Real-Time Marketing is Upon Us—Here's How Advertising Needs To Adapt

There’s an unprecedented amount of technology and consumer data available to create opportunities for marketers. Yet the advertising process isn’t keeping up. Tribal DDB’s Paul Gunning explains why and how brands and agencies can adapt.

As consumers’ comfort levels with smartphones and mobile shopping continue to increase, marketers are seeing the customer profile coming into focus, offering clear insight into the individuals brands are trying to reach. Given that there is now an understanding of audiences in near real time, why are marketers struggling to act on this valuable trove of data? What are the barriers to obtaining and leveraging this information from both the client side and the agency side?

The obstacles to innovation are, in many ways, systemic ones. You see most brands—especially larger ones—choose to allocate their full media budget to various channels at the start of a campaign, or even a fiscal year. This process has the unfortunate effect of leaving little room to develop creative programmatic responses when and where the consumer demands it. So while there might be some great technical innovation available, if the budget has already been exhausted, there’s very little flexibility.

The marketing ecosystem must allow for the dynamic generation of advertising in multiple formats, yet enterprises are paralyzed by a system where every link in the chain provides an opportunity for the process to break down (from on-demand creative, to media buying, to supply chains and legal departments). If the system is not designed to nimbly push through creative, it’s a nearly impossible feat.

Not to paint an entirely bleak picture… some brands are getting it right. One company that is doing a great job of bucking this trend is Amazon. Aided in many ways by its control of the supply chain from the center up, Amazon has been able to translate years of shopping history into mobile advertising gold through its Kindle Fire, which comes pre-loaded with customers’ Amazon IDs and ads targeted to their interests. Additionally, Amazon is starting to track mobile behavior and will now serve ads based on GPS information and proximity to various retail locations.

While brand marketers have complained for years about the lack of technology that would revolutionize advertising, the issue has now come to a head as the tech has arrived and advertising innovations have lagged. So, what can brands do to re-organize themselves in a way that emboldens, rather than hampers, the on-demand creative process? Here are the essential ingredients:

1. Speedy, Clear Approval Processes

The need for quick action is absolutely necessary when marketing is happening in near real time. The best way to accomplish this is by putting into place clear approval routes that allow great ideas to come to fruition.

2. Stop Trying to Trick Legal!

For some illogical reason, legal always seems to be the final sign-off on any creative project, and yet they have the most power to kill a campaign. Instead of trying to sneak the more boundary-pushing work by legal, the creative team should involve them from the beginning to determine collaboratively what is realistic.

3. Flexible Budgeting

A traditional approach to designing a campaign is not appropriate for on-the-fly adjustments and will stymie attempts to make necessary tweaks based on real-time information. Brands and agencies should build buffers into the budget that allow pivots based on consumer feedback.

There’s a vast universe of consumer data available, and only through trial and error will the industry be able to break down the barriers and learn to leverage it effectively. New innovation is only possible by reinventing the process of how a brand purchases advertising, develops creative, produces and distributes the creative, and then measures and optimizes it. The industry is moving in this direction, but only a top-down, inside-out restructure of the creative process will allow for true real-time marketing.

Paul Gunning is CEO of Tribal DDB Worldwide.

[Images: Flickr users Duane Schoon, Ben Dodson, and Peter Reid]

Add New Comment


  • Tim Geoghegan

    In 2002 I created a website that took users uploaded images, we created cartoons on them, had them approved and uploaded by the end of the day. The site also had daily updates that we manually put in, adding brand commentary through the lens of the brand. That was for Dr Pepper Europe and it was over 10 years ago. 

    So real-time response, newsjacking, firestarting (whatever buzzword we want to call it) isn't super new. What is new, is the media and tools at our disposal to do it cheaper and faster and slick. So you'd think we'd be working leaner and meaning and getting more work out more efficiently. 

    No. Because the model hasn't kept up. It's a 1950's DC-9 trying to go supersonic. It's an old system and can't handle today's media landscape or consumption cycles. 

    The process has gotten even more layered and backed up over the last decade and only very few have figured out what it takes to be nimble. Agencies are part of the issue - often the process is meant to keep churning slow, adding fees. So we can tackle that with new billing structures (very needed). And with strategy partners, digital strategy partners, search partners, outexperiential partners, UX and social the time everyone's in one room, your chance is over.

    The onus is on clients to demand real-time response capability. In the same way they demand SEO optimization. Clients who haven't learned (or haven't seen the reason) to adapt and optimize real-time to their advantage are missing so many opportunities to capitalize on current trends, cultural flash points, etc, that it's truly a waste of their money. Planning a campaign based on budget allocations sometimes 2 years in advance runs counter to the type of process needed to make that money work many times harder. 

    Look at internet culture. A meme is made in seconds. Seconds. Not months. And as we all know, a photoshop images does not a meme make. But the more you make, the more quick and creative responses you can have. Those responses can be an image to a short film written and produced or an event to even fully-functioning product (I've done it and even seen it done better) in less then two weeks. And one might even be worth much more than a 2M over-analyzed TV spot or digital takeover shill. 

    Sometimes those work great. Big, simple, iconic TV is still often what moves the needle best and translates the message into a 30 second story. But it takes a long time planning, and honestly the majority of that work (with that many eyes and hands and that large an investment) - becomes stale by the time it's in the market.

    So why not allocate a sizable chunk to experiment?

    Create a culture to make things happen faster, cheaper, more experimental - within specified guidelines. Clients need to bring their media agencies to the table to negotiate new deals for responsive and innovative work.  

    Because it's very clear that all the players are the layers - nobody's going to be pumping this stuff out across broad categories if a compensation system isn't place. Otherwise it's all talk. 

    So clients need to bring all their agencies and production partners to the table to share and play nice by creating innovative new contract/ fee systems. (Hey, that's a thought - use all that 'creative innovation' to figure out how to work faster, more efficiently, keep it very creative and still get paid appropriately.)

    Because when a system is in place to put out more, faster, on-target and on-brand, you're no longer operating like a 1950's industry. You're in mini-Beta every single day, in the same way some kid on the internet photoshopping the next viral .gif is. And if you don't adapt now, that kid's going to be pumping those out for his own direct-to-industry clients once he takes a few marketing classes. Or worse - simply responding to your brand's stumble in real-time, while you schedule a meeting next week to meet with strategists.

    No brand wants a meme made out of their stumble when they should be able to respond with creative ideas as fast as they would with PR. 

    And there's just no excuse that most still can't.

  • NewBusinessHawk

    I agree with you Paul, and some very good points! I would also add that many times the very structure of the brand inhibits the ability to take advantage of the information... slowing down decision making and blocking trial ideas.

    The questions brands should be asking is do they have the framework
    and the personnel to find, recognize, and utilize valuable consumer
    information, ideas, and conversations? Can they do it quickly enough to
    be useful? And most importantly, have they pushed responsibility down to
    the lowest level so as to not impede that vital information flow?