Anyone scanning Twitter during the Brit Awards last Wednesday evening – and let's face it, it was such a dull event you could be forgiven for looking for a little social entertainment – might have stumbled across a timely bit of marketing from paint brand Dulux.
As the Brits started to generate some online chatter about the colourful and dotty winner's statues designed by Damien Hirst, Dulux tweeted "Looks like Damien Hirst may have used some of our favourites", with a picture of the Hirst statue alongside a Dulux colour chart. It was real-time marketing in action.
In the days before social media, a brand's marketing campaigns generally took months and months to construct from inception to execution. The agencies making the ads could spend luxurious weeks honing their words and images and the client's approval processes would drag out the whole project even further, with ideas carefully tested before they were given the go-ahead. It was a comforting procedure, at the end of which everyone could feel they'd been thoroughly involved and done all the due diligence necessary to ensure success.
But social media has forced a radical rethink, not only of how long marketers can spend constructing a campaign, but how much control they can expect to have over the process and the result. As Oreo showed during the power failure at last month's US Super Bowl, when it tweeted "You can still dunk in the dark", generating more than 16,000 retweets and more than 6,100 favourites on Twitter, real-time marketing can hit a nerve with consumers. But for marketing to be this speedy, opportunistic and topical, there has to be less central control and a willingness to accept a much higher level of risk – two things that are anathema to many big corporations.
For real-time marketing to work, there certainly isn't time to wait for the creative muse to strike, and there isn't time to get the strategy and design approved by half a dozen people. Gut instinct – something all too rare in modern marketing – and a trust in the team working on the brand have to come to the fore.
The end result might be a little raw but the point is to tap into a moment in time, a collective consciousness as consumers share a public experience. It's joyful when brands get that right.
Next week: Danny Rogers on PR and advertising