The Oreo factor: How to create an agile marketing strategy

26th Mar 2014

Ask any marketer about their favourite examples of a successful agile marketing campaign, and Oreo’s Superbowl tweet from 2013 inevitably pops up.

For those who haven’t seen it, in reaction to a power blackout at the New Orleans Super Dome in the middle of the nighttime Superbowl XLVII, Oreo posted a picture on Twitter of a marginally illuminated biscuit with the text ‘you can still dunk in the dark’, and people went wild across social channels; the content received over 20,000 retweets and earned an estimated 525 million global media impressions – five times more than the overall audience for the game itself.

The advertising and marketing world declared it a triumph; the flag-bearer for successful real-time marketing and proof that social media had transformed marketing into a game of quick-draw. Yet the next year, at Superbowl XLVIII, Oreo sent one solitary tweet, stating “Hey guys…enjoy the game tonight. We’re going dark. #OreoOut”.

So what gives? Why had they decided to have no involvement in the event at the exact time the world was waiting to see what they would come up with next?

The opinion among some marketing experts is that Oreo is ahead of the curve in the practice of ‘agile marketing’; that they had used a variety of data analytics tools to decipher that the 2013 Superbowl was likely to produce a mass-marketing gun fight via social media channels, and while sharing levels were likely to be high for top brands, the commercial success delivered as a result would be minimal. Turning their own lights off was far more compelling, on this occasion.

Nimble work

Having a strategy for this form of marketing is becoming increasingly important for businesses. While Twitter has provided the most accessible platform for testing real-time marketing campaigns in the last few years, new and more comprehensive data analytics tools mean companies are starting to get a deeper understanding of how people are using social channels, and how planning can underpin this type of instantaneous marketing. And there’s more to being agile than just being reactionary.

Bruce Daisley, the UK managing director for Twitter, recently spoke of the need for marketers to adopt an in-the-moment approach to using their social network. Rather than waiting for events to occur and reacting to them, he argues, brands will prove more successful if they target keyword trends and peak conversation times to deliver on-topic messaging, based on data built into their marketing systems.      

“Twitter gives marketers the impression that you have to be the fastest with the best line and the wittiest tweets,” he says, about using the network as an instant marketing tool.

“But our data doesn’t always back this statement up. Capturing the moment can be incredibly potent and just as important.”

Understanding social data

Data is at the heart of capturing the moment. An example of this is grounded in the understanding of ‘biorhythms’ within conversational data on Twitter and Facebook, which helps companies plan their marketing campaigns to tie into upcoming events and moments. Adidas is a successful proponent of the concept – the sports manufacturing giant monitors search terms such as ‘run’ or ‘sunny’ to decipher when Twitter users are most in discussion about topics related to their running products, and then sends relatable tweets out with deals and calls to action, to capture customer interest.

The process works. Adidas was praised recently for the way it reacted to February’s tube strike in London by tweeting #boostlondon during the height of commuter frustrations vented on Twitter, encouraging users to run to work instead of queuing for bursting public transport alternatives during the 48 hour strike. The hashtag was a nod to the company’s Boost sportswear range, but trended as commuters used it alongside sharing ideas about transport alternatives.   

All in the preparation

Beyond data, Matt Brown, head of earned media, Unique Digital, believes campaigns like #boostlondon are successful because while they may seem off-the-cuff, they are embedded in planning:

“The digital age means you have to be more responsive. Social media is real-time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So, it is reactive, but you can plan for moments and occurrences such as the tube strike like any other big event.”

“The key is to listen to what people are talking about online. Research trends. It doesn’t just have to be social media – the news in general. Be aware of these conversations that are happening and then build a marketing campaign around them that allows you to be ready to strike.

“One of our clients, Ovo Energy is a good example – as an energy provider it knows the winter and the cold is going to create conversations at particular times, so we can plan a marketing campaign in advance around this particular topic, and plan for the likely conversations that are going to occur and how we might involve ourselves in them. We then listen to social media and wait for the right time to deliver the campaign.”

Defining your strategy

Jasper Bell, strategy consultant for marketing and technology consultancy Amaze, helps businesses realign their marketing practices to account for being more agile, and believes that back-to-basics strategy is a must if businesses are going to follow Oreo and Adidas’s lead. His team have developed a 4-point checklist companies must adhere to in order to make themselves agile:

1. The ability to identify the opportunity:
“This is based on analytics, monitoring and listening on and offline. Brands need to make sure they have the resource to do it, as well as an understanding of the fit between the organisation and the event. In this case, marketing departments have to work closely with IT to make sure they have the right tools at their disposal.”  

2. The ability to respond:
“This is related to resource and skill level (journalistic and design skills), while partnership for content may also be key, as well as having the content itself and ensuring it is unique, the software capability, the legal and compliance or broader approval processes and procedures, and the training and governance to ensure the quality and integrity of the response is up to scratch.”

3. The ability to measure the outcomes:
“This is about the direct measures of success and wider proxies, having the right analysis tools, listening tools, qualitative data, and the impact on reputation / brand if this is measurable.”

4. The ability to develop a strategic framework:
“Going back to the principles, this is related to getting the business to buy into agile marketing practices, as well as providing a terms of reference that allows it to happen and provides the guidance required.”

Taking risks

If this checklist seems a little procedural, that’s because agile marketing can be exceptionally risky. Just ask Paddy Power, a company that constantly walks the tightrope between being humorous and offensive. The online betting antiheroes recently ran an online advert in reaction to the Oscar Pistorius murder case, but received over 5,000 complaints within hours of releasing the ad, eventually being told by the Advertising Standards Authority to pull the campaign. For Paddy Power, risk is engrained in its marketing DNA so the campaign was not a complete shock, but in other organisations this kind of mistake would be deemed catastrophic to their operations. Yet bravery and the ability to take risks are essential to agile marketing:

“Brands have to be brave in this field,” Matt Brown states. “It’s the biggest obstacle. You have a very limited timeframe – if you wait weeks, a trend is gone, but if you’re too quick and it’s not properly messaged it can be damaging to the brand.

“It has to be a very quick process between marketer and brand. The asset and message have to be refined very quickly to make sure it is bang-on trend and answers the question that has been posed or the event that occurs.”

While not condoning Paddy Power’s pretty tasteless Pistorius campaign, the company’s marketing team is organised specifically to be agile and take risks, and that has to be commended. But what should businesses with more red tape do to improve the real-time efforts of their marketing?   

“It does take a long time to build trust with brands,” Brown adds. “This starts with a social media strategy, and an understanding of display, SEO to some degree, PPC in terms of messaging. What we’ve seen with campaigns like Oreo or Ovo is that campaigns avoid risk when decision-makers are involved in looking at the messaging that’s being put out and will see messaging and get things tweaked to their like. It’s good feedback as you know the very top decision-makers are responding to the marketing campaigns and are involved. But we also have brand guidelines, messaging and wording examples, as well as graphic design specifications, font guidelines, that kind of thing. This is the best form of negating risk with a brand.”

Creating an agile team

So are we moving into an era in which marketing departments have to completely restructure to become more in-the-moment? Are we entering the era of the on-call graphic designer? Matt Brown believes having the right top-to-bottom comms channel is the key component to becoming truly agile:

“There’s usually a 24 hour window for most real-time marketing campaigns, but the occasions where a trend gets missed are usually when a campaign is devised but not signed off. Therefore it is essential that the right communication lines are in place. There needs to be a marketing manager or online marketing manager who can sign things off. This is vital.

“It helps to have a social media manager too, as social is all about being agile. It doesn’t really work to leave this kind of stuff solely down to PR agencies, purely because they don’t have the real-time planning expertise. Therefore you need to train your team to understand the real-time response necessity or hire someone that does.”

It’s clear that combining data, strategy, risk and communication channels are the key to being a successful agile marketing unit. But to get to the dizzy heights of Oreo’s agile marketing achievements? Unfortunately, in this realm it still helps to be a multi-national industry leader:

“It’s still very hard to strike a balance – people are using social integration tools but there are times when you’re 100% relying on a sharing process that you can’t guarantee anything with,” says Jasper Bell.

“Therefore, if you have a more mature marketing strategy you’re more likely to have an impact because you’re distributing rather than sharing really; you’ve built up a trust factor in your networks and you can have more confidence that whatever you do will have an impact.”

In that respect, you might need to keep plugging away with your campaigns for a few years yet, before your marketing department has had enough success to warrant the night off at Super Bowl. 

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