Real-Time Marketing: How Some Companies (And Customers) Are Using Unexpected Events to Their Advantage

Characteristically, there are two groups of people who watch the Super Bowl: Those who do so out of true love for the sport of football, and viewers who just tune in to see which advertisers pulled all the punches during the coveted commercials. According to the Bleacher Report website, the average cost of a 30-second spot during this year’s matchup cost about $4 million. Whether you tuned into this year’s game or not, you probably heard about the electrical failure that caused a 34-minute delay. Some companies chose to seize those inopportune moments to engage in their own brand of Super Bowl advertising, specifically known in the communications industry as real-time marketing.

Brands Use Twitter as a Worldwide Stage

With admirable efficiency, well known brands capitalized upon the downtime, seeking to grab the attention of Super Bowl viewers who suddenly found themselves without a game to watch. Oreo posted a simple four-word phrase which asked Twitter users, “Power out? No problem”, and paired it with an advertisement which said “You can still dunk in the dark”, reminding viewers about the popular tradition of sliding one of the iconic black and white sandwich cookies into a full glass of milk.

The Walgreens drugstore used a similarly simple yet effective phrase which stated “We do carry candles, we also sell lights”. Also, the Audi automobile brand sought to use the occasion to their advantage by honing in on Mercedes-Benz, the company that held the naming rights to the 2013 Super Bowl venue, by joking about sending some LED lights to the Superdome.

Spreading Information During the European Ash Cloud Crisis

In an earlier example of how misfortune can have a positive side, EUROCONTROL, the organization responsible for safe air navigation throughout Europe used Twitter as a vehicle for information during 2010′s Icelandic volcano eruption that grounded all nearby flights. In addition to updates and maps on the organization’s home page, current information could also be found on applicable social media pages. After customers began recognizing the use of certain hash tags, they started sharing personal stories and tips, spreading the message even further.

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Customers Take Situations Into Their Own Hands

Although the previous examples focused on advertisers who used unexpected moments for their benefit, customers have sometimes used heavily trafficked sites to vent their frustrations, and create problems for large companies.

One of the best examples of this is Dave Carroll, a musician who made several videos about how baggage handlers at United Airlines mishandled and damaged his guitar. The first effort released by the musician was published in 2009, and it now has over 12 million views. Soon after it appeared online, angry viewers stormed the United Airlines YouTube channel and filled it with scathing comments, which received no response.

If we can learn one thing from these examples, it’s this: Social media makes it easier than ever to engage in real-time marketing, but it’s not just big-name corporations who are trying out the trend. Customers have explored the benefits publicly airing their grievances and speedily causing the organizations at fault to be struck by a full blown crisis. Clearly, social media is not just a method of keeping in touch with friends. It also offers a way to bring potentially disastrous situations clearly into public view, and sometimes use unforeseen scenarios as promotional opportunities.

Nel Reed writes for several higher ed blogs. Interested in advertising? Several universities offer a degree in mass communication such as the University of Florida

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