BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Time was that marketers, particularly package-goods marketers, were known for their deliberate pace. Media plans and ads were created months in advance, and mid-course changes took months.
But in a growing number of cases even the biggest marketers in the world, such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever, are adjusting creative and media plans on the fly within days, weeks or even hours based on changing events or the shifting tides of social-media feedback.
Rapid-fire changes may still be more exception than rule for big campaigns, but they're fast becoming routine in a marketing culture increasingly driven by real-time data dashboards. Consider Scotts Miracle-Gro making weather-triggered ads the centerpieces of its marketing plans; Visa running ads in the last winter Olympics featuring medal winners within minutes of their victories; P&G creating new Olympic ads based in part on social-media feedback from old ones; and Unilever's Dove Men Plus Care putting video ads on major sports websites featuring New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' "victory shower" within hours of him winning the Super Bowl.
A growing abundance of social-media commentary that can drive decisions, better analytics tools and a greater willingness and capability by media companies, marketers and agencies to execute rapid-fire changes are all playing a role.
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The ad, which showed a montage of moms of Olympic athletes as their kids won medals, is a favorite of Joan Lewis, senior-VP consumer and market knowledge at P&G. She credits the company's move to create a single brand-building organization that encompasses all marketing functions, including research, PR and brand marketers, for helping make quick development of the ad during the Olympics possible.
Running a national ad without consumer pre-testing is still a rarity for P&G, and the company isn't about to throw all caution to the wind -- while some elements of the Olympic program weren't pre-tested, Ms. Lewis noted, "that doesn't mean [pre-testing] wouldn't have made it better." But she said such on-the-fly changes are also a model for what P&G wants to do more of in the future.
What looks serendipitous, of course, still takes considerable planning.
Unilever last summer began making the deals that made Mr. Brees' appearance in the "victory shower" ads for Dove Men Plus Care body wash, said Rob Master, director of North American Media for Unilever. "We actually identified and had holds on four different players leading up to the [NFL] conference championships," Mr. Master said. "We ended up shooting [ads with] a Colt and Drew. And it just ended up perfectly with Drew being MVP."
More contingency is being built into creative and media plans alike these days because brand marketers, media agencies and media companies are all changing their mindset, Mr. Master said. "You're seeing a brand community much more aggressive, much more flexible than it's ever been," he said. "Then you have media companies who I think also are much more willing and open to being innovative. And I think you have the technology in many cases that allow you to do things much faster and take advantage of pop culture and events."
Better than post-tracking
The technology part can be as simple as seeing how consumers react to spots in social media. "Within 15 minutes of an ad being on air, I can find out whether I'm getting positive or negative chats," said Keith Weed, chief marketing officer of Unilever. In Germany, for example, the company recently ran two Axe ads in the same campaign and based on a "dramatically different" response, he said, "it was incredibly easy to just stop running the one and put all the media on the other. Now that's better than any pre-testing or post-tracking you can get."
It's not always just as easy as watching a Twitter search feed. Mr. Master points to a "Digital Data Mart" developed by Mindshare to track digital campaigns on a number of audience and survey-response factors to make changes in creative or media plans within weeks or sometimes days or hours. Unilever in the past two years has developed a media-insights team, he said, that dedicates the same sort of attention to media that the company traditionally has reserved for things like fragrance, packaging and other product attributes, but with an emphasis on enabling real-time optimization.
Marketers long used to being buffeted by factors beyond their control, such as the weather, may be further along the real-time optimization curve in some ways.
Scotts, for example, is this spring in the third year of using weather-triggered radio ad plans, a tactic Senior Media Director Chris Hackett brought with him from Campbell Soup Co. The weather impacts are different, of course. Campbell prefers advertising soup during winter cold snaps. Scotts prefers advertising fertilizer and weed killers in advance of warm, sunny spring weekends. But the tactics are largely the same.
"We have a relationship with Clear Channel whereby we get weather reports on Friday, and on Monday we make the decision, and by Wednesday we're on air," Mr. Hackett said. "So it gives us complete flexibility as to whether or not we advertise in a given market. We use weather-triggered radio to lead the season for a lot of our brands because it's one of the more flexible media options."
This year, Scotts has brought the weather-triggered concept to digital buys for the first time, he said.