Form and function

Live events are the poor relations of many campaigns, left out of ‘integrated’ planning and tacked on as an afterthought. It’s a waste of a medium with great potential, says Ian Whiteling

Integration is one of those fashionable marketing ideas that seems simple until you put try to put it into practice, particularly when it comes to planning an exhibition. Too many marketers try to follow a formula that has been successful in other media, and fail to harness the full potential of a live event. Rather than developing a theme and exciting visitors with new sensory experiences, some shows simply present the same old messages, increasing the switch-off factor. This falls into the trap described by Leo Burnett when he said: “One of the greatest dangers of advertising is not that of misleading people, but that of boring them to death.”

Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy planning director Andy Nairn says that car companies are particularly guilty of such bland marketing: “Stills from a television ad are often used for posters, magazine advertisements and exhibition stands, in many cases without even repeating the message put across on TV, but simply running alongside the company logo and the model name.”

The problem with this approach, says Nairn, is that it does not play to the strengths of each medium. This lack of strategic thinking mirrors the way in which many agencies have bought up companies specialising in different disciplines in a bolt-on fashion, so that they can jump on the bandwagon and call themselves “integrated”. In reality, there is oft

en very little integration taking place and in many cases there is actually conflict between the new “departments”. This makes the kind of joined-up thinking needed for a truly integrated marketing campaign difficult to achieve.

Nairn says: “It’s as though one part of an agency has come up with an idea for a TV ad, for instance, which it then simply passes on to the other departments saying: ‘Use this if you can.’ This merely has an additive effect, whereas if the approach taken for each medium is carefully considered, the campaign can retain the overall feel of the brand but the message can vary between, say, TV and posters. This leads to a much more effective multiplicative effect.”

Exhibitions present an opportunity to allow visitors truly to see and touch a brand rather than just hear and see messages with which they are already familiar. The art of integration is knowing how to expand on existing advertising without diminishing it.

Out of focus

“Too often, companies do not use exhibitions and conferences as an effective, integral part of their marketing campaigns,” says TwentyFirstCentury Communications managing director Brian Michael. “As brand ambassadors and observers at a large number of exhibitions, we frequently feel frustrated by the lack of focus that companies give to maintaining their core brand values.

“Exhibitors, for instance, seem to become preoccupied with the number of prospective clients they can get onto their stand. These objectives are achieved in a number of different ways, from using attractive promotion girls, to handing out novel gifts. But what do such methods say about a brand? Too frequently, they are used at the expense of a company’s brand values. More emphasis needs to be placed on maintaining a brand’s personality.”

Just as magazines, TV, posters, electronic marketing and direct mail require different approaches, so do exhibitions and conferences. Often viewed as separate from the general marketing mix, events can actually make a significant contribution to an integrated campaign, bringing unique qualities which more than justify the spend.

“Many brands have moved into ’emotional marketing’. They want consumers to ‘care’ about them,” explains Sarah Farrugia, director at Farrugia Leo Research & Consultancy, which specialises in researching visitors’ experiences at live events. “Yet people are inherently suspicious of advertising, often taking a ‘They would say that wouldn’t they?’ view. Exhibitions and conferences enable brands to become real, bringing to life some of the highly conceptual philosophies bandied about in mainstream media and so making them powerful.”

An important part of the work that Farrugia carries out is interviewing people about their visit to an event as they leave. She says that, without fail, people can recall significant detail about their experience, unprompted.

“If you can imagine that people tend to spend four to six hours at a show which they have specifically chosen to attend, then exhibitions are an extremely valuable way to grab their attention,” says Farrugia. “They work really well in parallel with other mass media and are easily comparable to 30 seconds of interruption marketing in front of the TV, driving past a billboard or flicking through a magazine.”

In the face of the one-dimensional approach to integration taken by many car companies, Farrugia cites the Mini’s marketing campaign as an excellent example of a company using the exhibition environment to boost the human and interactive element of an integrated marketing strategy, exploiting the connection potential that all shows offer.

Mini marvellous

Supporting the “Mini adventure” theme used extensively on TV and in magazines, the campaign at last year’s Motor Show included a driving show where visitors could watch stunt drivers put Minis through their paces. The event retained the adventurous feel, while making the most of the live environment. What’s more, visitors were encouraged to take a piece of the brand home with them through a well-planned sale of Mini merchandise accompanied by images of typical Mini drivers.

Luxury cruise company P&O provides another instance of an integrated marketing campaign that uses the potential of a live event. The slogan “Life doesn’t get much better than this” was developed across a number of media from TV ads to magazine advertorials that gave the campaign a more personal touch, using case studies of real people’s cruise experiences.

“Topical magazine and newspaper advertisements were also developed to tie in with forthcoming major events, while pushing the luxury theme,” explains Nairn, whose company developed the campaign.

“The ads to coincide with the Oscars used the titles of awards alongside cruise images. ‘Best visual effects’ appeared over a stunning sunrise, while ‘best sound’ accompanied an image of wine being poured into a glass.”

This theme was carried through to a major live spectacle marking the launch of two cruise ships. A lavish event, held in Southampton Harbour, used the theme of “Great British Double-acts” to highlight the unusual nature of a double ship launch. Olympic rowing champion Matthew Pinsent was compère, along with his partner James Cracknell. Ice skaters Torvill and Dean, as well as Princess Anne and Zara Phillips, also made appearances. “Although each approach was different, all retained the key luxury element and so delivered P&O’s brand values,” says Nairn.

Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy was also involved in the Bell’s Whisky “It’s all in the blend” TV campaign. Fronted by pianist and television presenter Jools Holland, the ads created an intimate atmosphere, which was developed in a live setting through a series of small events held in local halls around Scotland to create a grass-roots feel. “Using images from the TV ads or organising a series of gigs would have been too obvious and we would have lost the down-to-earth image,” says Nairn.

Organise some flexibility

Although agencies and clients may be willing to explore the potential of an event to move a marketing campaign to a new level, they are occasionally let down by a lack of flexibility on the part of the event organiser. Some venues simply don’t have the technology to facilitate the use of the latest marketing techniques. “Organisers could do much more to deliver shows that enable the event content to infiltrate the desktops or airwaves of the markets they serve,” says James Latham, managing director of exhibition services company Interactive New Media, part of the Opex Group.

“Too little infrastructure is provided to enable participating companies to communicate beyond the confines of an exhibition. Venues and organisers need to develop their offering in line with the integrated communication plans of their customers. If they fail to do so, companies will undoubtedly start running their own events, leaving exhibitions to fade into the history books.”

Exhibition organisers may consider Latham’s warning as excessively doom-laden, but his core message deserves serious consideration. Many agencies still see events as lying outside their core marketing strategy. This jeopardises any chance of building an event into an integrated strategy, and may even lead to an event not being considered at all. It is up to those in the exhibition industry to prove that live events inject reality and excitement into integrated campaigns in ways that no other medium can.

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