Can Real-Time Marketing Be Without Elephant-sized Backlash?


Social media has given us all the ability to get our information out in real-time. Through tweets, status updates and blog posts we can tell our customers what’s important, what we’re doing and what they need to do. And we can often do it faster than they can change the channel. It’s helped pave the way for both very smart and very aggressive real-time marketing.

For example:

  • When the Chilean miners were pulled from the Earth after spending 69 days beneath the surface, they came out wearing $180 Oakley sunglasses. Experts say the estimated brand exposure garnered by Oakley was $41 million.
  • After publicly losing his mind and becoming a pathetic Internet phenomenon, Charlie Sheen decided to cash on in his level of crazy by launching the Please Pay Attention To Me Tour. The tour sold out in 18 minutes, earning him $300,000 and paving the way for more shows to be added.
  • Last week, when Go Daddy CEO Bob Parson’s set the Internet on fire tweeting a video that showed himself shooting and killing an elephant (goes to video, which may offend some folks), Go Daddy competitor NameCheap jumped in to offer a discounted rate for anyone who wanted to switch from Go Daddy to NameCheap and donated money to save the elephants.

All three examples represent the best and worst of real-time marketing. And it’s something your brand will need to pay more attention to.

I look at real-time marketing a bit like social media all grown up. Social media got us all hooked on 24/7 brand monitoring and absolutely having to know what people were saying about us RIGHT NOW. Real-time marketing builds on that by encouraging us to take that knowledge and to actually do something with it, while things are still happening.

But, of course, there’s a danger in that as NameCheap is beginning to find out. Sometimes when you exploit a competitor’s vulnerability you get called out for doing just that – exploiting a competitor. That’s not really something you want your brand associated with. But does it have to be that way?

Is there a difference between being a real-time marketer and a slimy opportunist? How can you do real-time marketing effectively?

Here are some ways I’d recommend businesses take advantage of real-time marketing without coming off like an ambulance chaser. However, I’d like to know what you think.

Build “real-time” into your culture

Hopefully, social media has already hooked you on this and shown you that there’s no such thing as 9am-5pm work hours when the Internet never sleeps. For a brand to take advantage of real-time opportunities its needs to live in real time, because I can guarantee you the perfect marketing opp isn’t going to break at 9:30am on Monday morning. It’s going to break at 11:30pm on Friday night. And you’ll either have systems in place to immediately notify you or you’ll be sitting on your couch playing Call of Duty wondering why the freakin’ phone won’t stop ringing.

Having a real-time culture also means creating an environment where you encourage failure. David Meerman-Scott (who just so happens to have written a book on Real-Time Marketing & PR [not an affiliate link]) wrote a great post on planning for failure and why it’s important. I’d recommend you give that a read.

Have tools in place before you need them

  • It takes two minutes to register a new domain, but only if you already have an account with a registrar. Otherwise, it takes longer.
  • It only takes a few minutes to throw up a blog post, but only if you’re already established on the platform and you know how to work it.
  • It only takes a few minutes to get your content in front of hundreds of eyes, but only if you’ve already built up the followers.

Speed counts in real-time marketing. The person who does it the quickest will get the press. To aid that, make sure you have your tools in place before you need them. Whether it’s getting in with a registrar, learning how to build a widget, creating your media list for people to hit – build it before you need it so that you can do it quickly when the time comes.

Look for natural tie in

The quickest way to become labeled an ambulance chaser is attempt to tie your brand into something it has no relationship with. For example, when a Chilean reporter called Oakley and asked if they’d donate sunglasses to the miners who were being rescued – they said yes. They saw the value that would have to their brand and to the people involved, and they made it happen. It made sense for them to be there, as protecting the miners’ eyes after spending 69 days underground was a legitimate issue. If Oakley tried to donate sunglasses to the folks in Japan after the devastating tsunami, that would have appeared self-serving. NameCheap says they’re longtime supporters of the International Tree Foundation and that’s why protecting the elephants made sense for them. As a brand, you want to hone in on the opportunities that make sense for you. It’s not about the latest and greatest cause, it’s about what matters to your audience and your company.

Be a story-shaper

Much of real-time marketing falls alongside causes or large pieces of news. Something happens and your brand decides to jump in as a way of helping, bringing awareness or generating some goodwill. Whether your launching something yourself or reaching out to the reporters who are covering it – make it about the issue or that news piece. Don’t make it about your brand and how awesome you are for getting involved. While I supported the NameCheap promotion, what did irk me was the coupon code they decided to use – BYEBYEGD [Bye, Bye Go Daddy]. It seemed mean-spirited and spiteful. If the promotion was about the elephants, than it should have been about the elephants, not about giving one to Go Daddy. Customers notice those little details and so does the media. Taking advantage of real-time means knowing how to shape the story as its happening or, sometimes, even as you’re creating it.

Those are some of my thoughts on the proper way of doing real-time marketing, but I’m really asking you. Can you do real-time marketing without coming off like an ambulance chaser? Is a brand that seizes an opportunity smart or just an opportunist?

I want to hear from you.

Your Comments

  • Amber Evans

    I agree that it is often difficult to not look like a “slimy opportunist” when participating in real-time marketing, but I also think that our society allows for that to be alright. For instance, I find the “BYEBYEGD” a spiteful detail as well, BUT if I really thought it was about the elephants, I’d probably give my $5 to the WWF. I think ultimately, they seized the moment to expose Go Daddy’s bad behavior and it encouraged customers to switch. I’d feel the same way if an American Apparel competitor ran some marketing campaign urging me to buy my v-necks there instead because they didn’t condone sexual harassment in the workplace.
    In such a non-stop information age, I feel that it is alright to seize these moments and get the small victories, even if it’s a little mean-spirited. It could be argued that NameCheap was capitalizing on that poor elephant’s suffering, but they weren’t the ones holding the smoking gun.

    • Lisa Barone

      It’s definitely an interesting issue as to where we should draw the line. In the NameCheap example – would launching an animal rights campaign, educating people and then asking them to donate to a specific cause (that’d they’d match) have garnered more goodwill than with what they did? Did they turn off people with the promo code choice? Maybe. We’ll never really know. I think a little of it goes back into David Meerman-Scott’s point about planning for failure. You don’t really know WHICH post, which campaign, which whatever is going to take off. You just have to act smartly and be ready.

      Thanks for jumping in!

  • DragonSearch

    What really gets to us are the brands that attempt to capitalize on natural disasters. It’s great when a company can help people in need but when it becomes an obvious marketing campaign, all authenticity is out the window.

  • Jackie

    I think a brand that seizes an opportunity is plain smart as long as they do it in a classy manner and take a subtle approach. You don’t want to appear too opportunistic or exploitative because that can definitely lead to bad press (like with the Namecheap issue). I think the line is very fine when it comes to being a savvy marketer and coming across as possibly “slimy” when it comes to real-time marketing.

  • Sabre

    My 2 cents:
    I think since the GoDaddy issue is bringing their sector of business into the forefront of the mainstream media, it’s OK for NameCheap to comment or respond to that by saying, “Hey, we don’t condone this action and as a company this is our stance”. I think it’s even OK to offer the discount. Because, after all it’s about YOUR company ethics and YOUR customers/potential customer base. But the *second* they threw that “BYEBYEGD” code in there…they made it about GoDaddy, not about them or the customers.

    Sure, you can chalk it up to just being open and controversial, which is great if that is what you’re going for. The lesson is even the smallest decisions about reacting to real-time marketing issues will effect the conversation around your intentions and untimely your business, which is the great point Lisa was making.

    Great post Lisa!

    • Lisa Barone

      Yeah, I think that’s where things start to get a little muddy for me – the discount code. Because, as you mention, it stops being about NameCheap and their company stance and starts becoming a shot at Go Daddy.

  • Chuck Reynolds

    You guys are really upset about “bye bye”? It’s not like they had “FUGD” or something vulgar or angry. I honestly don’t see an issue with it, and most that I’ve talked to or heard talking about the transfer coupon actually thought it was a little funny and helped in considering moving their hundreds of domains over. If you’re transferring you’re leaving… adios, bye bye, see ya, i don’t support you anymore, alvedazane, …

    It’s hard for NC not to seem like they’re just jumping on a biz opp but it’s all about business when it comes down to the nitty gritty. Your competitor shoots himself in the foot – you step up and shine… that’s just the way it works.

    Sorry for not completely agreeing but that’s what I’m good at sometimes ;)

    • Chuck Reynolds

      and with that said… they’ve “raised $20,433 to”… seems that people care that much about the coupon code.


    • Tamar Weinberg

      Thanks Chuck.

      FWIW, we used this coupon code once before. We revived it *because* of the action of the competition doing something we truly *did not* approve of. So yes, it was about its origins — AND it was about the elephants. By using this particular coupon code to raise money for Save the Elephants, we believe we killed two birds with one stone. Except we won’t ever kill birds. Or elephants. Really. :)

      Tamar, Namecheap’s Community Manager

    • Lisa Barone

      LOL. It’s not like I’m losing sleep over it or anything. :) I just thought it was an odd promo code to use but it makes a lot more sense now after I read Tamar’s comment below. Out of context though, it was a bit jarring. Or maybe I’m over sensitive…I’m sure that’s not the case. ;)

      And you hang out enough around here to know I don’t give a flying ANYTHING if you agree with me or not. I actually appreciate you coming by MORE when you tell me you think I’m wrong. :)

  • Amber Evans

    If you don’t mine your business being seen as a little sheisty, then I guess it wouldn’t matter at all. But the real thing at stake here is the public’s perception of your brand, and how (if at all) they want to interact with it if these are your tactics. I agree that the coupon code is not as big a faux-pas as shooting an elephant, however, I definitely think it’s a fine line that we must skate and worth considering, as small actions can incite big problems.

    • Lisa Barone

      If you don’t mine your business being seen as a little sheisty, then I guess it wouldn’t matter at all.

      Are you talking about using real-time marketing in general and piggybacking off what’s going on? Or taking swipes at your competitors while you’re doing it? Just curious.

  • Laura Orban

    The code didn’t bother me. I’m an animal advocate and an internet marketer. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my sense was that people were angry when they saw the video and were looking to do something to show Go Daddy that they didn’t want to do business with a company where the CEO shoots elephants with pride. Name Cheap was there with a discount and a donation, and the code they used just echoed the sentiment it seemed that many people already had. If Go Daddy had made a mistake or if the problem were the result of some unfortunate circumstance, I might feel differently about Name Cheap’s code. But Go Daddy’s CEO is not only standing behind his actions, he has said that he is just fine with people leaving who don’t like it. Maybe there is a difference when something is a social/ethical issue? It’s a risk for both companies, but I liked the code just fine.

  • Jacques

    I just moved to Namecheap. Sure, their campaign could look like a cheap shot at a fumbling competitor – but that is not the impression I get from their site and blog. They just seized the moment – in a direct way – just as GD is always in your face with their ads and promos. Plus, NM donates 20% to a good cause:
    People always want to ‘discuss’ the actions of others: in that sense you can never win all opinions.
    But face it: they are not making any money of $4 domains – so this costs them already – which they hope to make up for by renewals – only one year from now. If they are really smart, they will start supporting some elephant cause long term. That will give them enhanced credibility. Which people then whine about that they only do it for the PR. Sigh…

  • Kevin Burke

    I dont think NameCheap gives a rats ass about an elephant. It’s looking to cash in. Same with Oakley and the miners. Look, let’s be adults about this. It is someones job to promote. NameCheap tried to use the opportunity to thier advantage and pounced. Unfortunately they came across as NameCreep.

    Sometimes I think it is creepier when it is all disguised as charitable and good intentions and toucy feely we-are-the-world nonsense. It’s about selling after all isn’t it? And one way or another companies USE charities and to some extent they USE each other.

    And as Lou Gorman said, “the sun will rise and the sun will set and I will have lunch”. RIP RED SOX GM.

  • IntelliSites

    Conversations seem to have shifted towards the role of tastefulness in marketing. I’d say the code seemed a little childish, but the explanation does make it a little better. Though if it needs to be explained, might want to nix it?

    Anyway – can you do real time marketing without seeming like an ambulance chaser? I say definitely. As with all things, it depends on how you do it.

    If you look for anyone online who’s bashing your competitors and say “hey come try us” then yeah, that might be a little opportunistic. But if you engage those people in a conversation without trying to jump right to the sale, that’s a little different. Splitting hairs? Maybe. But the difference between a sales-y message and a non-agressive “that’s interesting, tell me about yourself” message is substantial.

  • Ryan Jones

    I agree with Kevin. I think these are good examples of people trying to be trendy activists. They only care when caring is profitable for them. Who was it that said there’s no such thing as altruism?

    On a side note though, if you do want to be a trendy profiteer posing as an activist, real time events are one area where small businesses can out-perform major corporations. Not having a legal department or requiring sign off from 30 mid level managers to do promotions/causes means your small company can jump right in on these events and be first on the scene – generating all the press for you while your larger competitors round up focus groups to see how it tests.

  • George Zarogiannis

    Be ready and keep your eyes open is good advice.
    What is more important is to be known for and promote transparency.
    Be accountable for whatever happens at any time.
    Not as difficult as it seems if you love what you do.

  • bluephoenixnyc

    I feel like what sets real-time marketing apart is the potential for backlash or failure. It’s a live experiment that can’t necessarily be re-created. It’s spontaneous. The instances you listed above wouldn’t have worked for companies as pre-planned promotional campaigns.

    And even if there is an elephantine backlash, real-time marketers at least earn a little street cred for attempting to innovate to boost their bottom-line. I think that has to be worth something too, even if the promotional code is “BYEBYEGD.”

  • David Meerman Scott

    Hey Lisa – these ideas seem so simple, but so few people and organizations think in real-time. There is a pervasive culture of excessive planning at work.

  • Andrew @ Blogging Guide

    Thanks Lisa. Another informative share for people to ponder. You’ve never failed to catch my attention. Keep it up.

  • Jason Scott

    Thanks for sharing this, especially like the examples given, not only so they make the article easier to breakdown but also they are very interesting, none more so than the brand exposure of the chillean minors case.