Understanding Reactive Marketing: And How To Use It

Today, we want to talk about a trend in advertising that you might have heard whispers about reactive marketing.

Although it might sound new and exciting, reactive marketing has been making waves for many years now, and it’s something that every content team should tap into at least occasionally. It’s the polar opposite of proactive marketing – instead of anticipating the changes in consumers, you respond to them – quickly.

This post will help you understand the ins and outs of reactive marketing, as well as strategies you can use to adopt the tactic. We’ll even include some real-life examples to make everything crystal clear for the aspiring content and advertising teams.

What Is Reactive Marketing?

Let’s start with the most obvious, basic question about this form of content marketing.

A reactive marketing strategy involves responding to consumers, price changes, press, current events, or other influencing factors. Rather than focusing on coming up with original ideas and guessing what the customers will want in the future, reactive digital marketing addresses changes that are happening right now – and how the brand should respond accordingly.

Pros of Reactive and Proactive Strategies
Pros of Reactive and Proactive Strategies. Source: Suite532

The diagram above should give you a clear idea of where experts draw the line between the different types of marketing.

The great thing about reactive marketing? It just makes sense. If a brand really wants to tap into what matters to consumers, they can’t just aspire to negate problems before they happen. They need to respond to both the good and bad in real-time to meet consumers where they stand.

Whether your marketing team is responding to a trending hashtag or something big that just happened in international news, the key is to act immediately. The sooner you can react, the more relevant and poignant your marketing message will feel.

To give you a clearer idea of just how powerful well-timed reactive marketing efforts can be, let’s go through some of the best reactive marketing advertisement examples from the past decade. These are the ads that made waves and nailed reactive marketing in a brilliant, revolutionary manner.

Responding To News Quickly

As we just said, responding quickly is the key to successful reactive marketing.

Does anybody remember when the 2013 Superbowl experienced a Superdome power cut while living? People were angry, irritated, and impatient – but Oreo was ready to transform an annoying power outage into a bit of marketing magic.

Immediately, the cookie company came out with a snappy tagline that said “you can still dunk in the dark.” It was hugely impressive to audiences, both because of its timeliness and its apt relevance to the sporting game they were watching. Oreo truly couldn’t have gotten the timing better.

Now let’s talk about a more recent ad that was just as timely and humorous. Most of you probably saw when Tesla unveiled its new Cybertruck in 2019, only to have the window shatter on live TV after many previously successful tests. The “shatterproof” window became a running joke online, and Lego tapped in.

Lego’s take on the Tesla's Cybertruck.
Lego’s take on the Tesla’s Cybertruck. Source: Techcrunch

Not only did the toy brand create a mockup of the Cybertruck with their own product, but they also Tweeted that it was “guaranteed shatterproof,” making a humorous jab at the failed demo while appealing to a wide audience of Tesla-lovers and haters alike.

Although the reference in this Lego marketing piece is clear to anyone who pays attention to tech news, it wouldn’t have hit as hard if the brand had waited a month or two to release it. This kind of commentary needs to happen quickly and powerfully – otherwise, you risk missing the punch.

Play-Off of Social Media And Entertainment

Our next examples come from the kings and queens of online brand interactions and snappy comebacks. If you haven’t noticed, witty responses on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have become a surefire way to snag consumer attention and build brand personality, and these companies have done it expertly.

With the average user spending roughly 2 hours and 23 minutes on social media every day, we all know that marketers can’t just stick to traditional methods of advertising like billboards, commercials, and newspaper ads.

Social media marketing is obviously the way of the future, but have you thought about the content that occurs outside of the real ads you post?

Reactive Twitter Post from Popeyes Chicken.
Reactive Twitter Post from Popeyes Chicken. Source: Popeyes Chicken’s Tweet

Take a look at this reactive post from Popeyes Chicken. When their new chicken sandwich became all the rage recently, thousands of people were posting about it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, heralding the meal as the best amongst its competitors.

This forced many brands to take reactive stances against the wave of social media attention for Popeyes. In turn, Popeyes reacted to the messages sent by its competitors. What ensued was a lighthearted, snarky war between the chicken sandwich brands of America – and fans were totally here for it.

Not only did Popeyes and the other chicken sandwich producers garner lots of attention by playing off social media, but they served as a source of entertainment for users. That’s the kind of reactive marketing that makes a lasting impression.

Now, let’s jump to a slightly different kind of entertainment marketing – reacting to popular television shows and movies.

Tiger Beer dressing based on Game of Throne Theme
Tiger Beer dressing based on Game of Throne Theme. Source: TigerBeer

In the weeks leading up to the premiere of the last season of the hit show Game of Thrones, it was all many people could talk about on social media. Roughly 10 million viewers tuned in for the first episode of the final season. As a result, many brands embraced reactive marketing techniques that centered around the immensely popular series.

Brands like Tiger made puns on the show’s characters or places, used similar fonts or color schemes, and even hired star actors from the series to make an impression on fans. When done well, this kind of reactive marketing can garner huge attention and appeal to a large, passionate audience.

If you take anything from these two ad examples, let it be that marketing doesn’t always have to be serious. In fact, reactive marketing that entertains and makes people laugh can be extremely powerful, especially when timed appropriately.

Keep. It. Brief.

Onto our next point about reactive marketing: brevity is the soul of wit (and good advertisements).

Although there is a time and place for a lengthy bit of marketing, reactive marketing strategies usually don’t need more than a few words and a hard-hitting topic in order to be successful.

Reactive Marketing Post by NetflixUK
Source: NetflixUK Tweet

For instance, take a look at this ad from Innocent Drinks. When Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy’s debate sparked immense social media discussion in 2019, the brand tapped into the topic with a quick, pointed ad.

Sure, you wouldn’t understand this ad if you didn’t know who Coleen and Rebekah were, but considering that this debate garnered 197 percent more mentions than Brexit at the time, Innocent Drinks made a safe bet that a large chunk of viewers would understand their reactive ad’s meaning.

The point here is that sometimes when the stars align, less than 10 words can create a massively successful ad message.

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What can we say, Flamin’ Hot is 🔥

A post shared by RUFFLES (@ruffles) on

Our second example that embodies the soul of brevity comes from an unexpected place: Ruffles. The brand released an Instagram post reacting to the hugely popular (and amusing) meme dubbed “the distracted boyfriend” meme in 2018.

The caption was brief, explaining very little about what the image of the boyfriend and girlfriend had to do with their Flamin’ Hot Ruffles. The brand was betting that a large chunk of their social media audience already knew what they were referencing – and they were right.

This wasn’t a very risky guess, considering that 71 percent of Instagrammers are under the age of 35 and likely know a great deal about memes and the most current online trends.

A reactive marketing strategy relies less on long-form content and more on current events, trends, and discussions. Don’t be afraid to leave a little up to the reader’s interpretation.

Give It A Little Emotion

Our last set of examples comes from a few brands that knew just how to tap into the emotional side of advertising when reacting to tragedies.

When Carrie Fisher died in 2016, fans from all over the globe came together to lament her passing online. However, it wasn’t just individuals – brands chimed in too, and some turned her death into a respectful form of reactive marketing.

Cinnabon Tribute To Carrier Fisher - Deleted Twitter Post
Cinnabon Tribute To Carrier Fisher. Source: Twitter

The most well-known Carrie Fisher ad came from Cinnabon – when they recreated her famous Princess Leia buns with a few buns of their own. The ad was extremely timely, respectfully done, and artistic – leading people to appreciate the homage.

The problem with responding to tragedy or a sad current event is that advertisers must walk a fine line between being authentic and disrespectful. Cinnabon did an excellent job, but be warned: it’s not always an easy line for brands to walk.

Moz's Ferguson Empathy Tweet
Moz’s Ferguson Empathy Tweet. Source: Moz Tweet

Another example comes from the SEO marketing gurus at Moz. When the riots and shootings occurred in Ferguson back in 2014, the brand took a moment to imply that their work as marketers needed to take a turn on the backburner as political and social discussions took place.

People appreciated the brand’s reaction to such a serious, tragic incident. Although it wasn’t an outright marketing strategy, the Tweet did serve as a marketing effort that spoke on behalf of the brand’s morals.

VegNews Post About Arctic Fox Koala and Vegan Hair Brand Arctic Fox
VegNews Post About Vegan Hair Brand Arctic Fox donation. Source: VegNews

Our last example was sparked during the Australia wildfires of 2020. Many brands stepped up to react to the crisis through donations and awareness efforts, including the vegan brand Arctic Fox Hair Color.

For the entire month of February, the company pledged to donate all of its online sales to organizations working to create better lives for animals. Additionally, 25 percent of its proceeds went to aiding the millions of animals affected by the wildfires in Australia.

Talk about reacting to something huge and important. These brands all revealed just how emotionally striking a marketing message can be when published at the right time and with the correct amount of respect for international tragedies.

A Few Things To Remember About Strong Reactive Marketing

Enough with the stream of examples; let’s talk about what you, as a brand, should know about strong reactive marketing. There are things to remember as you embrace this tactic – and strategies to avoid if you want to succeed.

The Key Takeaways:

  • Be timely. Whether you’re responding to a news story or a social media trend, timing is everything. Consider turning on news alerts so that you can be the first to respond to big events with wit, respect, and expert marketing strategies.
  • Embrace the seasons. Holidays and yearly events provide excellent opportunities for reactive marketing. Pay attention to what’s coming up on the calendar and what you’ll need to respond to in the near future.
  • Always understand your marketing angle. Reacting to something for the sake of reacting doesn’t work. In order to yield strong results, your marketing efforts need to stick to your guidelines and serve a larger purpose on behalf of your brand.
  • Think about the value of the reaction. Are you really telling a story or chiming in on something meaningful? What will viewers take from your message? Make sure that your value is unique and powerful.

Reactive marketing can be incredibly successful when done right. It helps you stay on top of current events and find new marketing opportunities on a regular basis – plus, it’s usually cost-effective since so much of it can be done through simple social media marketing.

However, reactive marketing also drags you into more conversations on social media. Be prepared to handle the reactions to your reactive marketing – anticipate how your commentary on happening events will reflect on your brand as a whole.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, through some of our explanations and the use of some truly awesome examples, you’ve learned a great deal about reactive marketing. Now, you should have a framework for using your social media resources to pave the way for new forms of advertising and better consumer conversations.

Are you ready to pump new life into your marketing plan? Reach out to our team at E2M today!

  • Riley Swanson is a born-and-raised Texan who has loved writing since she could first hold a pencil. As one of the content writers at E2M, Riley is responsible for crafting content that is informative, engaging, and purposeful. She uses her knowledge of language and SEO tactics to create web content and blogs that best serve the client. When Riley's not writing, she's traveling the world with her husband and working to make every day memorable.
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