Joining The Conversation: Lessons In Real-Time Marketing

The authors of a new book on real-time marketing outline how brands can be part of cultural conversations without looking like idiots.

Real-time advertising. Newsjacking. Conversational marketing. Call it what you will, creative communication that plays off of the cultural moment has become a necessary addition to the marketer’s skill set. Yet as a growing number of brands vie to be topical and culturally relevant, they must do so with eyes open to the potential pitfalls, the authors of a new book on real-time advertising warn.


The brickbats aimed at food portal Epicurious for its self-promoting tweets in the wake of the recent Boston marathon bombing and the plaudits earned by Oreo for its topical tweet at this year’s Super Bowl neatly encapsulate the power, potential, and pitfalls, according to Grant Hunter, regional creative director, Asia Pacific, at Iris Worldwide and coauthor of Newsjacking: The Urgent Genius Of Real-Time Advertising.

“Before, brands just did topical advertising. Now, they have the tools to create anything from simple mashups to a whole website overnight. The challenge is to justify why a brand is jumping onto a topical wave, and ensure that by doing so it adds value and stays relevant to its audience,” he explains.

On the flip side, an attempt by clothing designer Kenneth Cole to link the Arab spring protests in Cairo with excitement about his spring collection was irrelevant to the brand and a misjudgement in terms of taste.


“It’s tempting to jump on a major breaking news story, because it’s what people will be talking about. But it’s when a brand is seen to be jumping on the misfortune of others that things can go wrong,” adds Hunter. “It works if it is playful so makes people smile, or is truly supportive in intent so adds real value.”

Such as? Diageo’s launch of Watermark Rum in Australia to raise money for the recovery effort following Victoria’s devastating floods in 2011. Or, more recently, Boston Marathon sponsor Adidas and Boston Beer Company, which both announced they would donate profits from, respectively, a commemorative T-shirt and Samuel Adams Boston 26.2 brew to the attack’s victims.

Ikea Netherlands, Lemz, Netherlands, January-December 2011

While the last two examples are too, well, topical, to feature in Hunter’s book (an admittedly not very real-time format), many more from previous years are. These include Wieden + Kennedy Portland’s work on Old Spice Responses, Iris’ own Johnnie Walker’s Step Inside the Circuit Formula 1 news feed, and Lemz Amsterdam’s Ikea365 campaign (see slide show), along with insights into the best approaches to achieve successful real-time marketing.


“When creating any social content, you must first consider the audience–the fact that people are always on, consuming things, and living in the moment,” says Jon Burkhart, who coauthored Newsjacking and, together with Hunter, produces the Urgent Genius blog and runs the Weekender annual Urgent Genius competition for creatives.

“Why do brands expect that, if they show up at the party a week later, anyone will care? As Oreo showed, even overnight is fast becoming not good enough and tomorrow morning is too late,” he adds.

Having worked together on numerous campaigns at Iris, Hunter and Burkhart have identified seven principles of urgent genius.


• Catch the wave; fashionable is not good enough.
• Adopt an editorial mind-set to create a form of brand journalism working to newslike deadlines.
• Plan your spontaneity.
• Keep it fresh–don’t be afraid to disrupt the status quo.
• Invent your own event (especially those organizations not yet able to respond to live happenings fast enough).
• Behave like the kind of human we’d all like to hang out with by being genuine and relevant.
• Create a platform and build your own community.

As important, however, is understanding the potential obstacles–both within client organizations and the agencies they work with–that can hold real-time advertising back.

4th Amendment Wear, Matt Ryan and Tim Geoghegan, U.S., 2011



“True real-time marketing is driven by organizations where everyone is ready to respond,” says Hunter, pointing to Oreo, which, as well as having strategists and copywriters on duty at Super Bowl 2013, brought along members of its legal team to speed up sign-off. “One of the biggest barriers can be a client’s legal team and the approvals process.”

Another obstruction can come from a preoccupation with the next great big idea. “You need to cultivate the principle of little bets–a concept coined by Peter Sims–in other words the willingness to foster lots of small, experimental creativity to put things out there and see what sticks,” Burkhart adds. “It’s the approach that’s built Google and HP.”

Agencies must seek and cultivate a new breed of creative talent, too, whose skills straddle coding, planning, art direction, journalism, and culture, Hunter suggests. Meanwhile, all must be ready and willing to take advantage of the latest tools (see Vine).


Burkhart adds: “The future will involve more of this, and to cut through, the best brands and agencies will dig deeper into data about what their audiences want to react to in ways that enhance and add value to that audience’s day.”

See the slide show above for the authors’ examples of real-time creativity done right.


About the author

Meg Carter is a UK-based freelance journalist who has written widely on all aspects of branding, media, marketing & creativity for a wide range of outlets including The Independent, Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, New Media Age and Wired.