Day Two of the Good Brief Week at ISBA HQ on Tuesday morning held the room rapt with the two presenters entertaining the audience with best and worst practice examples of brands using real time marketing, while under fire from stress balls from the audience.

Conor McNicholas, CEO AllTogetherNow
Jon Burkhart, content marketing consultant, founder TBC London, author and speaker

Realtime 3

Jon Burkhart set in motion a lively morning session when he handed every member of the audience stress balls, asking them to hit him with the balls every time a marketing idea he talked about was something they either loved or hated. (Being bland was not an option). It was time to get ballsy with real time briefing, he said, and urged the audience to throw balls at him and fight “brand spam.”



Ever since Oreo won the Super Bowl blackout with their rapid-response “Dunk in the Dark” tweet, brands have jumped on the real time marketing train. It made every brand – from FMCG to finance – think they could start news hijacking the Oscars, every sporting event or even every current event from the Royal Wedding to the Royal Baby. But simply being quick does not mean clever.

With every brand trying to enable conversations with their customers and ‘fans’ in real time examples range from the clever launch from Netflix of the Spoiler Foiler,  designed to block out any tweet that could spoil Breaking Bad,  to the very funny Slap Nick Griffin Game (designed by Albion London) following his controversial appearance on BBC NewsNight in 2009, which attracted more than 20 million slaps, to the ridiculous and risible ‘Scrunch or Fold’ campaign from Andrex toilet paper.

Jon argued it was critical for brands to assess real-time content opportunities based on how appropriate it is for them and whether they even had the right to do so. Real time world is chaotic, and simply latching a brand to an event or tweeting or retweeting “because we are awesome” may or may not be relevant.

Brands fundamentally need three basic ingredients to make the magic in real time happen. Story. Speed. Surprise.

Can a brand show a unique point of view? Or legitimately ride the wave of a story?  Can we turn this idea or the strategy around in one hour or the next morning? It can be a simple vine or an animation. Can we produce an element of astonishment and amazement?

Jon’s favourite real time reactive content:

So when a solar flare gave the UK a Northern Lights show, Dulux had a legitimate reason to hijack the Northern Lights.

Microssoft’s May the 4th Star Wars Day:

A simple date-based pun has turned into a hashtag and an unofficial holiday. As the world’s number 1 ‘made-up’ holiday it’s “planned spontaneity” makes it into a very relevant conversation for both brands and for the people who love the film.


A compelling argument from the former editor of the NME and Top Gear, Conor McNicholas, CEO AllTogetherNow.

Do you want to build a snowman? Conor’s opening question. Of course we all do. But what we want to build is an Olaf from Frozen – witty, magical, alive and kicking. Or even better, like Elsa – striding down the mountainside creating castles made out of ice,  in real time. But never Anna, always desperate to join the quasi-patriarchal society that represents normality and just wants to fit in. And it was a case against this sort of ‘fitting in’ that was made by Conor.

Which is where the problem first starts with real time marketing. Brands and agency models are largely built to serve traditional advertising, he said, and the industry is applying the same rules to real-time marketing. Ergo, they screw it up.

New rules of real-time marketing

1. Think different  And not just slight tinkering around the edges. But in a challenging way to make your brain hurt. This also includes thinking about risk.  “At NME if at least two issues out of 52 did not tank then I knew we were not thinking different or taking risks.” Agencies and clients need a constant sense of validation and therefore risk sometimes is not easy for all.

2. Speed How fast is your business? Not fast advertising? But the speed and agility of your business. He borrowed a phrase from Adam&EveDDB CEO James Murphy “paralysis of perfection” and added there is not always the luxury of endless cycles of perfection, and sometimes you need to take that risk of not being perfect.


3. Structure Yourself Different
The current industry model is optimised to deliver advertising to the post war era, which has since formed the basis     of   how we have structured our businesses and our agency cultures. We are not equipped to deal with the modern world.
The standard model looks something like this: starts with a client and the problem, who then hands that problem to an agency suit (over lunch), who gives it to a planner (being right), and who passes it on to the creative (unquestioned genius) where magic happens. This is then handed back to the client, and if ‘lucky Cannes Lion’ happens the client gets either fired or promoted. If this is the DNA of your business, then it’s simply not built to deliver to the needs and the habits of your consumers in the real time.


Restructuring should lead to trauma, because only then it affects change.

But what does different look like? What might that structure look like?

Bring in chaos and don’t play by the rules. What this means is tearing up the rulebook which taught us about the strict linear structures that played well in an analog world. In the real time world, we have to be connected to everybody at all times. We are trying to solve 21st century networked problems with 20th century structures. The solution? A router or a smart point node at the centre of the business that feeds in intelligence and allows everyone a voice and a share of responsibility, but the only people who get to vote are the ones with a direct risk responsibility, this helps people to be more agile and responsive.

4. Stuff Without an End? In an industry obsessed with churning out campaigns, what if we made stuff that did not stop and instead continued forever. Much like the Rolling Stones! In real-time embrace the flow, because real time lets you build rich valuable relationships.

Brand Newsrooms

Jon demystified the whole concept that brands need a newsroom. Instead, he argued brands need to identify opportunities.

Brands feel the need to create a ‘wrecking ball’ Miley Cyrus moment with every campaign they create. However, with newsroom thinking there is no time to create the big moments. And in order to purge the ‘paralysis of perfection’ what is needed are a few ping pong balls, always pinging away.


He shared a few he loved and some that he disliked (The Andrex ‘scrunch’ and ‘fold’ campaign featured again) with a ‘Ballsy rating’ on each : Balanced. Actionable. Likeable. Long-term. Surprising. You. Centric

Here are two favourites:

Jaguar’s Wimbledon Social Newsroom Live sport being communicated in the moment. The beauty of the newsroom was that the brand was feeling the pulse of the event, with a team of 24 talking online for 12 hours each day. It was able to hit people with the passion and emotion of the game, because the brand was “feeling the belief, feeling the buzz.”

Sugru and the case of the missing fingers Sugru is silicone dough that can be moulded into any shape to repair, adapt or modify just about anything. The brand’s challenge was to get known to the masses. The newsroom was listening to opportunities and started saying let’s honour our people, acknowledge those who are using the product. For instance in the case of a woman called Joanne, who was born without fingers on her left hand, she emailed the company to say she had adapted her canoeing paddle with Sugru to be able to take part in the 715 km, 72 hours Yukon River Quest. Sugru shared this story and many others online. This has allowed Sugru to be discovered by a whole new community. Lego Minifigures are now hacked with Sugru to create iPhone cable holders.



Have a plan.
Don’t panic.
Keep it simple.
Disruption is coming. Fail fast. Take lots of bets, and fix it fast.
Repurpose. It is not always about original content. Small tweaks could give an idea new life.

Real-time marketing has to align short term attention on the stories of the day secured fast to a long term brand narrative. It is not appropriate to overlay a real-time reactive content brief over an existing linear process, it simply will not work – model/process disruption and reinvention at both the client and agency is required to really drive results.

By Sonoo Singh on behalf of ISBA/IPA



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