How Brands Can Avoid The Moment Marketing Minefield

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In the post-Internet era, one of the best real-time marketing efforts of all time was Oreo’s tweet from the Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. Oreo chimed in on the massive power outage inside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome by tweeting “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.”

Since then, brands across the world have hijacked trending news and topics, hoping to have their Oreo moment. While very few are memorable and become case studies for future marketers, the majority of these efforts disappear into a digital abyss. But that hasn’t stopped brands from ‘moment marketing’ at every opportunity. Now, however, it’s time for a thorough clean-up of real-time marketing machines.

Nothing official about it
Fifteen brands got a reality check recently when Baseline Ventures, the firm that manages all commercial deals for badminton star PV Sindhu, sent legal notices to these companies, seeking damages worth crores for unauthorised use of her name and pictures.

Sindhu created history at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics when she won a Bronze medal and became the first Indian woman to win two Olympic medals. Brands like Perfetti Van Melle, P&G-owned Vicks, Pan Bahar, Apollo Hospitals and Aditya Birla Group, among others, “piggybacked” on Sindhu’s victory in their social media posts.

An executive familiar with the situation tells Storyboard that several marketers were questioned by global teams for their “casualness”. Brands sent apology letters and took down their posts. They are also negotiating with Baseline to close the matter amicably.

Ramakrishnan R, co-founder and director of Baseline Ventures, tells Storyboard that moment marketing of this nature “lacks credibility and sends a wrong message to consumers”. He adds, “Digital agencies are less aware of these violations. They get excited and collude with brand managers to post without much thinking.” Ramakrishnan says that with this move, “brands will be well aware of the dos and don’ts” of hijacking moments”.

The real catch
The challenge is in the way agencies use “people, places and products to leverage a moment,” says Ahmed Aftab Naqvi, CEO and co-founder of integrated marketing agency Gozoop. For moment marketing to work, Naqvi suggests “every agency should have a framework for each of its brands.” He adds, “It all boils down to the experience, systems and processes of the agency partner a talent chooses to work with.”

This is not the first time Baseline Ventures sent legal notices to brands for unofficially using their sports personalities names and images. In 2018, the company sent notices to food delivery firm Swiggy and Freecharge, a financial services company, for celebrating Indian test cricketer Prithvi Shaw’s debut century. Back then, branding experts said that Shaw was young and had a lot to prove before the talent management company starts to sue for infringements.

Sports marketing executives who spoke with Storyboard say one can’t have different standards based on sportspersons’ experience and fame. “Would brands dare to do such gimmicks with top cricketers? The need of the hour is to invest in talent and not find a glorious moment to grab ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. It’s time to stand up to do everything possible to protect athletes and their rights. Just like we do for top celebrities who rule the endorsement charts,” says a senior executive of a marketing agency.

What happened to creativity?
According to Anil Nair, CEO of WPP-owned network VMLY&R India, it comes down to a symbiotic ecosystem: Brands need celebrities, celebrities need brands. “Willy-nilly, the internet in general and social in particular has always evolved as a ‘freemium’ space. Giving brands a bit of laissez-faire when it comes to communicating in this space.” However, agencies and marketers need to “up their live creativity”. “Brand narratives have to be fresh and contextual. Being opportunistic or sly can always land brands in a spot,” adds Nair.

Strangely, many digital marketing agencies also lack a deeper understanding of IPR and privacy laws. “This means that moment marketing is like navigating a minefield,” says Naqvi, “you never know what it might set off until it actually does.”

The author is an Assistant Editor of Storyboard.

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