How to make real-time creativity count

The oreo super bowl ad that ran on TwitterThe Super Bowl, the Brit Awards and the Oscars have acted as honeypots for brands seeking to ride the real-time zeitgeist in recent weeks.

There has been some truly inspired activity, like the now infamous Oreo tweet during the Super Bowl blackout. But there have been many more half-baked efforts that fail to be embraced by social communities or to add any real value to the brand involved. This can lead to a whole lot of wasted time and energy that does a brand’s reputation more harm than good.

According to a report by US market research company eMarketer, 53% of brands plan to make more use of real-time data in marketing campaigns during 2013.  So what does it take to create an Oreo moment? How can newsjacking be embedded into brand management? And does real-time creativity begin and end ‘in the moment’ or can it have a longer-term impact?

Some people say it’s all about agility and speed of response. Others say activity should be closely linked to brand strategy.

I think effective real-time creativity involves both of these things. But in the end it all boils down to role and relevance – at a macro and micro level.

First of all you need to really ‘get’ the brand you’re working with. That means understanding the role it plays in the lives of the target audience as well as its own business objectives. If you can’t nail this, any social media activity, especially that involving real-time creativity, is going to fall wide of the mark and potentially damage existing brand equity.

Secondly you need to consider the wider context – what is happening on the social web that is really relevant to your brand? Flagship events like the Oscars will inevitably spawn a deluge of social conversations. But it’s no good simply trying to shoe-horn an irrelevant brand message into trending hashtags in a desperate attempt to take your brand viral. Instead you need to wait, watch and listen for that golden opportunity, which may not always be the mainstream one, then let the strategists and creatives loose on it.

It’s not about producing the slickest execution with the highest production values. It is about finding considered ways to ride – and potentially shape – social conversations for the benefit of the brand. Speed, relevance and wit are the three pillars of most successful real-time activity. In fact, the very simplicity of emerging platforms such as Vine can act as an enabler for creativity. A good idea has more resonance than polished output, and brands are discovering that content with a user-generated feel can be hugely powerful.

Any execution – whether it’s a simple tweet, an image or a Vine – needs to tread a careful line between relevance to the social conversation and relevance to the brand. Implicit messages can be more influential than explicit mentions, and the territory is ripe for witticisms. When you achieve this fine balance with panache and it strikes a chord with individuals, the results are mind-blowing. A well-crafted, well-timed execution can drive response and engagement, as well as earning the brand a disproportionate amount of exposure compared to traditional activity.

Calendar events that you know the world will be watching provide a good basis for proactive, planned activity. But listening to real-time social conversations on themes that are relevant to your brand can reveal a rich seam of ongoing reactive opportunities. The trick is developing an instinct to recognise which trends are really going to evolve and fly, and those that are only a blip in the conversation.

Success or failure of real-time creativity rests partly on the relationships between brand managers and their agencies. At a practical level, speed of response is critical – and barriers such as a lengthy brief-to-execution phase or approval procedure need to be overcome. But churning out an endless cycle of communications that don’t inspire the social community or aren’t aligned to the overarching strategy is probably worse than doing nothing at all. It comes down to trust, and in order to earn this, agencies need to demonstrate that they understand both the brand and the social media environment.

I’m keen to see how brands and their agencies move beyond the experimentation phase with emerging real-time creativity platforms like Vine. I hope that we are going to see a new wave of social activity that is not just flexible and responsive, but also intelligent enough to add real value throughout communications strategies.

Nick Davies, Senior Strategic Planner, Mason Zimbler and Rebel.