Beware the hype around real-time marketing

A week that ends with communications pros descending on Austin, TX for the annual South By Southwest interactive funfest started last Sunday with new reflections on real-time marketing at this year's Oscars.

A week that ends with communications pros descending on Austin, TX for the annual South By Southwest interactive funfest started last Sunday with new reflections on real-time marketing at this year's Oscars.

Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres' epic celebrity selfie dominated headlines during and after the event, quickly becoming the most famous Twitter event in history with more than 3 million retweets. At one point the weight of traffic from the retweeting even "broke" Twitter for a while, and that fact was mentioned in the broadcast, reinforcing the effect.

The jury is still out on whether Galaxy tablet maker Samsung had the selfie written into its expensive Oscars TV coverage sponsorship contract, or whether it was an opportunistic stunt by host DeGeneres, though there was definitely a commitment to produce some selfies backstage in the agreement.

Ellen did let the Samsung side down a little when it was clear at one point she was retweeting backstage from an Apple iPhone. But the activity pleased the South Korean manufacturer enough for it to donate a total of $3 million to two of Ellen's favorite charities after the event. It was paid media integrating with owned, earned, and shared at its best.

Newly inducted members of the real-time marketing fraternity will also have noted Miller Lite's simple but effective tweet after Best Actor Matthew McConaughey name-checked the beer brand in his acceptance speech.



There was nothing particularly special about the Miller tweet, but it underlined the need for brands to have teams on duty during national and global events such as the Oscars to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. This chance came up as the clock ticked round to midnight, so there are no prizes for those marketers and communicators who go home early.

But, in truth, such tactics no longer represent the "big wow" moment seen at the Super Bowl last year when the lights went out and Mondelez's Oreo brand team stepped up to create the must-reference real-time marketing moment of last year. Twelve months on, these activations are pretty much table stakes for any savvy social brand.

And any communicator worth their salt will tell you that real-time marketing is not particularly different to the type of traditional media relations they have been practicing for decades. PR pro sees an opportunity to earn some media coverage; PR pro activates strategy; PR pro gets its client brand or corporation covered in the press or on TV. It's called earned media.

The difference now is that brands can cut out the middle man and communicate directly to their target audience themselves. Miller Lite didn't need to contact any media owners to get its message across – it simply tweeted from its own Twitter account and let the hoardes of people on social media do the rest.

That's called owned and shared media. And, in a virtuous circle, it ended up earning Miller extra media coverage when mainstream outlets picked it up and talked about it anyway: simple, smart, and effective.

Will it sell more beer? Well, the jury's still out on that. But it certainly increased the brand's profile. And having an (unpaid) spokesman such as McConaughey indirectly promoting your brand can't do you any harm.

You can see some other brands that joined the real-time marketing fray at the Oscars in my colleague Omar Akhtar's round-up on PRWeek's sister site The Hub. As Omar points out, even though this new craze is based on sound principles established over decades, there are still brands that are getting it wrong.

Clorox hit a bum note at the Oscars by trying to link toilet cleaning products to the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz. Not a disaster, just trying too hard. There's a temptation, having carefully assembled a crack real-time brand and agency team, to want to get involved regardless of the relevance of the opportunity.

And JC Penney's "drunken" tweets during the Super Bowl just days after it announced it was shedding 2,000 people and shutting 33 stores was inappropriately timed if nothing else – although in truth it garnered massive coverage (more than Oreo last year) and the link with the layoffs wasn't part of the subsequent social discussion, so perhaps the retailer was smarter than I'm giving it credit for.

But sometimes less is more, and sitting on your hands is the best policy. There's no shame in wrapping the night having broadcast absolutely nothing. That might be a difficult message for an agency to communicate to a client when it comes to billing them for assembling that real-time marketing team. But in the long term it is better to be prudent than to become the next brand to ruin its reputation in 140 characters on Twitter.

Real-time marketing is here to stay and will quickly become another tactic brands use to communicate, with creativity and quick thinking distinguishing the good activations from the bad (both qualities that are right in the wheelhouse of the PR pro, by the way.)

Let's see what all the hipsters supposedly in touch with the real-time marketing zeitgeist are saying at SXSW over the next few days: but don't believe the hype that it has somehow changed communications forever.

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