Real-Time Marketing In History-Making Moments

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limited the rights of same-sex couples, was overturned by the Supreme Court in an historic ruling yesterday morning. As with other pop culture happenings and current events, brands are quick to leverage the news to connect with consumers – a trend that has become known as “real-time marketing.” With countless eyes glued to computer screens, live-blogs and social networks, it’s a prime time for brands to get involved. 

The key – especially when civil rights are involved – is to strike the balance between self-promotion and support. Here are a few brands that managed to be both clever and tasteful in light of the historic news:

  • Clothing retailer Banana Republic posted a visual interpretation of the iconic red and white equality symbol made entirely out of folded shirts. The brand is also running a sweepstakes for couples – both gay and straight – to share photos for a chance to be outfitted by Banana Republic for their nuptials.
  • The equals sign made another appearance thanks to ABC’s Modern Family. The show posted a simple image on its Facebook page of the beloved gay couple – Mitchell and Cam – filtered with the sign to the tune of more than 150,000 likes and close to 10,000 shares.
  • Designer Jonathan Adler posted a playful message on his Facebook page depicting two gay couples, using upside down vases from his collection, with the caption: “Ding dong, DOMA’s dead!”

Indeed, there has been no shortage of coverage of how brands are capitalizing on the opportunity to express their support for marriage equality and engage with their fans. AdWeek noted how MasterCard and ABC Family were quick to jump on the Twitter #gaymarriage hashtag with ads touting their support, while Mashable did a full round-up of different ways brands were engaging.

Despite the polarizing nature of the debate, it can be argued that brands participating in the dialogue are reaping the benefits, at least with respect to their social channels. Of the 10 brands featured in Mashable’s round-up, eight saw considerable increases in the standard engagement metrics on their Facebook posts expressing support.

We analyzed each brand’s 10 most recent Facebook posts, looking at the number of likes, comments and shares received and compared these to the metrics from the posts in support of marriage equality. Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants was the clear winner in terms of the biggest bump – an astonishing 1,093% increase in likes, 1,971% increase in comments and 2,669% increase in shares. Ben and Jerry’s (a Cone client who already does fairly well in the “likes” department) beat its average likes per post by 362%. Gap saw a 2,794% increase in comments. Banana Republic belted out a 2,321% increase in shares. Among all 10 brands, the supportive posts saw an average of 157% more likes, 360% more comments and 176% more shares than the average, everyday post.

Two brands surprisingly saw decreases in engagement when compared to the average of their recent posts – Marc Jacobs International and Smirnoff. This could be due to several factors, including audience composition, promotion strategies or cannibalization of the posts’ success by subsequent posts. Our hunch is that both brands missed the mark creatively, opting for photos that were not as clearly identified as support for marriage equality. Conversely, brands that leveraged a variation on the equality symbol, popularized recently by the Human Rights Campaign, saw a much more positive response.

Brands who are new to the world of real-time-marketing or leveraging news stories to connect with their customers would do well to focus on these three guidelines:

  • Keep it tasteful, appropriate and subtly branded
  • Speak the language – use the hashtags and iconography that are most recognizable
  • Don’t shy away from being authentic, human and approachable!

--Mike Hollywood, Director of New & Social Media, @mikehollywood
--Ashley Aruda, Senior Account Executive, @ashleyaruda


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