Verizon, the DC Women’s March, and Real-Time Marketing



Real-time marketing is the latest frontier in advertising – the ability to reach customers with targeted, relevant ads while they’re engaged and in the moment.

The gold standard for this remains the Oreo “Dunk in the Dark” tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl. Oreos saw an opportunity and executed against it brilliantly within minutes:


But this was just the beginning.

More than a decade ago, Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi film Minority Report envisioned a future society where personalized advertising is ubiquitous.

Witness this scene, where star Tom Cruise is running through a mall.

As he passes various stores, holograms appear to offer him personalized offers:

We have not yet reached a society of personal ads based on retinal scans.

But the power to reach customers instantly has only increased as nearly everyone now carries smart phones with geolocation services and tools like Facebook Live.


Here’s a particularly clever ad I saw in a Washington, DC metro station last weekend:


It works because it’s a direct reference to the crushing crowds expected for President Trump’s inauguration.

As such, it has a maximum shelf life of a week – a few days on either side of January 20th, if that.

The Women’s March

But the real reason this ad is stuck in my mind is that it ultimately over-promised and under-delivered.

I’ve lived in DC for more than 15 years, and my cell phone network happens to be Verizon.

On Saturday, for the first time ever, I lost cellular service while outdoors in downtown Washington, DC.

So many people showed up for the DC Women’s March on Saturday that there was zero cellular service in an area of about 1.5 square miles for the bulk of the day.

The only times I’d even heard of major U.S. metropolitan areas losing cell service on such a scale were

  1. the New York City blackout back in 2003; and
  2. 9/11.

On the one hand, this made sense – more than 500,000 people showed up for the Women’s March, double the crowds expected. And all of them had cell phones that were vying to connect to the same crowded circuits.

But back to Verizon, and a key rule of marketing:

Don’t over-promise and under-deliver.

Ultimately, because of this massive failure, Verizon’s ad that had seemed so clever just 24 hours earlier now is most memorable for its failure.

Yes – it was clever, timely and targeted.

And yes – Verizon, AT&T and other cellular carrier did boost data capacity for the area by more than 400 percent by installing dozens of mobile “Cells on Wheels.”

But it wasn’t enough.

The lesson here?

No matter how timely or clever your real-time marketing campaign, make sure you can deliver on your promises.

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