As social media has gone from strength to strength, brands are using reactive marketing as a way of engaging with their audience on the spur of the moment, often with successful results. However, this type of content is not always guaranteed to succeed, and there are as many risks involved as there are benefits.

So, what are these benefits and risks? And what does best practice reactive marketing look like? If you’re in need of some comic relief, you’ll be happy to know I’ve added some of my favourite examples towards the end of this post.

The benefits of reactive marketing

Responding to real-time events, news, topics and even TV shows makes a brand appear more relevant and relatable. It’s also likely that the content will receive more impressions than usual, given that numerous people will already be actively engaged with or aware of the topic at that particular time.

More than half of US consumers say they remember and enjoy an advertisement if it is humorous, and reactive marketing and advertising is often humorous. As a matter of fact, most of the examples I’ve listed further below have comedic undertones.

If shared on the right platform at the right time, engagement from this type of content can be much more effective compared to generic pre-planned and corporate marketing material. This can certainly be said for social platforms (particularly Twitter), where there is ripe opportunity to go viral, with posts sometimes spawning thousands of likes, shares, and comments. Content can reach both customers and audiences that haven’t previously been exposed to your brand, who share a common interest in the topic, trend or event being referenced.

The risks of reactive marketing

Despite its many benefits, reactive marketing can also be particularly risky, due in part to the limited time available to create and publish the content before it becomes irrelevant. Marketers have fewer opportunities to thoroughly assess the phrasing or imagery used before an ad goes live, resulting in an increased likelihood of striking the wrong tone and incurring a hefty PR backlash.

The fallout from badly-received content can cause so much damage to a brand’s reputation that it would have been better to remain silent. Companies that ride the wave of popular hashtags that have very little to do with their products come across as spammy and desperate. Others that seem to capitalise on bad news, such as natural disasters or the death of a person of note, appear insensitive and, quite frankly, offensive. Many brands learned their lesson early on in the social media boom.

Reactive marketing seems to be increasingly difficult to pull off. As social media platforms become saturated with threads, hashtags, images, videos and ads, all sorts of brands attempt to wedge in promotion wherever possible. Those who are not market leaders in their industries seem particularly culpable of this, running the risk of alienating their audiences by jumping on an already overloaded bandwagon too frequently. Therefore, it is important for marketers to time campaigns wisely and treat reactive marketing as more of an occasional opportunity within a wider marketing strategy.

Producing content in a quickfire situation like this is difficult. An in-house team or embedded agency are required to react efficiently and to accommodate quick and harmonious sign-off.

All of these risks can be lessened by putting precautions in place in advance. Due to its very nature, reactive content is difficult to plan, but brands should endeavour to set up events calendars, templates and social media monitoring to help make processes much smoother when the time comes.

Who does reactive marketing well? Some best-practice examples

Which brands have managed to reap the benefits of reactive marketing while avoiding the risks? Here is a short list of examples I have particularly enjoyed from well-known brands.


Most people know that the Superbowl is not something to be missed in America. The annual sporting event draws in around 100 million live TV viewers, and it has come to be something of a marketing triumph if you are picked as one of the brands featured in their ad breaks.

Unfortunately for Oreo, it wasn’t included in the commercials during the 2013 game – but that didn’t stop them from dominating conversation when the Superdrome famously experienced a power cut live on air. Viewers flocked online to express their dismay at the situation, and Oreo was ready:

The image simply featured a large black background, a small image of an Oreo cookie and the tagline ‘you can still dunk in the dark’. Many online publications said it had ‘won’ the event’s marketing war, taking advantage of the captive Superbowl audience during a momentary lapse in concentration.

The best picture

In 2017, Faye Dunaway incorrectly announced the winner of the much-coveted Best Picture award at the Oscars. The resulting media storm, both on and offline, was hard to miss, as was this excellent piece of reactive content from Specsavers:

Although the image was quite basic and unpolished, it struck a chord on Twitter, accumulating nearly 25k likes and more than 10k retweets with its sarcastic tone and trademark ‘should’ve gone to Specsavers’ tagline. Accompanied with the opening caption ‘not getting the best picture?’, the overall result was hilarious.

The brand took an extra step in making the image a Twitter ad, boosting its outreach further to the British public who had woken to the news the very next day.

This wasn’t the first time Specsavers have been quick off the mark responding to viral news. After another spectacular gaffe at the 2012 London Olympics, in which the flags of North and South Korea were mixed up, it posted this corker on its Twitter account:

Clearly (pardon the pun), Specsavers’ marketing team are on the ball.

Beef with a lot of horses hidden in it

What does a Mini Cooper and some beef have in common? Nothing, at least not until the horse meat scandal of 2013. During the news coverage, the automotive brand produced an effective and timely ad on the topic:

The ad is full of great wordplay, reflecting the scandal and satirically linking it to the characteristics of the new JCW Roadster it was promoting.

Despite it being considered a somewhat waning medium for marketing, this example proves print can still engross audiences and be produced in a short enough timescale to be suitably reactive. Mini Cooper made enough of an impact that the content was covered by the news media online, expanding its reach further via internet osmosis.

Chicken catastrophe

KFC made headlines in early 2018 when it famously ran out of chicken, causing the brand to close many of its restaurants until the issue was fixed with its delivery contract.

However, in a bizarre twist and the PR turnaround of the century, it used reactive marketing in response to news of its own making. Indeed, this ad has won copious marketing awards and is one that many won’t forget any time soon.

Here, KFC let the three rearranged letters of its logo, adorned on an empty bucket, say it all. After continuous customer outrage at the situation KFC found itself in, this served as a comedic (and yet suitably apologetic) message to the British public.

Fergie time

Sometimes, reactive marketing can be as simple as making an unexpected announcement and pairing it with a hashtag, if it’s timely enough. You can expect it to be especially well-received when it concerns one of Britain’s favourite high street restaurants.

To mark Sir Alex Ferguson’s surprise retirement from the world of football, a select number of Nando’s branches revealed they were staying open for just that little bit longer.

A clever play on the few minutes’ extra time given at matches, customers in Manchester, the coach’s home turf, seemed thrilled with the news.

The Cybertruck

Elon Musk, noted for his brilliant (if sometimes bizarre) inventions, surpassed even his own standards of peculiar twitter updates by announcing the ‘Cybertruck’ in November 2019.

A futuristic, yet arguably rather ugly addition to Tesla’s range of vehicles, it caught equal amounts of attention and ridicule online. Ridicule that only intensified when Musk was later pictured demonstrating the car’s alleged ‘bulletproofing’ by promptly smashing its window with a small metal ball.

The combination of a unique product with celebrity backing and an outlandish design proved another winning formula for virality, spawning countless spoofs and commentary across the internet.

Among others, Lego took its turn at mocking the vehicle. With the help of a smoke machine and some special effects wizardry, the brand designed its own from a couple of bricks attached to some Lego wheels. The result was (alarmingly) similar to the original.

The best social media stories & campaigns from February 2020

Hard breakfast? Soft breakfast?

In the days leading up to Brexit’s first official ‘due date’, it looked increasingly unlikely that the UK was prepared to leave the EU on March 29th 2019.

Enter Marmite’s marketing team. They decided it was time to step in with their commentary on the debacle, making light of political uncertainty and confusion by swapping the now well-overused word ‘Brexit’ with ‘breakfast’.

The brand cleverly related the division surrounding Brexit to an even longer-standing division over whether people love or hate Marmite. Injecting what was much-needed humour at this point in the negotiations, they wisely avoided taking any political sides – which may well have damaged the brand – by simply adding question marks to the copy.

Clearly, this struck a chord with the weary British public, with the tweet alone accumulating 8.4k likes on the platform.


The launch of Beyonce’s latest collection for Ivy Park turned some heads back in January, namely because it used an almost identical colour scheme as that worn by Sainsbury’s employees up and down the UK.

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Shortly after the first images were released, the uncanny resemblance to the supermarket’s uniform became somewhat of a running joke amongst the nation’s online community, inevitably going viral on social media.

It must have been difficult for Sainsbury’s not to have noticed the sudden spike in tags and mentions on their official brand channels as the hashtag #SainsBey gained momentum. As a result – on the same day – they set about creating this great piece of reactive content in response, taking the opportunity to highlight the longevity of their brand whilst poking fun at the situation:

… The only thing juicier than Coleen v Rebekah

Who could forget the spat between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy? The very public accusation by Wayne Rooney’s wife that fellow WAG Rebekah Vardy was leaking her private social media stories to the press was something the Twittersphere watched with great interest. Thus, #WAGathaChristie was born (… it’s still my favourite hashtag).

For several days after the fallout, media speculation was rife; as was online discussion about the drama that unfolded.

So, what does a drinks brand have to do with this? There have been many times we’ve marvelled at the brilliance of Innocent’s social media marketing and its ability to somehow link their products with seemingly unrelated topics and news. The brand’s response to the #WAGathaChristie drama was no exception.

Using its trademark colloquial humour – which is so ingrained in its branding that it can be found even amongst the copy on its product packaging – Innocent took this opportunity to plug its most recently launched ‘blue’ drink. The posts collected nearly 4k likes on Instagram, 2.8k on Twitter and 2.5k on Facebook.

Are there any other great reactive marketing campaigns we’ve missed? Make sure to link them in the comments below!

Social Media Strategy Best Practice Guide