In Defense of Real-Time Marketing.

The parallels between real-time marketing and observational comedy.

Andrew Cunningham
November 21, 2013

The backlash against Real-Time Marketing is well underway these days. Even after countless social media blunders this past year, many brands are still embracing the trend without a legitimate goal in mind. This is especially true ever since the tweet-that-must-not-be-named sent a shiver down the spine of the marketing industry during this year’s Super Bowl.

Ah yes. With any Real-Time Marketing article (or RTM for the time deficient), there must be an Oreo reference. It’s inescapable. But if RTM is like the observational humor boom of the 1970s and 80s, Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet is the “What’s the deal with airline food?” poster child for the medium. It’s become a caricature in a saturated market—perhaps unfairly so.

Thirty years ago, airline food needed to be put on notice—and why not? It was (and still is) disgusting! Fast forward to today: if Oreo hadn’t capitalized on that fateful moment, another brand would’ve taken the RTM crown eventually. But just as amateur comedians thought to themselves “Hey, I can write airline food jokes too,” far too many brands are saying, “Hey, I can live tweet the VMAs,” without developing a deeper strategy that thoughtfully incorporates RTM. At best, their efforts are futile; at worst, they end up looking foolish.

See, observational humor didn’t actually start in the 1980s. It didn’t ruin comedy, either. It simply changed the industry’s dynamic; and to this day, when done correctly, it works. The same is true for RTM. Oreo didn’t invent RTM, and it isn’t a dying strategy, either. It’s just not always happening during a major Sunday night television event.

For Cap’n Crunch, the chance to shine came in the form of an impossibly popular Reddit post pointing out that the Cap’n of old might not be a real Captain after all. Luckily, the Cap’n was ready for it. And the results spoke for themselves. Similarly, when the creator of the .GIF formally announced that there was, indeed, a right and wrong way to pronounce the term, JIF Peanut Butter weighed in (and did so in a very tasteful manner).

And while there were many brands guilty of using shameless RTM tactics during the series finale of Breaking Bad, at least Truvia had a legitimate reason to join the conversation. Century 21 was ready as well.

And “being ready” is how RTM has changed the industry for the better. Brands are better equipped to seize the moment more than ever before, and that’s the way it should be (and should’ve been long ago.) That said—making one joke doesn’t make you a bona fide comedian, and tweeting once during the Emmy’s doesn’t make you a great marketer. Think of it like poker. Everyone wants to play their great hand, but winning hands takes patience. Folding is an underrated strategy, but “great folds” are seldom heard from.

When it came to observational humor, all the comedy industry needed was time. Time for some people to fall flat on their faces and realize that, maybe, being hilarious isn’t so easy. Brands have already lined up around the block to stumble. It’s clear that real-time marketing works. Now, it’s about finding the right moment to go all in.

For more discussion about Real Time Marketing, watch Huge's panel 'Reply, Retweet, Repeat' moderated by Digiday's Saya Weissman featuring The Net's Jayne Bussman-Wise, The NY Observer's Sarah Devlin, and Huge's Andrew Cunningham:

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