Getting touchy-feely with UK consumers

Many consumers have become tired of traditional media messages, but ‘experiential marketing’ promises to catch their attention.

So-called experiential marketing has come a long way since the Stork taste-test and the Pepsi Challenge. It spans a multitude of marketing techniques and can manifest itself in many forms from handing out samples at train stations, to building an Absolut Vodka bottle-shaped ice rink in the centre of London. It even covers point-of-sale stands for cosmetic goods in Boots.

Five marketing chief David Pullen, who is looking for agencies with innovative ideas to give potential viewers the chance to experience the channel and its programmes, thinks experiential marketing is the next big thing.

He believes traditional media can only go so far in targeting potential viewers, who are repeatedly exposed to commercial messages. Experiential marketing, he says, offers the chance for people to “touch and feel” the brand and spread positive impressions about it in a powerful way, by word of mouth.

“We are looking at creative ideas that we can do on the ground – not some trade roadshow, but something else that will allow people to engage with the brand,” says Pullen.

According to research for the Marketing Forum by Beyond Philosophy, 71 per cent of senior business-leaders in the UK and US agree that customer experience is the next big battleground. In addition, 85 per cent thought they could increase loyalty by engaging emotionally with customers.

There are no one-stop experiential marketing shops or agencies. This is because it is a technique that covers a wide brief and advertisers can develop experiential marketing with almost any agency including their advertising, field marketing, media and PR agencies. But experiential marketing is an attractive proposition as consumers – particularly the young – appear to be less and less sensitive to traditional commercial messages in places where they expect to see them, such as on television.

According to experts, the first rule of experiential marketing is the old cliché that there aren’t any rules.

“It’s where you create an experience that allows customers to interact with a brand,” says Mike Taylor joint managing partner of strategic communications agency Monkey.

“We’ve seen this coming for a long time,” says Siobhan Palmer managing partner for planning at MindShare. “Traditional media is cluttered, and once you’ve touched something you have a much better sense that it is yours.”

It seems companies will go to any length to get consumers to touch and feel their brands. And for Pullen that challenge is even greater as Five is a general entertainment channel with a variety of programming content. Instead of trying to create an experience around Five, as he was able to do in his previous marketing role at MTV, Pullen has decided to focus on movies – a genre closely associated with the channel – or particular programmes, such as Home and Away.

The latter is a tactic adopted by the History Channel to promote a film about the explorer Ernest Shackleton. Monkey turned a public square in London into a scene from the film using snow, sledges and Innuits talking about the explorer and his tortuous journey.

“We wanted to stop people in their tracks and take a while to contemplate what it would have been like to be in his shoes,” says Taylor.

When Nestlé launched its Double Cream chocolate bar last summer, MindShare arranged for huge lorries loaded with the chocolate to look as though they had jack-knifed in the centre of London, Manchester and Glasgow spilling their loads. A hidden camera in Glasgow revealed that it took just 20 minutes for all 73,000 bars to be stolen by the public.

Hiring lorries and throwing away 219,000 bars of chocolate or taking over a London square sounds costly, but Monkey’s Taylor claims experiential marketing does not have to be expensive. “We use an ambient media element on each of our campaigns,” he says. “Putting a million Smile.co.uk stickers on bananas in Co-op supermarkets while the bank was sponsoring the British Comedy Awards was quite straightforward and relatively cheap to do.”

Tobacco companies may resort to experiential marketing to get round a strict and imminent advertising ban. British American Tobacco has already set up online nightlife guides that highlight bars and clubs where its products are most prominently displayed.

But marketing is prone to fads: last year it was ethical marketing and before that marketers became fixed on customer relationship management/marketing (CRM). Both experienced problems. In the case of ethical marketing, charities hooked up with inappropriate brands; and with CRM, marketers convinced their finance directors to pour millions of pounds into complicated software systems that no one really knew how to use.

With experiential marketing, auditors would struggle to measure its effectiveness. “From start to finish, you need to incorporate elements where value can be measured, says Taylor. “It’s up to the agencies and the advertiser to be clear about what the objectives are. Is it a sales uplift, or an increase in brand awareness, or is it just a question of advertisers wanting people to feel confident about their brand?

“Calls to enter a competition, or online registrations to attend an event, are ways of knowing how successful you have been.”

However, consumers already bombarded with commercial messages via traditional media may find experiential marketing overly intrusive. MindShare’s Palmer says: “Experiential marketing is not just about having a good idea. It has to be appropriate and give people something they want.”

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