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Real-time content: Fling, or long-term love affair?

Can data be used to affect change after a short fling, or is it better to create brand experiences with a little more staying power?

The moment Suarez sank his teeth into the opposition during the World Cup Uruguay v Italy match, brands were braced to capitalise on the media storm that followed. Suarez bore the brunt of many predictable hunger-related jokes, such as McDonald’s obvious tweet to the footballer to ‘take a bite’ out of a Big Mac next time he was hungry (77k RTs), and the more subtle and humorous     ‘more satisfying than Italian’ post from Snickers (47k RTs). The potential for shares from a quick newsjack is certainly appealing. Brands can be seen as winning with entertaining social commentary, but where’s the participation, learning, or even reward? Do brands always benefit from the fast food equivalent of disposable content creation? We’ve all been seduced by the call of a frivolous pick-me-up. Satisfying in the moment, but it’s not long before we crave something a little more substantial.

Take Tate Britain for example. Its recent out of home campaign brings masterpieces to the Hammersmith Flyover, where two seven metre high digital screens depict artworks – such as Turner’s ‘The Storm’ – that adjust to real-time weather, travel and tourist information.

Live feeds from Met Office forecasts are used to inform a rotation of selected works spanning 500 years of British art, resulting in moments of connection with travellers. It’s a striking example of a brand using real-time data to engage audiences by offering an inspiring story and a useful transaction. Instantly, art travels from the shadows of a gallery to the masses.

Using data to enhance content is good sense. However, there’s an art and science to creating sharp, insightful content that elevates beyond the topical (sometimes trivial) and it can be a challenge to hit that sweet spot of reach and impact. The problem with an over-reliance on reactive content is whilst you achieve reach, it can be via a lack of unique perspective. If a story has hit the headlines you can be sure every major brand will be crafting shades of the same witty social response. With this in mind, is it wise to recommend that clients should continue to chase a numbers dragon?

Content that travels furthest will strike a balance between what’s important to the brand and what will excite, inspire and resonate with its audience. The latter may not always be quantifiable, but that doesn’t mean a rich brand experience hasn’t occurred. Previously, on the subject of the importance of editorial judgement, Chris Wiggins, Chief Data Scientist at the New York Times has said, “the things that really count are not always easy to measure”.

Perhaps the answer lies in the ‘a little of what you fancy’ approach. There’s place in a brand’s content calendar for fast turnaround, reactive asset creation to maintain brand relevance. But without the help of a more discerning experience – informed by editorial judgement and rooted in insight – those standalone assets can begin to ring hollow. Combined, they provide the light and shade necessary to position a brand in the now with spikes of real-time activity, whilst fostering a more meaningful long-term consumer relationship through shared experiences.