10 Real-Time Marketing Campaigns That Work

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In this fast changing world, new marketing strategies come and go as quickly as updates to your Yelp app. And sometimes one marketing buzz word morphs into another before you ever get a handle on the first one. So when an idea like “real-time marketing” pops up, it’s easy to be skeptical. Because weren’t we all just talking about native advertising? And then content marketing? And isn’t real-time marketing just kind of the same thing?

Well, yes; kind of. Now that your brand is creating native content, the tactics surrounding delivery timing become increasingly important. And it turns out, there’s no better time to deliver content than in real time, which is to say, during the sporting event or awards show, whose audience you’re attempting to capture.

Sometimes, this marketing can even be in response to breaking news events, but these have been less successful and carry a much higher risk for consumer blowback, like when Kenneth Cole tried to turn the “Arab Spring” and “boots on the ground” into opportunities to tweet about his fashion line. Not the greatest moments in advertising.

Real-time marketing is real enough that people like Kenneth Cole do it wrong once but then keep trying. So here’s a look at 10 real-time marketing campaigns that work.

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Grey Poupon

The mustard brand that practically invented the art of selling a perceived luxury product to a middle-class audience has gotten a little risky these days by wading into cultural issues with this ad to celebrate Gay Pride month. An ad like this is a calculated risk; there could be some blow-back but it also attracts a younger audience to an established brand.

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Google Doodles

This is the be-all and end-all of native advertising. Unlike the usual method of Brand A adopting the style of Brand B in order to not offend the users of Brand B’s platform, in this analogy, Google is both Brand A and Brand B, hijacking its own logo in order to generate off-line talk amongst its users with surprising doodles that everyone knows are only up for one day, which gives this campaign its real-timiness. Whether it’s Alexander Graham Bell’s 161st birthday, Veterans’ Day, or the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, the Google Doodle is something that reinforces brand awareness, especially if you order one for your skateboard deck.

Lowes 4th of July Vine

A Google doodle on the 4th of July would be a no-brainer, but a stop-motion animation of hand tools exploding like fireworks on Vine? That stands out. It’s hard to tell how many kids with Vine need a screwdriver like right now, but if they needed it on July 4th, then Lowes was definitely top-of-mind for them.

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Oreo’s Superbowl Tweet

You might think this whole real-time marketing trend started here, during the 30-minute blackout at the start of the second half of Super Bowl 2013. Everyone is waiting to be entertained by football after the Beyonce halftime show apparently broke the Superdome, when Oreo tweeted out a picture of an Oreo with the caption, “You can still dunk in the dark.” Instantly, Oreo won Twitter with over 15,000 retweets.

And now, a special message from Bowser... #Oscars pic.twitter.com/aY9jdIVFLL

— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) February 25, 2013

Nintendo at the Oscars

Having learned from the sort of commotion that Oreo caused at the Super Bowl, the marketing team at Nintendo was ready to go when its feature-length content marketing platform (we used to call them “movies”) Wreck-It Ralph was passed over for Best Animated Feature. As soon as it was announced that the Oscar went to Brave instead, the Nintendo marketing team tweeted out this image of Bowser, the Mario Brothers villain, with the caption, “RAWR. Wreck-It Ralph got robbed.” This took some timing and planning to drop the right content into the collective conscious at the right time to maximize its exposure.

#equalmarriage: Time for a honeymoon. pic.twitter.com/Y9kFDW0w

— Virgin Holidays Ltd (@VirginHolidays) February 5, 2013

Virgin Airlines

Much like the Grey Poupon ad celebrating Pride Month, Virgin Holidays tweeted an image of two champagne flutes, both stained with lipstick, to celebrate the legalization of gay marriage while suggesting it might be time for a honeymoon. For a brand like Virgin whose market is exclusively in cosmopolitan cities like New York and London, there’s very little downside to taking a stand on an issue like gay marriage.

Couldn’t have been one bird, @adtothebone. Sounds more like 4.5 million. (Seriously, we did the math.) pic.twitter.com/aLYScFR3

— Official smart USA (@smartcarusa) June 19, 2012

Smart Car Trolling

Typically, marketing is a one-way street, but these days, anything is possible. So when some A-hole makes a punchline out of your brand on Twitter, how do you handle it? Well, if you’re Smart Car, you handle it with math and graphics to take Twitter trolling to a whole new level.

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Royal Baby Ads

If you think its slightly distasteful to use the birth of a child to market your product, then you still have a little bit of your soul left, but most of us are much too far gone for that. Everyone ran ads about the new British prince; most were tacky. Those that did it right were this Johnson & Johnson ad that focused on its babycare line; and this Play-Doh tweet that focused on Play-Doh.

High five to @SeattlePD for its nontraditional way of thinking http://t.co/hAHrGEvkax #thinkbt

— Beyond Traditional (@ThinkBT) August 15, 2013

Seattle Police

Not the typical source for inventive marketing campaigns, but when the police of Seattle wanted to communicate to the festival-goers at Hempfest what the new rules were for smoking marijuana since the laws changed, the cops handed out bags of Doritos with new guidelines attached to them. This went over well. When people applauded the Seattle PD for this effort over Twitter, the PD tweeted back with a Borat-style high-five!

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Lexus-NBC Live Ad

This is the most real-time of the the real-time marketing campaigns to date. In an effort to out-think DVR users who skip television ads, Lexus and NBC Universal have teamed up for a live TV commercial that is partly controlled by viewers via social media. Set to run every Thursday night for four weeks during Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, is Lexus really a late-night brand for young people?

What's a real-time campaign that caught your eye?