Have an acronym for that? The Economy of Real-Time Marketing (RTM)

oreo tweetFrom the starting block at least, social media in 2013 can be accurately grouped into two periods, BO and PO – before-Oreo and post-Oreo. Thanks to sublime timing, agility, and bit of luck during the Super Bowl, Oreo and its agency seem to have awoken a nascent concept within social media circles – real-time marketing (RTM).

Social, like the NFL, can be a bit of a copycat league. So little surprise that sitting through the Oscars, I was as struck as much by the myriad brand efforts to piggyback on Oreo’s success in doing some real-time Tweeting of their own as I was by the lack of originality during the show’s acceptance speeches. (Ben Affleck’s harried speech to end the evening, however, was pretty stellar.)

As analysts hemmed (who will be the next Oreo? what is the impact of RTM?) and brands hawed (you can find a good recap of brand RTM activity from PR Daily here), I was somehow reminded of graduate school.

Rarely do my past academic experiences intersect with my work in social. But watching the surfeit of blog posts and mentions of RTM, I was taken right back to my days in the classroom, listening to and internalizing the encyclopedic roster of acronyms and arcane subjects that literary scholars create for themselves on an (academic) quarterly basis.

In academia, particularly in the liberal arts like literary study, there’s an economy at work in creating a vocabulary unto one’s own. Terms and phrases like “pscyhoanalysis,” “trauma theory,” “gender theory,” “postmodernism,” etc., all keep people employed and hold up well during tenure reviews. They’re arcane, pseudo-scientific terms that create self-sustaining value for professionals whose work is frequently under siege as university presidents compare liberal arts return on investment to business schools and economics departments.

Despite the individual value, there’s a downside to the broad swath of literary taxonomies that even most literature professors will admit to – all of the arcane subjects and hermetic fields of study have fractured literary departments and created troublesome silos in the study of literature.

What’s all this have to do with RTM?

No industry seems to share academia’s obsession with niche fields, acronyms, and subjects more than digital advertising. RTM is yet another in a long list of niche topics that have sprung up around digital and social over the past few years. Industry professionals will quickly adapt, deploy them in meetings and conferences, write blog posts, and some will stake their careers on them.

There’s an economy at work here worth noting. Despite the growth of digital advertising, and social specifically, the industry is still a good distance away from complete institutionalization into traditional marketing and perhaps a greater distance away from budgetary equanimity. Agencies who once basked in the comfort of historic relationships and traditional marketing work are having to find new ways – and terms (read: “disruption”) – to prove value in the digital space and to their clients.

RTM, as the newest member of the digital advertising vocabulary, is yet another in a long list of self-sustaining, circular terms designed in part to demonstrate value in an environment still challenging for legitimacy.

What’s the danger in all this? That digital and social marketers, like literature professors, will continue to fragment themselves into smaller and smaller niche environments, carving out cottage industries, individual paychecks, and job titles while ignoring higher order concepts with the potential to truly institutionalize and highlight the true value of digital and social. They’ll create an environment much more adversarial than collaborative, and sacrifice collective progress against individual gain. We’ll keep folks employed on speakers circuits but digital budgets will remain the same. (Listen to a group of sales people, for example, and you’ll find they’re united by a single term – revenue; they’re vocabulary enjoys a singularity – and a legitimacy – to which digital can aspire.)

Truth be told, I’m not certain what RTM even really means. The idea of real-time marketing seems to me to be an old concept. Isn’t real-time what social and digital professionals have been pitching for years?

What I do know is that Oreo did a spectacular job of creating relevant, resonant, timely – and original – content. All of which feel like old marketing principles, re-applied to Twitter. A hat-tipping feat, for sure. But perhaps not enough to warrant yet another new term in an an industry already suffering from too many philosophical silos and linguistic excess.

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