The trend of brands looking to "win" live television events on social media took a turn for the mean on Wednesday. The second-most-popular tweet posted during the People's Choice Awards telecast using the show's official #PeoplesChoice hashtag came from the official Twitter account of ZzzQuil, a sleep-aid brand owned by the consumer products company Proctor & Gamble.  

The tweet was unusual, to say the least. While most major brands these days cover major events by chattering on social about the action unfolding during the shows and telecasts, few are willing to pass judgment on the shows themselves, lest they incur the wrath of fans who are tuning in unironically.

"It's a little bit of a risky proposition," said Jay Baer, the founder of Convince & Convert, a digital marketing firm. "When it comes to popular entertainment, boredom is in the eye of the beholder. The social media team at ZzzQuil are probably high-fiving each other. But are the CEO and executive team at Zzzquil high-fiving each other?

Viewed from afar, Baer saw ZzzQuil's tweet as a calculated risk. By taking a provocative stance, ZzzQuil was betting that the people who were not enjoying the show would engage with them. "Chatter doesn't happen in the middle," he said. "It happens at the margins.

"If they're just a brand in the wilderness who's trying to newsjack an awards show by being negative," he continued, "then what the hell do they care if CBS sees it or not?"

Requests for comment from Proctor & Gamble went unreturned.

ZzzQuil now joins a growing group of brands that have sought to leverage social media chatter about live television events to drive awareness in products or promotions. Though this kind of marketing is not new, the cookie brand Oreo showed just how successful it could be in early 2013, when its social media team shared a tweet during a brief blackout that stopped play during Super Bowl XLVII.

The tweet received tens of thousands of favorites and retweets, and even some attention in the postgame discussion of the game. The attention Oreo received, both on Twitter and elsewhere, pushed many more brands into an always-on mentality, which saw brands tweeting about live TV more and more.

Yet for every Snickers or Oreo bite-sized success, there have been countless examples of huge mistakes, including brands posting opportunistic, inappropriate content on days like September 11. 


Fortunately for those brands that have risked social-media edginess and failed miserably, Twitter has a short memory. There will be another outrage tomorrow.

Wednesday’s awards show, now in its 39th year, featured an array of awards given out to musicians, film and television actors. Big winners included Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, the CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," and the Angelina Jolie Disney vehicle “Maleficent.”