Brands' new goal: create the next 'dunk in the dark'

Oreo's acclaimed social media promotion during Super Bowl XLVII's blackout is galvanizing marketers to create of-the-moment, real-time content that takes advantage of major events.

Oreo's acclaimed social media promotion during Super Bowl XLVII's blackout is galvanizing marketers to create of-the-moment, real-time content that takes advantage of major events. But doing so is not as easy as it looks, they warn.

“Everyone in our marketing department is buzzing about it,” says Charlie Treadwell, social and digital marketing manager for Cisco. “That an organization structured itself in such a way that it could quickly react to something like that is really impressive.”

Cisco has a social media listening center, which it has used at its Cisco Live customer conference and to support its sponsorship of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The tech-sector giant also works with a “listening partner” in GolinHarris, which analyzes online conversations and threads.

Yet Cisco has not used the center to create content in real time, says Treadwell. “Listening provides us with insights, intel, and crisis management – but it's just one leg of the stool. Now we're taking a hard look at the opportunity of real-time content creation.”

That includes determining what additional expertise is needed in the center, as well as how to measure the effectiveness of real-time marketing content.

“If you don't see something from us in this area at Cisco Live in June, it's probably because we've determined we can't accurately measure the value. We don't do something if we can't tie it back to our existing ROI pipeline including real-time lead generation and qualification,” he explains.

Consumer brands like PepsiCo-owned Gatorade have long enabled rapid marketing response, tapping into social media chatter to provide followers with relevant content. Others, such as General Mills, have restructured its brand marketing teams so they can function and produce content like newsrooms. “Our brand teams literally watch the news and social media environment 24/7 and pick up on things to respond to, engage, and create from,” General Mills CMO Mark Addicks said in an interview with PRWeek late last year.

In turn, PR agencies are creating departments dedicated to traditional and social media monitoring and staffing them with digital and social media strategists, as well as creatives. Still, there are significant hurdles that can prevent Oreo-like executions from ever seeing the light of day.

Creative content needs to get client, legal, and, in some cases, regulatory approval, which “requires a streamlined process” for it to be posted quickly enough to be relevant, says David Armano, MD of Edelman Chicago.

In June, Dairy Management used Edelman's Social Intelligence Command Center to monitor online conversations and produce content from its “Future of Food: Food Security for the 21st Century” conference. To get quick approval, both the client and a representative from the US Department of Agriculture were at the center during the two-day conference.

But when brands attempt to capitalize on a completely unexpected opportunity, the process gets more difficult, says Armano. Dairy Management did not advertise during the Super Bowl and didn't expect to see an opportunity to promote dairy products. But when it saw the Super Bowl tweet from Oreo with the message “You can still dunk in the dark,” Edelman recognized an opportunity for the company to promote milk.

“Milk and Oreos go together, and so we came up with something, but we hit a wall with the lawyers. Sometimes that kind of marketing can't happen unless you plan for it,” says Armano. “These are just some of the new challenges when brands try to take advantage of a real-time environment.”

While real-time marketing opportunities are often fortuitous, they also require preparation, concurs Jeff Beringer, global practice leader for digital at GolinHarris.

“It is interesting because when you talk to people about this subject, a lot people have this view that it is totally off the cuff, that it can't be planned, and is a matter of luck,” he says. “Luck sometimes happens, but I think brands that have the most success spend a lot of time planning for it.”

Golin executes such campaigns from its network of multimedia engagement centers, known as “The Bridge,” where the agency ensures it has a library of client brand images and assets. “For clients who have physical products, we also make sure we have those products on Bridges so we can quickly take photography against different kinds of backgrounds or scenarios,” he explains.

Competitive landscape
As content creation becomes more important to clients, some question whether PR agencies can compete against firms that specialize in social media and digital creative. Oreo's Super Bowl blackout effort was created by digital agency 360i.

Armano, who previously worked at social media business consultancy Dachis Group, believes a “command center” is the right kind of structure for PR firms to create. Still, he says there is “an open playing field” with all kinds of firms vying to help clients with real-time marketing.

“The area where the PR industry needs to develop more muscle is on the creative end,” he says. “When you add a traditional copywriter and art director to a real-time command center, that is when the magic really happens.”

Ben Foster, SVP of digital for the Chicago office of Ketchum, contends that PR firms offer a unique advantage versus creative shops.

“Everyone is celebrating real-time marketing, but I think PR agencies are uniquely equipped to take a step back and make the right decisions around the risks,” Foster says. “PR agencies are used to continually watching how a story breaks, for any weird detail or nuance, so that no one makes a tie to a story [from the ad] that wasn't intended.”

“A real-time marketing ad needs a bit of tension and edge to be interesting, and clients need to understand how someone might interpret that content in a real-time news environment,” he adds.

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