One-off events reach out to an online audience

As big brands divert more of their marketing budgets from TV advertising into high-profile experiential campaigns, they are benefiting from the social media activity such a move creates.

Would seeing a Christmas tree made of 2,500 golden baubles resembling wrapped chocolate leave a brand message imprinted in your mind? This was the strategy used by Ferrero Rocher last December when it began its first foray into experiential marketing with “trees” in three UK shopping centres.

Ferrero is just one of a number of companies well known for traditional TV advertising that have started to take the experiential route. And as consumers are now using social media to talk online about their reactions, these businesses want to replicate the talking points offline.

Ferrero regional commercial director Dave Tucker says last Christmas was the springboard for “bigger and better activity” for this year’s festive season, where planning is already underway to take the bauble-tree concept to more locations.

Ferrero’s push was part of a £5m marketing initiative – its largest to date – with sampling activity alongside the “trees”. Models wearing matching gold and brown outfits distributed neatly wrapped boxes. And a live element was created when Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden, also dressed in gold, hosted a concert at Westfield shopping mall in London. Tucker says that unlike old-style experiential activity, the campaign has not stopped because the original event is over. Clips of the concert have circulated virally via YouTube, and the whole experience has been supported by a continuation of Ferrero’s “Food of the Gods” TV campaign.

According to Sharon Richey, managing director of agency BEcause, combining experiential activity with social media, as Ferrero has done, pushes the effects of the activity further than ever – a “one plus one equals three” effect.

Tucker confirms this view. “Ferrero has a lot of positive warmth associated with it as a brand, people think of family and friends. So we have a licence to be able to get into those positive, sharing experiences,” he says. “Digital and viral is at the heart of all the campaigns we do.”

Return on investment
More brands are looking at experiential in a new light as their return on investment for this type of marketing activity is better than ever thanks to social media, claims Richey at BEcause. “Brands no longer treat experiential activity as an afterthought. Consumers are demanding more from the brands they know; and those companies or products they don’t know need to work harder for a share of their hearts and minds.

“They have been reluctant to use experiential because of the relatively small audience it reaches,” Richey says. “But if you give the audience a wow factor, they now go online and talk about the experience on your behalf. This gives your brand a stronger and more compelling argument because of the recommendation consumers give you.”

“If you give the audience a wow factor, they now go online and talk about the experience on your behalf”

Sharon Richey, BEcause

Social media has also enhanced the measurability of experiential marketing: quantitatively in terms of how many people attended an event; and qualitatively to gauge how much they enjoyed it.

“Social media is the ultimate tool in recruiting an audience and driving fame for experiential activity before an event and maintaining impact and value after it,” notes Greg James, board director of experiential agency Cake. He warns, however, that people need stimulating content to keep them interacting on social media long after a branded event is complete.

But while Ferrero might find social media and experiential is working right now, it is best known in the UK market for its TV campaigns, so is putting investment into experiential a risk?

Tucker is confident that moving in this direction is right to help build brand presence. “We know from our results that this kind of activity works for us,” he says. “The encounters consumers had with the Ferrero brand and range were more deep-rooted than with traditional activity – something that creates a more powerful, positive memory and association with the brand.

“People are more inclined to remember the emotional experiences from experiential than traditional media.”

Experiential Q&A Homebase
Rebecca Brock, Homebase brand controller

MW: In March, Homebase launched a campaign that transformed Carlisle railway station into a home and garden environment. How difficult is it to come up with new, creative experiential campaigns?

RB: A great experiential idea has to be incredibly simple and completely relevant to your brand values. The challenge lies in marrying this with an integrated marketing mix. Our campaign underpins every other bit of media communication, including all our advertising.

MW: What value does experiential add to a brand?

RB: It allows a brand to interact with customers in ways and places that are relevant to their lives. It moves a brand on from simply shouting their messages out and creates a more engaging and surprising conversation with the customer.

MW: Has this style of marketing changed over the past few years with the advent of social media?

RB: Brands used to be able to broadcast their message and be seen as the final authority. Now, customers are far more likely to listen to a peer review and they are far more demanding of a brand’s product or service. A brand is no longer what a company wants to proclaim; it’s fast becoming the sum of customer’s opinions and experiences. We must embrace this fundamental social change and engage with a continual process of listening and responding.

MW: More brands are using platforms such as Facebook to conduct sampling activity to targeted audiences. Could this replace instore sampling because of the scale you can achieve through Facebook?

RB: Facebook is a great way of getting your message out or identifying target groups who can give you feedback on products. However, nothing can replace the directness and relevancy of sampling at the point of fixture.

MW: What kind of brand awareness or increase in positive word of mouth has Homebase’s experiential activity created?

RB: What has been fantastic is that passive awareness has now been turned into active advocacy through the Carlisle campaign. Through Facebook and YouTube, we think there is a real energy around the brand, provoking reappraisal and discussion – something that we want to build on into the future.

MW: How will you extend this further?

RB: This is the first step of a long-term campaign. Remember, it takes time to cultivate a strong brand in the digital world – it is not as simple as transferring the equity you have in traditional media. We have established great foundations that we can now build on.

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