“Easier said than done,” when applied to reactive marketing, is an understatement. Whether the event is a celebrity meltdown, historic moment, natural disaster, or all of the above, marketers are trained to react with social media posts and other forms of content.

Reactive marketing can catapult your brand into the spotlight – for better or for worse. Here are the pros and cons to jumping into viral rat race.

The Cons

One or Two Poorly Chosen Words Can Land You in a Crisis

In 2011 Gilbert Gottfried was immediately fired by Aflac after he posted 10 tweets making jokes about the tsunami that hit Japan. At the time, he thought he was edgy, hilarious, and topical. The next day he was unemployed.


While his series of tweets was more than a couple words, it shows how creating content in the moment can cause lasting damage.

Remember: content ranges from expensive videos to seemingly harmless Facebook posts.  Is being topical worth the risk of subjecting your PR team to weeks or months of crisis management?

The Downfall Starts During Ideation…

Gottfried’s downfall started when he was publishing tweets before thinking about how insensitive they might sound. In the case of reactive marketing, your team might think something is “edgy” and rush to create it in order to be topical. As Lizzie Seedhouse discussed, there’s a fine line between being edgy and being offensive.

The only thing worse than being offensive is being boring. Trying to force an unfunny or confusing idea just to be topical will also lead to failure.

There are thousands of bad ideas out there, that’s why our society celebrates the few good ones that bubble to the surface.

…And Continues in the Delivery

To continue using the tsunami in Japan as an example, Dylan Adams talked about Bing’s attempt to raise money in his blog post about cause marketing. Poor word choice made Twitter users turn on Bing and accuse them of trying to profit off of the catastrophe. The campaign itself wasn’t bad, the word choice was.

Reactive marketing is fast. Your copywriter, project manager, and various HR/Legal departments don’t have the same amount of time to pick apart the words, create multiple options, and test them on focus groups as they would for long-term campaigns. The greater the rush to react, the higher the risk of failure.

Other than leading to a crisis, a rushed delivery can lead to a poor product. When multiple teams fast forward through work, significant steps get skipped. Don’t go through the process of creating topical content unless you can make it the same quality level as your evergreen content.

You Have Major Competition

Reactive marketing is just topical marketing on steroids. You’re racing against the clock to create and post awesome content before it gets old and before your competition does. Everyone else is trying to create topical social media posts, images, videos, etc. to jump on the bandwagon.

If reactive marketing happens within a few hours (or in the case of Oreo, minutes) of the event, then it’s newsjacking. If the content is published a day or two later, then it’s topical. Every moment you wait to publish increases the likelihood that you’ll be swept under the rug. Your brilliant idea will go from viral success to an honorable mention in a Mashable list:

The Pros

I know I’ve poo-pooed Reactive marketing thus far, but it’s because I want you to know what you’re getting into before I sell you on the pros.

If You’re Fast, You’re Golden

If your team is able to create content on the fly, then this shouldn’t be a problem for you. Most of the concerns listed in the cons section are brands rushing through the ideation and creation process to post content. Teams that can turn over and publish a product in a few hours will feel at home creating reactive content.

There’s also a certain trust element to teams that can ideate and create in a matter of hours. Management knows their team is racing against the clock or on rapid deadlines and will quickly work to review and approve the content.

For example, Taco Bell is one of the wittiest accounts on Twitter and always has a fast response to Tweets. They’re someone you would trust to do reactive marketing successfully.

Not Only Is it Viral, It’s Marketing Hall of Fame Worthy

Okay, let’s get this over with. Here is obligatory Oreo super bowl example.

It was so clean, so on brand, so witty.

It was also so long ago. Believe it or not that post went live 10 months ago, back in February, but marketers still talk about it in hushed, reverent tones.

A clever response to a current event can make a marketer’s career. It can solidify a brand as an authority and lead to a larger fan-base and engaged audience.

They Can Make Your Brand Interesting in a Boring Industry

The airline industry isn’t known for its wit, and it’s far from beloved by the general public. Spirit Airlines differentiates itself from its industry simply by reacting to what’s going on. They recently made news by picking on Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford and saying their deals are so low people think they’re on crack.


The USA Today article that covered it provided a list of ads they’ve done in response to current events in the past:

Archives1234Spirit Airlines is used to a fast reaction time and get people to its site by witty reactive ads. When their name is on everyone’s lips, they’re more likely to be the first stop for fliers looking to book airline tickets.

To react, or not to react, that is the question. The answer lies in the trust you have for your team. If you think they can create an interesting and unoffensive campaign as quickly as the rest of their work, then hand of the reigns. Who knows, you might strike marketing gold.