“Real Time” Kills Exclusive Deals

And the award for “Biggest Marketing Deal That Got Tripped Up in Real Time” goes to…OMG! It’s a tie: Samsung and Pepsi are both given this amazing honor!

Well, not so much.

Maybe you heard the story already. At the Academy Awards show, host Ellen DeGeneres decided to be a bit whimsical a few times, bucking the carefully scripted tradition of these shows and instead engaging in some real-time fun and surprises. Among the stunts she pulled were taking “selfies” using her phone and also ordering a couple of pizzas to be delivered from a local restaurant. They were great moments and definitely took advantage of the fact that people watch big event shows like the Academy Awards live.

The selfie stunt was actually a paid placement by Samsung and was planned in advance. It was a great idea. It was a simple way to get the product up in front of viewing audience in a fun way. It was even pretty subtle. There was not a ton of attention drawn to device itself. It just did its job perfectly – essentially just what you want your smartphone to do. On the big screen, the moment played out just perfectly.

Backstage and through digital channels, it was undone. Or rather, it was dampened. The story came out pretty quickly that while Ellen was using the sponsor’s device in front of the cameras, away from their view, she was tweeting via her iPhone. We can assume that the iPhone is her device-of-choice, really. It doesn’t take away from that moment on stage. It just puts a little footnote next to the campaign: Ellen got paid to use the Samsung phone, but uses an iPhone regularly.

The other snag was hit when Ellen had a pizza delivered to the show. As the pizza guy strode into the auditorium, we got to see a little flash of a soft drink logo on the pizza box. And, no, the logo was not for exclusive soft drink sponsor, Pepsi. It was for their number one rival, Coca-Cola. Coke had been blocked out of the broadcast…until the pizza dude showed up.

Twice in one broadcast, a locked-down exclusive sponsorship didn’t quite work, undermined by a rival brand sneaking its way in. But the important point here is that this was not some guerrilla marketing stunt or one brand pranking another brand (like when DHL pulled a stunt on its rivals recently). No this is just the sort of thing that can happen when brands engage in the real world.

Embracing the Unexpected
I’m sure there are some tough conversations that are going on right now between brands, their agencies, and the Academy Awards. Someone is probably seriously angry, but they shouldn’t be. They should realize that every single move has a risk and a reward associated with it. There is a long list of brands who suffered from some unfortunately placement next to a terrible news story in print. Or had the misfortune of being the ad the network played rather than go back to the live action of a sporting event. There are always risks associated with running ads.

It’s just that usually, those risks are massively mitigated by the structure of the medium. The ads are all totally vetted and cleared before they are aired so there’s not much that can go wrong. But then, of course, those are the ads that are skipped over. The challenge is to embrace the now in advertising, finding ways to intermingle the brand with the content that is going on.

But that’s the whole problem. You can’t really control everything that is going on. The fact is, Ellen (or whoever) is going to use the technology that they want. And even in the high-security fortress of the Academy Awards, you can’t keep the competing soft drink’s logo out!

This, though, is the energy that really crackles around this idea of real-time marketing. The underlying philosophy is to create moments from the stuff that is happening around the brand. Things in the culture or in the environment that we are all experiencing. We aren’t experiencing these moments as brands and consumers, but all as active participants.

When we do that, we have to realize that there is no exclusivity in real-life. Brands are swirling around us just like moments are. There are great examples when we see brands begin to engage with one another in real time, like what a lot of brands did on Twitter during the Super Bowl. The biggest mistake, though, is for a brand to pretend that they are the only ones who are there at that moment.

In the past, in a broadcast-only, one-way street marketing world, exclusivity made a lot of sense. But today we are starting to realize that exclusivity may in fact be one of those things that we give up when we embrace the unexpected nature of the real-time moment. What could or should Pepsi have done when the Coke logo showed up? How should Samsung have responded to Ellen’s sent-from-an-iPhone tweets?

I don’t pretend to know. But I do know that those are moments that should be grabbed. Somewhere, there is a clever response to that Coke logo appearing. Maybe a link to the famous Oscar’s Streaker with a smart comment about the last time an unwanted guest appeared?

Whatever the idea is, here’s your strategy: If you’re going real-time, go all in. Don’t treat it like just another broadcast idea, and roll with everything that may come up.

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