Is real-time engagement a big risk?

Has Twitter become a casino for brands eager to harness the capacity of big live events – from the Baftas to the Super Bowl to the Oscars – to pull in vast audiences? Some recent experiences seem to suggest real-time engagement with consumers by advertisers can be a lottery.

Some win – such as Burberry, whose live streaming from London Fashion Week featuring pop stars and glimpses of the new collection sparked huge social media interest. Some lose – such as Coca-Cola, whose Super Bowl ad featuring America The Beautiful sung in a variety of languages provoked many Tweeters to slam Coke as un-American.

Last week, Dara Nasr, Twitter UK’s new sales director, urged brands to take fewer chances when using the medium during live events and focus instead on the expected, such as goals and penalty shoot-outs during big football matches. He cites the example of Oreo, which acted with astonishing speed during a power cut at last year’s Super Bowl: "Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark." Smart thinking, certainly. But is real-time engagement too much of a gamble?


Tom Bazeley, managing partner, Lean Mean Fighting Machine

"Planned spontaneity sounds like a contradiction in terms but it is important to think about what might happen and to be on the front foot. You can’t afford to do something average, particularly with so many brands now jumping on the real-time engagement bandwagon. Consumers are going to be less than impressed and quickly bored with brands that are clearly just piggybacking on an event. As we found when working with Unilever on a project last year, it’s vital that you have a team comprising agency people with the authority to make decisions, and client representatives with the authority to sign stuff off."

Trade body

Bob Wootton, director of media and advertising, ISBA

"Real-time engagement works well for some brands and backfires terribly for others. The most important thing is to think it through and be honest about what you want to achieve. It’s also vital to have the right people in the right space, whether that’s physical or virtual. What’s more, those people must have the authority to crisis-manage if things start to wobble. Also, social engagement may be right for some brands and not for others. Having a relationship with a Jaguar S-Type might be more appealing than with a bottle of Domestos."


Paul Kitcatt, chief creative officer, Kitcatt Nohr

"You only have to remember what happened to our former client, Waitrose, a couple of years ago when it asked customers to finish the sentence "I shop at Waitrose because…" to understand the risks involved in real-time engagement. In the end, it worked out fine for Waitrose, but its experience underlines the risks involved. If your brand has cracks, you can be sure that real-time engagement will allow people to put their fingers in them. It has to be approached with caution because the risks are considerable, particularly because your small team has to be prepared for any eventuality."


Jon Davie, managing director, Zone

"The risks involved in using real-time engagement depend on the brand. It will be right for those that have a relevant point of view on the event they’re commentating. Paddy Power is right to be doing real-time activity around TV sport because of its natural associations with it and because of its edgy views. But it wouldn’t be any good for the Royal Bank of Scotland. To make it work, agencies and clients must have the right strategies and the right partners in place. The first question agencies must ask clients wanting to do it is: ‘Why?’ They must have a clear objective."

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