Digital Conference San Francisco 2012

Brands and Political Candidates Employ Real-Time Marketing on Twitter

Reacting to News, Sparring Back and Forth Prove Effective on Social Platform

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Brands are trying to be more like political candidates. And political candidates are trying to be more like brands. On Twitter, at least.

In large part that 's because they're both trying to use the service to take advantage of the immediacy of the news -- both planned and unplanned -- as well as react to pop-culture events and jab competitors, said Joel Lunenfeld, VP-global brand strategy at Twitter, in his talk at Ad Age 's Digital Conference, titled "Welcome to the Age of Real-Time Brands."

"Brands have been on the platform since the first day," said Mr. Lunenfeld. "It's a very natural behavior." In fact, he said, 88% of everyone on Twitter is following a brand; 56% follow six or more brands.

People follow brands for reasons other than discounts, promotions and free stuff. The third most-common reason for following brands, cited by 87% of the Twitter users who follow them, was for "fun and entertainment," according to a Twitter survey. At the fifth most-common reason, 79% want exclusive content.

In the old world of media, there were distinct lines between advertising and content, but on Twitter, "the content is the advertising and vice versa," Mr. Lunenfeld said. He pointed to several examples of how both political and consumer brands are luring followers with with offers, entertaining commentary and exclusive content.

Mitt Romney, for example, is running a sweepstakes on his Twitter profile page -- a winner can join him on his campaign plane for a day. And President Barack Obama's campaign used Twitter to cheekily react to Clint Eastwood's performance at the Republican National Convention starring an empty chair. It tweeted a photo of Mr. Obama sitting in a chair labeled "The President" with the words "This seat's taken."

That kind of back and forth is also happening between brands, Mr. Lunenfeld pointed out, highlighting a good-natured sparring match between Old Spice and Taco Bell. Old Spice tweeted the fast feeder: "Why is it that 'fire sauce' isn't made with any real fire? Seems like false advertising." To which Taco Bell retorted (via Twitter): "@OldSpice Is your deodorant made with really old spices?" Old Spice then got another word in: "@TacoBell Depends. Do you consider volcanoes, tanks and freedom to be spices?"

Finally, he issued a challenge to brands to not just focus on single hashtags but consider using Twitter to launch a debate, much like Fox News did during a Republican primary debate. The cable network asked viewers to tweet about candidates answers with the hashtags #answer if they believed the candidate answered the question and #dodge if they dodged it. It then created infographics that charted which candidates confronted questions head on and which ones didn't.

"Twitter sparked a debate but also became a character on the show -- the voice of the chorus," he said.