Social media has transformed the marketing landscape, making reactive marketing a successful core marketing strategy for many brands. Reactive marketing is simply responsive and relative marketing to real-time events; this can be campaigns, adverts, and social media marketing. It needs to be quick, on-the-nose responses and does not require ahead-of-time planning.

There are both risks and benefits, but reactive marketing will make your brand stand out, and people will remember you if you do it right.

Big brands use social media to humanise their brand, and one way is to connect with consumers through humour. Aiming for witty and conversational, brands use current trends and memes. For example, Oreo seized the opportunity with a power outage at the Super Bowl in 2013–racking up over 10,000 retweets and creating an authentic buzz around its brand.

Duolingo’s reaction to Elon Musk acquiring Twitter is also another example of this:

Tweets like these drive engagement. By inserting themselves into the current conversation, brands can expose themselves to millions of views and likely increase brand awareness. It helps brands stay relevant and resonate with viewers’ state of mind, creating a lasting impression.

Another way to use reactive marketing is by being political and informational. You can focus on controversy; campaigns aim to target important events happening in real-time. Research shows that more and more consumers want to know where brands stand socially, politically and environmentally. Brands addressing these questions can still promote their brands and drive engagement with a larger audience.

Brand activism is on a consistent rise, both in popularity and importance. Edelman’s Trust Barometer (2022) emphasises an increasing force on societal leadership as a core business function. 61% of respondents stated businesses as trustworthy sources of information in contrast to the media and government, often considered divisive by nearly one out of two respondents. Big brands understand this best and know how to use it, especially Nike.

Nike revealed the former N.F.L quarterback as the face of their campaign, honouring the 30th anniversary of the iconic Nike slogan “Just Do It”. Nike’s partnership with Colin Kaepernick was inspired by his protest against racial and social injustice and police brutality. A move that alienated a portion of their consumers but saw a $43 million in free advertising buzz for Nike.

Aside from humour, politics and information, brands can use reactive marketing by focusing on competition. Brand feuds are great at promoting engagement for all brands involved, and many use this to interact with each other. What appears as light-hearted fun isn’t always the case as big brands know this is a powerful marketing tool, and many make it a core part of their marketing strategy, such as Aldi’s #freecuthbert campaign.  

The #freecuthbert campaign was a comical response to Marks & Spencer launching legal action against Aldi over trademark infringement on Colin the Caterpillar Cake. What started as a tweet caused Aldi to trend as number one on Twitter and make headlines. The numbers show Aldi racked over £5 million worth of media marketing without contributing financially. Aldi was the clear winner and enjoyed the benefits. M&S did not. Aldi’s crisis management strategy helped win the public over and raised thousands of pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Reactive marketing is powerful. It is high risk but also high reward. If you know your audience, you’ll understand what events matter. The key is to be quick and present in real-time conversations and authentic to your brand’s identity and values.