked up the PR yardage from Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl halftime show.
The San Jose-based firm has crafted a PR strategy around the game for the past three years, but the Jackson controversy provided the biggest media payoff the effort has seen. Armed with data showing a 180% spike in viewers during Jackson's infamous moment, wherein her breast was almost completely exposed, the company made a forceful media push that resulted in widespread coverage.
"It was a strategy," said Scott Sutherland, cofounder of SutherlandGold Communications, TiVo's AOR. "It wasn't opportunistic."
TiVo began using the Super Bowl as a PR tool in 2002 by analyzing viewer response to commercials.
"Their interest was in developing their audience measurement businesses," Sutherland said. "But we saw it as an opportunity to help them with their bigger objective of raising awareness of the brand."
Sutherland and TiVo's two-person in-house communications team, along with its marketing and data staff, held a conference call immediately after the game and quickly decided Jackson's performance was a bigger media hook than the ads. They then held an all-night session to finalize the data and prepare a press release. TiVo president Martin Yudkovitz was prepped with talking points about 5:45 the next morning and began radio interviews shortly after. The press release went out about 6am. Sutherland said TiVo targeted radio stations first because it was easier to pitch before the game, when TiVo was unsure what data it could offer. But by day's end, TiVo had fielded more than 100 media calls from print, broadcast and radio.
Sutherland said the company will now pull back to avoid any backlash from the negative publicity surrounding Jackson.
"There are a fair amount of people who are unhappy with the incident, so we were very mindful to not be endorsing what happened," he said.
That negative publicity has caused a PR headache for not only CBS and halftime show producers MTV, but also for their parent company, Viacom, and the NFL. All parties have released statements denouncing the event and claiming no prior knowledge.
But, for Jackson, whose new single was released the day after the performance, the incident was a publicity bonanza that brought national attention to what otherwise might have been a little-noticed release.