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#RoyalBaby: Why Real-Time Marketing Failed

#RoyalBaby: Why Real-Time Marketing FailedThe birth of Prince George on 22nd July generated huge global interest on social networks. On Twitter there were more than two million mentions of the news, starting immediately after Clarence House announced that the Duchess of Cambridge was in labour and peaking at more than 25,300 tweets per minute following the announcement of the birth.

The hashtag #royalbaby led the way, with over 900,000 mentions in just the one day. It’s no wonder brands everywhere were eager to cash in on the action.

But something unusual happened around #royalbaby; something that perhaps we haven’t seen before with real-time marketing. There was a huge amount of criticism of brands’ use of the topic. The blog posts and articles taking a negative, disparaging and overly critical tone outweighed those with an interest in who’d done great work.

So why was this? What was different?

Everyone Tried to Ride the Same Wave

Breaking news stories follow a wave pattern that’s similar in profile to the break that a surfer tries to catch. There’s a swell of undetermined length that builds up, the wave breaks, and then there’s a powerful rush of white water as it rolls in, gradually declining in strength until it peters out on the shore.

One of the issues with #royalbaby was that it was easy to predict approximately when that wave would break. Brands had a full nine months visibility of that swell/trend, and this led to many brands who don’t understand real-time marketing jumping on the bandwagon. And so there was a deluge of branded responses fighting for social media users’ attention. In that environment, it was like white noise that served only to annoy people (me included).

Creating any sort of cut-through was nigh on impossible for anyone other than the usual suspects with large online communities or those with genuinely inventive creative concepts. And this last point leads me to the second explanation for the failure of #royalbaby to deliver…

The Creative Executions Were Lame

There were a few fine brand responses. But I do, unfortunately, mean ‘a few’. Play-Doh put some time and effort into its creative, but the stand out for me was Warburtons, with a simple, original, clever and brand-relevant concept and visual execution (below).

#RoyalBaby: Warburtons' Real-Time Marketing

But for every good example, there were twenty or thirty poor efforts. I could trawl through them, but others have done that already and I’m more interested in WHY they failed.

Irrelevance was a huge issue. A great number brands tried to elbow their way into the room with content that demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of their own brand personas, let alone real-time marketing. Magnum, Walkers, Charmin, Krispy Kreme, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Blinkbox…the list goes on and on of brands that adopted an overtly self-promotional tone with poor creative thought and little brand relevance. Even the king of real-time, Oreo, produced a rather dull and uninventive creative that was shared loads but took a critical hammering.

The second major issue that afflicted virtually every response I saw was a lack of insight into the story. Producing an image with a ‘little’ version of your product to represent a new baby is hardly genius is it? Likewise, using the word ‘Prince’ or ‘Princess’ in your copy or using a blue or pink colourway to show how on-the-ball you are is not the work of a creative mind. Most of the responses looked like they could have been produced months in advance. And probably were. Where’s the ‘real-time’ in that?

Few brands made any effort to find a new angle on the story or to understand its specific nuances. There was a distinct lack of cleverness. And so we were flooded with banality.

One of the reasons Warburtons’ response was so effective is that it ‘owned’ a specific angle, that of having ‘a bun in the oven’. Likewise, for Golden Wonder we chose to focus on the angle of the new baby being ‘third in line’ to the throne for its own response and, as a result, it was the only brand featured in the Financial Times (disclosure: Golden Wonder is a client).

So What Can We Learn?

If I’m really honest, the catastrophic failure of the real-time #royalbaby efforts doesn’t teach us anything we didn’t already know. There are some guiding principles for agile marketing which haven’t changed. But I guess the most prominent lessons for anyone wanting a piece of the action are twofold.

First, choose which waves to surf carefully. Select the waves that are relevant to your brand and upon which you can have an impact; they probably won’t be the largest. And second, do your research. Don’t go for the easy option and instead, dig into a story to find an original angle that you can own.

What are your opinions on why #royalbaby was such a marketing flop?

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Posted by Paul Sutton

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4 comments on “#RoyalBaby: Why Real-Time Marketing Failed

  1. Nice one, Paul. One aspect you are not mentioning is that anything “baby” is such a delicate topic. You definitely do not want to offend. That would literally be worse than being shown to kill kittens. How much easier is it to go down the safe, saccharine, pink-or-baby-blue route. So, for a brand to find a clever reference, one that achieves the fine balance of grown-up wit without being too cynical … Warburton’s have done that well indeed. For others, well, better not to refer to the #royalbaby at all.

  2. […] thing reminded me of #RoyalBaby, when everyone wanted a piece of the real-time marketing action. At the time I said that the reason so many brands attracted criticism was twofold: because everyone tried to ride the […]

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