How To Do Quick-Trigger Ads Without Committing Brand Suicide

Piggybacking onto major news events can give brands a shot at instant relevance. Or immediate embarrassment.

Last week, a German lingerie company circulated some racy but sub-par ads that attempted to capitalize on the Edward Snowden whistle-blower story. They were created quickly, though not very cleverly, and got some play on some major sites — all free media for the brand. No harm done.

This rapid-response marketing has increased greatly in the last few years, and will continue to increase, and the ads and messages will only get faster and faster.

The undisputed leader on the quick-ad draw is Oreo.

2.

Just a few of Oreo’s magical ads, including a sneaky iPhone launch announcement execution.

Oreo’s Daily Twist project — 100 ad images over 100 days (to celebrate its 100th anniversary) — won the Cyber Grand Prix Lion at the Cannes Festival of Creativity last month and the envy of pretty much every ad and marketing person in the world.

Most of these social media ad posts were not planned out ahead of time. Instead, the creatives at ad agencies DraftFCB and digital specialists 360i reacted quickly and brilliantly to current events.

That’s high-pressure advertising. But the reward is immediate relevance and massive sharing across social networks. And the media cost of all that social distribution? Zero.

Execution-wise, the product itself — the Oreo cookie — makes it much easier to design quick ads. As a creative, having such an iconic starting point is a huge plus.

The brand’s shining moment came during the Super Bowl last February. When the lights went out during the game, within minutes (well before the lights came back on), Oreo tweeted the below image. It spread like a super-virus across the web and outshined every multimillion dollar game TV spot. Again, media dollars spent? Zero.

3. The tweeted ad that won the Super Bowl.

Oreo isn’t the only brand that responds quickly to current events — but it is one of the few consistently adept ones.

Above left is a pic Denny’s tweeted just a few days after the Snowden story broke. The message comes off more than a tad creepy, plus the image is just plain ugly.

Above right is a tweet via the master of the bad pun, Kenneth Cole. He tweeted the cringeworthy line as the Senate was debating the background checks bill (legend has it that Cole writes all the punny ads himself). Trying to piggyback selling shoes off of such an important issue (and 20 dead schoolkids) was quite the crass move.

It’s not just via Twitter and Facebook that brands try to ride news stories to greater awareness. Last month in Singapore, during the the city’s pollution crisis, McDonald’s placed this ad in the city’s largest newspaper, the The Straits Times.

Forgetting for a second why the hell you would place this ad in the first place (PSI stands for Pollution Standards Index), during the evening of this particular day, Singapore’s PSI climbed to its highest level in history. The company’s corporate office promptly disavowed the campaign, saying they “were equally surprised to see PSI levels hit record highs overnight.”

Maybe, the most amazing rapid-response ad in history was made in the summer of 1969, when the entire world was watching the Apollo 11 moon landing mission.

The above ad ran in Life magazine on Aug. 8, 1969, two weeks after the astronauts returned safely to Earth. Obviously, the executives at Doyle Dane Bernbach had the ad space bought and the ad in the can, ready to go.

The ad was still a risk. What if one or all of the astronauts got sick and died from the mission? Nobody knew for sure what kind of shape they were going to be in. But VW took a chance, and the ad and media buy stunned the industry.

And it sold quite a few VW Beetles.

The lessons here regarding trying to borrow news events to improve your brand are pretty obvious:

• Create smart, quick ads.

• Think thoroughly about scenarios where the ad, smart or not, could come back to bite your ass.

• And, most of the time, stay away from explosive events like the Arab Spring — right, Mr. Cole?

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