Watching Super Bowl ads has become practically a sport all its own. Every year, fans buzz about which commercials will be the funniest, the most heart-wrenching, or the most entertaining. And, as we all know, brands shell out big bucks for spots during the game.

But, in 2013, Oreo made waves with an ad that had no budget, no TV spot, and no pregame buzz. In conjunction with our sister agency 360i, Oreo created a social media strategy that would position the brand for anything the Super Bowl could throw its way. And it paid off when the lights suddenly died in the Superdome. During the 34-minute power outage, Oreo tweeted: "Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark."



And, for better or worse, real-time marketing took off.

The Internet has changed just about everything, including how brands advertise. Campaigns that take months to plan, execute, and launch may still have a place, but if marketers aren't also jumping into real time... they will get lost in the shuffle.

This Brave New World of Real-Time Marketing

In some ways, it's nothing new: For decades, culture has influenced brands, and brands have influenced culture. But brands now have a brief span of time to react. If you don't jump on something right as it happens, you've missed your shot.

Two trends are particularly responsible for the new world of real-time marketing: demographics and technology.

  • The Millennial generation is on the rise. This demographic segment is huge, and its members are the biggest consumers of media. Millennials are driving the real-time marketing growth because they are used to the instant gratification of digital media.
  • Then, we have technology itself. Smartphones provide us with information, entertainment, rides, dates, and friends on demand. I'm not a Millennial, and even I expect everything to come across my iPhone right when I want it.

Five years ago, you could report or comment on an event the next day or even the next week. Brands could play off cultural images for months. Now, consumers can watch an event unfold live on Twitter one night and move on the next morning. Brands and marketers have to keep moving, too.

Marketers have to develop quick responses to mainstream life, and they've got to do it fast. The benefits of real-time marketing are pretty spectacular; according to research, 81% of brands increased customer engagement, 73% improved customer experience, and (the big one) 59% increased conversion rates.

That's ROI anyone can rally behind, but the trick to real-time marketing isn't just speed—it's also authenticity.

The Intersection of Speed and Authenticity

Today's consumers expect authenticity from their brands. They want to identify with companies that value the same things they do. And it's just as important that you, the marketer, know which opportunities to pass up and how to jump on the right ones.

As we've developed our own real-time marketing strategies at my agency, I've learned a few things that can help marketers looking to jump in, including the following five.

1. Don't unplug from social

Brands that do real-time marketing well are always plugged in to the social space. Pay attention to the buzz going on every day, not just around big events. Those cultural moments might provide the perfect opportunity, but staying plugged in is the only way to be truly prepared to seize them.

2. Find the perfect marriage between brand and moment

Not every headline or event is the right opportunity for you. There's a trend now with brands' pulling celebrity deaths into their marketing. Depending on the case, that approach can make sense, or you might look at it and cringe.

Have a solid grasp of who you are as a brand, and play only in topics that make sense for you.

The 2016 Academy Awards was a hotbed for real-time marketing after Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar. Myriad brands joined in the celebration—with varying levels of success—but Jeep's play on words was a top contender. The company's Facebook post featured a Wrangler parked under a beautiful night sky with the caption "A legend in a night of stars #Jeep #JeepWrangler #Oscars #Oscars2016."

3. Cut through the clutter

Let's face it, there's a lot of noise out there. Be dynamic and personalized. Answer the question "What's in it for me?" for the consumer, and keep the message adaptable to the platform. Oreo's tweet was so successful partly because it worked on Twitter specifically. It contained a fun image and cute, pithy phrase that sliced right through everyone's impatience. It made the power outage funny instead of annoying.

4. You can't afford to sit still

Keeping up isn't sufficient. You have to be ahead. Read constantly, educate yourself on the content your targets care about, and put yourself in their shoes: What are they going to be most excited about, and how can you engage them on the next big trend?

5. In a conversation, you must give and receive

Once you put something out there, be ready to engage in two-way conversations. This isn't a world of broadcast messages anymore, and marketing isn't just push; it's a push-pull system. Be willing to say, "We put it out there, and now we're in a conversation. We have to engage."

What brands do you think nailed real-time marketing this year?

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Real-Time Marketing: Five Tips for Surviving in Our Brave New World

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image of Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark is the president of Mitchell Communications Group, an award-winning PR firm that creates real conversations among people, businesses, and brands.

LinkedIn: Sarah Clark