Is 'real time' a game-changer for brands?

Should advertisers dive head first into opportunities around tailored, real-time communications, Arif Durrani asks.

As every marketer and media specialist is constantly reminded, we are living in a "real-time, always-on, data-driven" world. But what does that actually mean for brands? Has everything changed or do we simply need to get a bit faster?

Ever since the success of Oreo’s 2012 Super Bowl blackout Tweet, the pros and cons for brands attempting to capture moments in time have never been far from discussions. The cut-through and engagement enjoyed by some have to be weighed up against the cost of building social media "war rooms" and questions over whether channels such as Twitter are even suitable for branding campaigns.

The development of new technology in homes and the arrival of data-led TV in Sky’s AdSmart have added grist to the mill for advertisers wanting to optimise TV budgets.

Thinkbox hosted a timely debate at its Big Think event last month, asking how significant the rush to embrace real-time communications is for brands and what it means for the marketing mix.

Fuelling the trend has been the rise of social media and the onset of larger data sets of users and potential customers. Never has it been so easy to differentiate and target specific groups with addressable and personalised messages.

However, as Verica Djurdjevic, the managing director at PHD, noted at the event: "We’re at such an early stage, we don’t really know yet what the opportunities look like."

Some seasoned marketers urge caution around the rise of addressable communications. Just because you can does not mean you should, they say. It is easy to overlook the intangible value of traditional mass media.

As luxury or niche brands have long known, there is a business value in shared messaging for creating aspiration and status. Part of the joy of having a top-of-the-range anything is in it being re­cognised by those who do not.

In addition, there are practical and legal challenges around brands trying to respond in the moment. Some believe social media’s primary role should not be as an ad­vertising vehicle but as a PR/customer-service enabler.

So, did the Thinkbox panel think the move towards real-time, always-on communications is significant?


YES Richard Eyre, chairman, Internet Advertising Bureau

"I think it is a very significant change. We’re entering an age of ‘brand experience’ and it will be defined by relationships, built on responsiveness, flexibility and individual personalisation. All of which are uniquely available to us now."


MAYBE Tess Alps, chairman, Thinkbox

"Outside of mobiles, tablets and PCs, ten million homes have connected main TV sets, giving us a hosepipe of instant personal data. Addressable messages make perfect sense at certain stages in the relationship with the customer."


YES Verica Djurdjevic, managing director, PHD

"For the first time, it’s possible to dig into the difference between actual versus claimed behaviour. The human dimension becomes more important. However, real-time data should not necessarily equal real-time response."


MAYBE Laurence Green, founding partner, 101

"I’m loving it and distrusting it in equal measure. There’s a risk. Brands are developed over time. We overstate the real world’s interest in them. A lot of real-time opportunities are attached to service enhancements for brands, not advertising."