Digital Essays 2014: The 24/7 ad agency


We need ‘rapid-response’ advertising, ‘because the early bird gets the worm’, says Fadi Mroue.

Blessed were the days when campaigns were planned six months in advance. That gave the agency a month to write a brief, two months to come up with creative, a month for testing, and the rest for crafting and roll-out.

Now try that in five minutes. That’s how long it took for, arguably the best campaign of 2013 to be written, produced, approved and rolled out.

You don’t have to be in advertising to know what the Superbowl is to advertising; with millions watching, the annual sports event becomes the ultimate opportunity for brands to flex their muscles and show their creative and financial might. Just 30 seconds of airtime comes with a million dollar price tag and producing the spot costs millions more – and of course all this, months in advance.

So how can a tweet by Oreo, that cost practically nothing to produce, steal the Superbowl – beating out all the hard work, research, and sleepless nights put in by the agencies and brands? The answer to this is quite simple: ‘Rapid-response’.

When a brand reaches out to its audience, striking at the exact moment that their interest is peaked, it can jump in on a conversation that can help carry the brand further than any traditional communication. Picture your newsfeed, minutes after a big story breaks – it quickly fills with jokes, commentary, RIPs, memes and all other types of material created by people to express their thoughts on the matter. Now, if a brand could get itself into that mix, not only would it find itself as part of the general conversation, but if the content is good enough, it has the potential to supersede the topic and become the talking point itself.

But timing is crucial. Content doesn’t wait for 9 am to roll around as the team starts filtering into the office. No brand wants to be that guy tweeting ‘RIP Robin Williams’ three days after the fact. By then the social stratosphere is sick of hearing about it and its attention has been turned elsewhere. At that point, you’ll notice the RIPs have quickly been replaced with the famous Batman slapping Robin meme – putting the story to bed once and for all.

And it’s not just about time. It’s also about knowing your brand. Sometimes, it can be all too tempting to jump on an opportunity that might seem like the perfect way to get people talking about a brand. But just like your grandmother telling a dirty joke, it can make people feel uncomfortable. The brand personality, how it has communicated in the past, what you see for its future and how people perceive it, can all play a vital role in how well, or badly, your ad/video/tweet/post is perceived.

Rapid-response is key for a brand’s digital success but it is not at all limited to social media. As you drive down the highway, more and more outdoor signs have morphed into screens, most of which are connected. This opens the doors to be able to adapt your advertising to what’s happening around you at the moment, whether it’s the weather, current events or just traffic. I personally get sick of seeing the same visual day in, day out on my way to work – plus, the power and memorability of the message gets diluted after seeing it the first time. Digital outdoor signs are a great medium for quick thinking. Most recently, for their launch in France, Netflix created their entire campaign using connected subway screens that adapted to current events. The screens would recommend movies based on the weather or news. When France got eliminated from the World Cup, for example, the screen recommended a movie that would make people feel better, and the same goes for a rainy day or weekend. Such a strategy never becomes old and viewers look forward to what witty message these screens will be displaying next. Additionally the potential of word of mouth is huge in this case.

How can an agency adapt?

The days of creatives spending weeks brainstorming on a campaign over MaiTais and sushi are long gone and so is the traditional agency. Nine to five (or nine to late) is dead and with it the notion that all work has to be done at a desk, at the office. With the whole world constantly connected, your brand can’t be asleep. Today’s times call for a 24/7 agency, a creative/planning team that is constantly aware of current events, whether it’s Kim Kardashian trying to break the internet or an epic bite by Luiz Suarez. Brands need to be there as soon as a topic trends and benefit from the ensuing generated buzz. Oreo benefited from 10,000 retweets in the first hour and 525,000,000 impressions. This kind of impact is worth millions in traditional media cost; not because it was the greatest ad every made, or the best crafted, but because it was the first to address a topic that had become one of the leading news stories of the evening. As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm and if your brand is asleep – well there are plenty of birds in the sky.

(Fadi Mroue is
managing director at République Beirut)