Through the (Romper Room) Looking Glass: Weird Tales from the Frontiers of Social Media Marketing

You may be too young to remember this, but back in the early days of kids’ TV, there was a show called Romper Room. At the time, “getting down” meant literally sitting on the carpet like the kids in the show, and “Do-Bee” was a guy in a bee costume offering advice on good manners. As in “Do-Bee polite when you pass the milk and cookies,” which they did every show.

But the highlight of the show for me came at the end, when Miss Sally would peer through her Magic Mirror to “see” all of us kids out there in “Televisionland.” Never mind that her mirror looked like a plastic hoop on a handle: it was obviously magic because she could name off every kid she saw through it, one by one. “I see Sam and Jenny and David,” Miss Sally would chant, and every week I would wait, transfixed, for that moment when she would finally mention my name. She never did when I was watching, so I never got to wave at her, but then there were a lot of kids out there in Televisionland. Who ever said low-tech had to be low-excitement?

I was reminded of the Magic Mirror when I came across an article in the New York Times about Kraft Foods using photo recognition software based on government surveillance technology to find images of their macaroni and cheese in social media posts. Something about the idea of a retail behemoth like Kraft combing through Facebook and Pinterest posts for shots of its mac and cheese box photobombing the family picnic struck me as both endearing and a little weird.

In fact, it just illustrates how incredibly high-tech, and at the same time intensely personal, marketing has become.

The software is cool: it can spy a single mac and cheese box in a sea of 500 million images. According to Ditto Labs, the company that created the technology, that’s how many photos are posted daily on social media. To put that in perspective, that’s more than double the population of the United States in 1975, when Romper Room was in its glory. Meaning Miss Sally could have seen every one of us twice—in one day!

As Kraft recognizes, marketing is not just about winning over new customers. Smart marketing is also about engaging the customers you already have, and sometimes finding ones you didn’t even know you had. Through the Magic Mirror of social media, it’s easier than ever for companies to get a glimpse into their fans’ living rooms. And on social media, your fans can even wave back.

Tell me that’s not magic.

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