I tuned into NBC’s Breakfast at Wimbledon last Sunday morning to catch Roger Federer outduel–and outlast–a re-energized Andy Roddick to win the men’s championship at Wimbledon, his 15th major.
Thirty games after the fifth and deciding set began (a record), it was over; the champion crowned. Roddick’s ball was still rolling on the grass and–as if his victory were pre-ordained–Nike and NetJets congratulatory ads popped up on the telly. Timely? Perhaps. But in light of the unparalleled demonstration of power, fitness and finesse we’d just witnessed from both men, it was–at least to me–an altogether unwelcome intrusion. Fast forward to Monday, and these brands were joined by Roger’s other sponsors including Gillette and Rolex in running their congratulatory salutations in The New York Times and USA Today, among others.
A rough guess is that collectively, these ads represent some $2M in spending over a 24-hour period. As ads, they delivered pretty decent copy. But this spending is also an opportunity lost. Today’s opportunity is to live in the moment, engaging people at their precise points of passion.
One could argue a pre-planned and perfectly executed ad meets that standard, but I think it falls, well, short. In tennis, the players serve and volley; an ad without engagement is serve and nothing. If you don’t fire an ace, you’re going to lose the point.
Consider this: as of this writing, Roger Federer has 2.4M fans on Facebook. If the “average” person has 150 friends on Facebook, the extended social graph of this total network is over 300M people. Yes, there are duplicates, but you get my drift. Roger spoke to his fans via video Monday morning at 9:18 ET. It’s a short 20-second clip, but it does the trick. In the four days, 68,000 people have engaged with that video: 55,000 have “liked” it, and another 13,000 or so have taken the time to post a comment…a direct message to Roger. And 90% of these engagements came within 24 hours of the video going live.
Facebook is a point of passion. A hero’s victory is a point of passion. A crowd forming to share in that victory and congratulate their hero is a point of passion. And all three were missed on Sunday. There were no comments from the sponsors on Roger’s page. None took out an engagement ad on Facebook directed specifically to his fans; created a special “gift” for the occasion, exclusively for his fans; nor used Facebook’s survey tool to ask his fan base if their sponsored one was the best ever. All of these would have shown the fans that as sponsors, they’re not only paying the freight in a traditional way, they’re actually human, caught up in the excitement and genuinely interested in the outcome.
Real-time engagement is hard work. You can’t script it, and you can’t plan it out to the nth degree. It demands a City Desk mindset: you can’t predict what’s going to happen next, but because you’re keenly attuned to what’s going on around you, you’re absolutely prepared to jump all over it when something relevant pops up. The vast majority of brands and agencies aren’t set up to think and work this way…yet. Some, including Comcast, Southwest Airlines and eBay (a client) are moving in that direction by engaging consumers and other stakeholders “live” on Twitter, company blogs and beyond. But there’s a big difference between resolving issues and engaging in an ongoing dialogue without a net.
The U.S. Open is just around the corner. I’ll gladly give public props to any brand that dares to engage.
Read more of the Edelman blog on Fast Company.