Is Marketing Around Tentpole Moments Enough?

Share this:

At least once every year, if not more, marketing and media strategy teams look at the upcoming calendar and decide which events, holidays and cultural celebrations they want to run campaigns around.

For example, if you’re a retail brand, Back to School and Black Friday are important times. If you’re a snack foods brand, the Super Bowl and other major sports events are big. If you’re a fashion brand, the Oscars, Met Gala, and Fashion Week are all on your radar. And it seems like there isn’t a national holiday that appliance and grocery brands won’t target with special sales.

These days, most brands also target cultural celebrations like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, LGBTQ+ Pride Month, etc. with messages of support. 

But a strategy that focuses only on these so-called “tentpole” moments misses out on a significant new part of the media and marketing landscape today: viral moments.

Viral moments are stories, events, and trends that suddenly appear and capture a large share of media attention. They seem to have exploded over the past couple of years during the pandemic thanks to an uptick in media consumption and the emergence of more and more publishers and even platforms like TikTok. 

Take a look at the most recent Academy Awards to see how a viral moment can disrupt a tentpole moment. Fashion brands and others that meticulously planned their campaigns around the event suddenly had those plans rendered obsolete by “the slap seen around the world.”

No one would remember the dress Jessica Chastain wore on stage moments after accepting her own Academy Award or who even won the award Chris Rock was presenting. But the one thing every viewer of the event will remember is that slap.

Even though brands spent months planning how to advertise around this tentpole event, they only had hours to figure out how to roll with this viral moment, which rapidly spread to overshadow the industry event. Live viewership for the Oscars ceremony was up 50% over 2021’s network telecast to 16.6 million viewers this year. But that number was eclipsed by the 200+ million views the top ten videos on YouTube had for the Will Smith/Chris Rock moment.

So, how can those advertisers recover from that disruption? By targeting the ever-rising viral moments that matter to their brands.

Those moments don’t only spawn from events like the Academy Awards; they happen every day when celebrities stream to their followers, influencers take counter-culture stances on podcasts, or a new craze takes hold.

Viral moments complement tentpole moments in a huge way, providing a much more complete strategy when considered in tandem with them. To remain competitive, brands need to prepare for viral moments just as much as tentpole moments, if not more. 

How can a brand prepare for viral moments in its marketing and media strategies? 

It can be challenging to plan around viral moments. You need three things: 

  1. Knowledge of your brand. It’s not enough anymore to occasionally incorporate your mission statement into your brand strategy. Consumers are holding brands accountable, expecting true, consistent actions, and alignments that express their core identities. If you haven’t completely determined your brand’s values, stances, leanings, feelings, etc., you won’t be able to identify all the moments that matter when they arise and respond to them authentically and consistently.
  2. A detection system. You need technology or team members (or both) to monitor the market for viral moments that work for your brand, according to that core knowledge base you’ve created.
  3. The ability to move fast. Most viral moments don’t last long. Fifty percent of them come and go in 34 hours or less. Two-thirds of the rest of them last less than four days according to our data science team’s analysis. Meanwhile, it takes as long as eight days to make changes to a campaign. To take advantage of viral moments, you have to respond as close to real-time as possible.

If you have these three things, you can turn your tentpole moments into everyday, year-round strategies.

So, if motherhood is integral to your brand’s core, for example, then Mother’s Day should be every day, not just the second Sunday in May. Your brand can be tuned into all the stories, events, and moments that feature motherhood—and respond instantly when they arise.

By the same token, if one of the key communities your brand supports is the LGBTQ+ family, then Pride Month should be every day, and your brand can lean into all the moments, influencers, stories, events, etc. that matter.

The same goes for every tentpole moment that emerges from your core brand profile. 

Viral moments are now integral to advertising and marketing strategies; they’ve transformed the tentpole approach into the “tentpole every day” approach that aligns your brand authentically and consistently ongoing over time, connecting it with your consumers’ values and genuinely driving those relationships.

Robert Helstrom is SVP of marketing at Sightly.