The uniqueness of digital marketing, compared to traditional marketing, is its ability to respond to events, consumers, customers, and competition in near real-time. Whereas a TV or a print advertisement requires production time and the availability of a slot to insert the ad. - all of which may take anywhere between a handful of hours to a full day - a social media post can be turned around in as low as a couple of minutes, while the event or the subject of discussion is still top-of-mind. This fact was well illustrated during Super Bowl XLVII, which was played on 3 February 2013.
The Super Bowl is the annual championship game of the National Football League (NFL), the highest level of professional American football in the United States, culminating a season that begins in the late summer of the previous calendar year. The Super Bowl uses Roman numerals to identify each game, rather than the year in which it is held. For example, Super Bowl I was played on January 15, 1967, following the 1966 regular season, while Super Bowl XLVII was played on February 3, 2013, following the 2012 season. The Super Bowl is among the most watched sporting events in the world, almost all being North American audiences, and is second to football (soccer)'s UEFA Champions League final as the most watched annual sporting event worldwide. (Wikipedia)
Due to its high viewership, advertisement rates during the Super Bowl broadcast are the most expensive of the year: costing as high as USD 4 Million for a 30-second slot this year. As a result of the high cost of airtime, companies spend a lot of time and money designing their advertisements. So much so that the advertisements themselves become a significant part of the event: as much watched and commented upon as the game itself. The attached infographic summarises the winners and the cost of winning the Super Bowl Ad Brawl this year.
That's not the main reason for this blog, though. During the course of the game, there was a power failure that plunged half the stadium into darkness and halted play for more than half-an-hour. Reacting almost immediately to the blackout:
Oreo (a biscuit brand from Mondelez International) tweeted an ad. that said "No power? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark", and was retweeted nearly 15K times
The detergent brand Tide (a P&G brand) was also pretty quick to the draw, and tweeted "We can't get your #blackout, but we can get your stains out."
Calvin Klein sent a Vine of a guy, wearing a pair of Calvin Klein briefs, doing sit-ups, with the message "Since the lights are still out..."
The Oreo tweet, in fact, garnered more buzz for the brand than its TV advertisement. So, if a brand owner plays it right, it can draw more bang for the promotion buck by being topical.
B. Leveraging Topicality
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that struck the east coast of the USA in October last year, the clothing retailer brand Gap, shot out the following tweet which resulted in very negative buzz for the brand:
The American home appliance brand KitchenAid's Twitter account shot out the following tweet during one of the US Presidential Debates, in the run-up to the US Presidential Elections last year, to widespread condemnation:
So, what's a fail-safe process to go about leveraging topicality?
Identify Events and Establish a Control-room
All events that demand a dedicated promotion campaign are known in advance - festive season events, sporting event finals, mega entertainment events - and a brand owner needs to identify these in advance and establish a control-room to monitor the event. The control room would be staffed with marketing, sales, creative, and media-buying personnel, to ensure that the brand-owner can respond in near real-time to event-generated spikes in consumer attention.
It is not as important that the control-room is a fixed physical location, as it is that all personnel assigned to the control-room should be contactable immediately, should have access to their functional tools, and should have access to the facility to get into a conference at short notice.
Oversight by a Senior
The control-room needs, necessarily, to be headed by an experienced marketing person who will be the gate-keeper to the brand's social media properties and the final arbiter of which brand communication passes through to the outside world. KitchenAid (referred above in connection with the President Obama tweet) admitted, in the furore following the tweet, that it had assigned responsibility for its brand Twitter account to an intern.
The marketing person will have to exercise her/his discretion with respect to which categories of consumer-attention spikes are worthy of being leveraged for brand communication, or even permissible for branding. In the case of Gap (which attempted to turn a natural disaster into an opportunity to sell its wares), the judgement was flawed. Follow the thumb-rule used when making polite conversation with strangers - never discuss politics or religion - when deciding on subject matters that are permissible for branding.
Test before Posting
Carry out a straw-poll of the communication before posting it. The control-room personnel will typically be a heterogeneous group, in terms of views and sensitivities, and if the communication passes muster with it, the probability is high that the communication will not boomerang on the brand owner.
Given the extremely dynamic nature of real-life events, the control-room will need to constantly monitor:
Consumer response to the communication - positive/negative/neutral sentiment
The event itself, to check if the mood remains the same. For example, if there was stampede during the Super Bowl XLVII blackout, any brand communication would have been badly received.
The success of any marketing campaign lies in leveraging the chosen medium's unique capabilities to further brand buzz and engagement. In the case of digital marketing, that uniqueness is the facility to place a brand in close temporal proximity to the consumer, thereby engaging her/him in near real-time. As with any powerful feature, it needs to be wielded with care.