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The vault was placed down the road from Svalbard International Seed Vault in Norway.

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From a pandemic to murder hornets to UFO sightings, 2020 was essentially a series of moments that made us feel like we were extras in a neverending apocalypse-themed movie. 

And we’d be remiss to not mention that NASA reported an asteroid was headed toward Earth’s atmosphere on Nov. 2. The asteroid, named 2018 VP1, only had a 0.41% chance of striking, but Oreo saw an opportunity to respond ahead of the potential impact with a darkly humorous viral stunt—the winner of Adweek’s Readers’ Choice Marketing Moments of the Year Bracket. 

The cookie brand partnered with agencies 360i and The Community to unveil the Global Oreo Vault, a real asteroid-proof facility built to protect the Oreo recipe. The vault was inspired by other “doomsday” seed vaults that protect the seeds of the world in case of global catastrophe. The brand placed the vault in the permafrost in Svalbard, Norway—specifically at the coordinates 78°08’58.1”N, 16°01’59.7″E—near the Svalbard International Seed Vault, known as the Doomsday Vault.

For added protection, the Oreo packs inside were wrapped in mylar, a polyester film that can withstand temperatures from -80 degrees to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and is unaffected by chemical reactions, moisture and air.Oreo

But how did the doomsday campaign come to be? Oreo’s senior director Justin Parnell said the brand had sent its agency partners an open brief in the fall to “spread some playfulness” and provide “a little relief from all the worry and division in the world right now.” But what specifically sparked the vault concept was a tweet from a fan on Oct. 3, asking who would save Oreos if Asteroid 2018 VP1 made contact. 

“[The tweet] sparked the question: ‘What lengths would we go to save Oreo cookies from a catastrophic event?’” Frank Cartagena, chief creative officer at The Community, New York, said.  “Even though the threat was minimal, we knew we didn’t want to live in a world without Oreo cookies. Or worse, a world where just oatmeal raisin cookies survived. So, despite having no time, we set off to build a miniature version of the global seed vault just down the road from the original.”    

Oreo replied to the fan’s tweet with “Hold my milk,” and 21 days later, the brand and its agency partners revealed the finished product. Oreo promoted the stunt with a coordinated campaign, releasing 40 pieces of social content over five days that led up to the release of a short mockumentary. Filmed in Oslo, it follows the journey of astronomers and project managers—portrayed by actors—constructing the vault. 

The anticipation sparked by Oreo going dark on social for a few days after the cryptic tweet and slowly teasing the film through social content paid off. The brand reports the stunt drew nearly 100 million impressions across paid, organic social and PR; 324,000 video views and 178,000 engagements; and more than 415 media placements in outlets including Hypebeast, Food & Wine and CNet. Oreo said the content outperformed CPG benchmarks by 59%.

Fans responded by sliding into Oreo’s Twitter DMs to ask to work vault security, floating conspiracy theories about the vault’s passcode and asking where they could find their own cookie packs wrapped in mylar, which was reserved for influencers. Brands including Sour Patch Kids and Burger King also got in on doomsday vault discourse. 

Parnell said the main reason why the campaign was successful was that it tapped into a cultural conversation happening in real time. 

“Oreo is known for playing in pop culture, whether it be through limited-edition product partnerships like our most recently announced collaboration with Lady Gaga to social media moments like these,” Parnell said. “We not only jumped into the social conversation around Asteroid 2018 VP1, but surprised fans by showing up in a uniquely-Oreo way, with a playfully unexpected, over-the-top solution to the pending threat.”

Ian Zelaya

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Ian Zelaya is an Adweek reporter covering how brands engage with consumers in the modern world, ranging from experiential marketing and social media to email marketing and customer experience.