PBS tweet entices SuperBowl watchers to Downton Abbey: how it happened

The Lords and Ladies just punked the linebackers. Public television network PBS struck social media gold last night with a well-timed Twitter quip during the SuperBowl that encouraged viewers to watch Downton Abbey instead.

In case you missed it, the moment came during a surreal 34-minute blackout in the second half that left the players milling around while the announcers tried to fill the void with “analysis.” That’s when the public broadcaster jumped in with this:

According to Marketing and Communications Director, Kevin Dando, the timing was fortuitous because PBS was already in the midst of a weekly discussion in which Downton lovers gather on social media to discuss the show. When Dando tweeted the invitation for SuperBowl viewers to come on over, he says his phone almost blew up.

“Within seconds, we saw hundreds, then thousands of retweets,” said Dando, including from celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis and from Time magazine’s TV critic:

Dando says the SuperBowl invitation was one of PBS’s two most popular tweets in the last 12 months. The other came in October when the network rushed to defend itself after Mitt Romney questioned the value of Big Bird during the Presidential debates.

Last night, PBS was one a handful of brands, including Oreo and Audi, to “newsjack” the so-called #BlackoutBowl. These nimble moves on social media typically garner a flurry of free publicity but it’s unclear how much they change people’s intention to purchase or watch something.

“We’ll find out from the ratings if it helped,” said Dando.