Hopping onto the Real-Time Bandwagon

Oreo Dunk in the dark

Real-time marketing is one of today’s hottest digital trends. The concept itself is simple. It’s marketing on the fly, usually in response to cultural events or consumer feedback. While brands are starting to test real-time banner ads and text messages, a good 90% of it occurs on social media— specifically, Facebook and Twitter.

But until 2013, real-time marketing wasn’t what it is today. Yes, brands have leveraged social media to deliver more relevant messages to their followers since Facebook left the Harvard campus, but it was hardly the trend it is today, and it certainly wasn’t a key part of mainstream social strategy. That all changed during the Super Bowl when a power outage sent half the stadium into darkness during the third-quarter, and Oreo responded with the post to the left. By the end of the week, it had earned more than 10,000 retweets, 6,000 favorites, a dramatic lift in followers, and press-coverage in dozens of industry publications. And this was only the beginning.

Every day, more brands hop onto the real-time bandwagon. Just take a look at your newsfeed, and you’re sure to find a few of them latching onto some sort of viral trend. Whether it’s a detergent brand getting ready for the latest episode of Scandal or an electronics retailer remembering September 11th on Twitter, brands are pulling out all the stops in the name of consumer engagement.

It’s true. Ever since Oreo turned real-time marketing into an industry buzzword, clients the world over have started to ask for “Oreo moments” of their own. Some even put together “social war rooms”— i.e., conference rooms of writers watching whatever star-studded event is trending on Twitter, just waiting for the chance to say something clever.

And sometimes it works. It certainly did for Oreo and, more recently, KitKat, whose take on #bendgate saw more than 23,000 retweets in the span of a week. But for most brands, real-time marketing— even during the world’s most-watched events, are met with crickets, or even worse, disgust. The question is, why? Is the content at fault, or is real-time strategy less effective than we’d like to think?

According to Gary Vaynerchuck of Vayner Media, it’s a matter of timing. “When everybody’s screaming at a loud party, nobody can hear each other,” he says. He makes a good point. Real-time marketing can be a great way for brands to join and initiate conversations with their followers on social media. By no means should they take part in every conversation, however— especially if the goal is consumer engagement.

Everybody does the Oscar’s. Everybody does the Kardashians. And when Kate Middleton announced her second pregnancy last month, hundreds of brands, from Play-Doh to Pizza Hut, chimed in with their own branded congratulations. But, Vaynerchuck notes, “there are a lot of everyday events that are much more interesting.” Perhaps these are the events brands should start capitalizing on. That is, if what they’re looking for are listeners.

– Yamuna Hopwood

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