It's About Time to Get Real About Real-Time Marketing

Even in the Worst Cases It's Noticed By Few and Forgotten By Most

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If you're the sort of marketer who's up on all the latest trends and cutting-edge communication tactics, you should, by now, have constructed a real-time-marketing war room.

Now that you've invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in real-time marketing, you're ready to join the ranks of ... well, give me a minute. Let me check my notes here.

I've got Oreo for making a joke about the lights being out in the Super Bowl way back in February. And, uh, that seems about it.

Who? AT&T sponsored tweet video highlights during NCAA March Madness.
Who? AT&T sponsored tweet video highlights during NCAA March Madness.

Don't get me wrong. That was one special tweet. I'm sure it led to a spike in Oreo sales. OK. That's not fair. Social-media communication is about engagement, not direct sales. So I'm sure it led to a massive brand-awareness boost for Oreo. At least among the ad-industry people who actually had their faces shoved into marketing-related tweet streams on the night of the game. But I haven't been able to find one normal, non-marketing-American who'd ever heard of the Oreo tweet.

If Oreo is the best we can do, it's not saying much. I don't mean to pick on Oreo. It's simply the thing that gets trotted out as the pinnacle of the form. I know Coke has done some over the last couple of years, but aside from polar bears wearing scarves, I couldn't tell you what it was or what it was meant to accomplish.

A little sleuthing turned up an NCAA March Madness deal in which AT&T sponsored highlight clips that were dropped into Twitter. That was a useful service for fans. But who's going to remember that AT&T sponsored those NCAA tweets?

Will it be more or fewer than those who remember AT&T most-recent real-time marketing spectacular? The company as well as a number of other marketers decided it would be appropriate for them to commemorate 9/11. "Look at those marketers. They're so patriotic!" is not the reaction many people had. Those who noticed only pointed out the bad taste of companies marketing around a national day of loss. That bit of buzz spread all the way to the nightly news.

Again, maybe I'm not being fair. A colleague noted that when part of the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court, some brands jumped into the fray, much to the delight gay-marriage supporters. But many of us were too busy celebrating to go scouting around for tweets from that substantial part of the population so opposed to gay marriage that they gave Chick-fil-A record sales days after its so-called PR disaster.

But all of that is likely irrelevant.

Ultimately, the fact is that real-time marketing -- even in the worst cases -- is noticed by few and forgotten by most.

Maybe your time -- real and otherwise -- would be better spent jumping on the next marketing trend.

Ken Wheaton is the managing editor of Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter at @kenwheaton.
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