The Implications of Real-time Marketing

Monday night was of the most anticipated political debates in history. Taking into account cable viewing and streaming online, early Nielsen numbers reveal that the Trump/Clinton standoff is on track to having attracted the largest broadcast viewing audience of any political debate in history.

The closest challenger to these figures was the first debate in the 1980 presidential election which pitted Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan against one another, pulling in 80 million viewers at a time when the internet (you may remember) didn’t even exist. Back then, viewers had the opportunity to let the dust settle on their opinions and wait to read what the press had to say the next morning. Now, we’ve got social media thrown into the mix, offering everyone and their mum the chance to weigh in on the debate from the very first second of airtime.

What does this mean for marketers?

Real-time marketing and communications are nothing new. They’re things that we’ve seen brands do extremely well in recent years – Oreo and Warburton’s – and pretty terribly – just look at this long list dedicated to the bad examples. It seems that for some brands, real-time marketing is forbidden fruit too tempting to resist.

With the advent of social media and the idea that you’re only as relevant as your last tweet, huge cultural events such as the presidential debate, Super Bowl, Oscars and royal baby (to name just a handful) may seem like golden opportunities to remind customers of your relevance. There’s a glut of content and a million different opinions surfacing, so it would be mad not to get your voice heard too, right?


When real-time marketing is properly executed, it can be brilliant. And memorable – we’re still going on about Oreo’s Dunk in the Dark more than three years on. Unfortunately, due to the nature of quick-thinking and/or second guessing certain outcomes, either resources are wasted on ads that (most likely) will have little lasting impact or, worst-case scenario, a concept devised last-minute will land a brand in hot water.

When real-time marketing flops, it is because quality has been sacrificed for being culturally “relevant” at that moment.

For an event as divisive as the presidential debate, brands would be wise to keep mum. Real-time marketing in this scenario might imply a political allegiance one way or another, no matter how impartial the content.

A ‘right time’ marketing is the best approach. Not only does this give brands time to analyse customer data and create meaningful content, but it has greater chance of cut through once the initial deluge of opinions has dissipated. As Hootsuite rightly put it, “serve your customers, not the news.” It doesn’t matter if your message isn’t real-time – it’s its relevance to your customers that is most important.

By Bella Foxwell


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