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Op-Ed: Real-Time Marketing Shouldn’t Be Real-Time Spam

Our monthly contributor and Huge client services director, Josh Seifert, returns post-SXSWi to pen this ditty to, as mentioned above, talk real-time marketing in the age of social media. Why bore you with the preamble, though, just read on.

As a marketing professional working in digital, brands like Oreo getting attention in social media is pretty exciting for the shift it represents. As a consumer, the notion that brands en masse should enter social media and begin tweeting, pinning and posting about everyday happenings is more like a dystopian nightmare. Individual brands that have committed themselves to exploring what’s possible in social media, tying it in with broader marketing programs and shifting their approach when necessary can be exciting and creative—the Old Spice YouTube response videos are a great example. Brands that perceive social media as free media with a low barrier to entry may actually be poisonous for everyone else.

A common theme that seems to reverberate from social media professionals advising brands is the need to “be human”  to be successful. Really, this is a polite way to say that every instinct towards managing brands in traditional communications will prove limited and transparent in social media. Basically, brand-controlling memos like this one from Wheat Thins that Stephen Colbert read on air are not human and won’t translate into social media success. What it doesn’t mean, as this short tumblr nicely illustrates, is to generate nonsense content that may be timely, but isn’t actually valuable.


At a brand level, the notion of social media as a way to participate in “real time marketing” to insert a brand in the actual things that people care about may seem attractive and potentially valuable. However, this approach effectively mirrors an advertising paradigm of creating a message and putting it out there—just without the insight or creativity that’s invested in creating actual advertising. This is exactly the opposite of being human. When multiplied over and over, the result is the noise and clutter that every brand is trying to cut through. Taken to the extreme, this behavior turns social media into a cacophonous echo chamber, driving users away, and making it even more challenging to try and reach consumers.

For brands to be human in social media, they need to stop the disingenuous participation and start generating something actually interesting that consumers will care about. David Ogilvy’s famous quote, “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.” is as applicable today as ever. Today’s consumer is the social media user who has no interest in being inundated by the nonsense that brands think might be relevant. Instead, companies should focus on using social media to actually solve problems and create meaningful value—this can be everything from customer service support, as in airlines among many others, to truly groundbreaking “content” for lack of a better work in the case of the Red Bull Stratos space jump.

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