The idea of the media canvas is something we are all used to. Basically, you are given a little patch of real estate, into which you squeeze your creative idea. This might be a page in a magazine, 30 seconds stuffed between TV programmes, a humble urinal poster or even the trusty shelf wobbler – either way it is a case of there’s your space, use it as you will.
Clustered into little like-minded congregations, these naturally form media channels. TV is one. Print is one. DM is one. And experiential is another. Only, it isn’t.
A channel unlike any other
The reason experiential is called a media channel (other than the fact that everyone says it is) is because we treat it like one.
Take print. It contains various canvases – the six-sheet, the billboard, the single and double page spreads – which combined account for the bulk of all print campaigns. Fair enough, it makes perfect sense.
Experiential is treated the same way: a handful of canvases or formats into which creative is squeezed – the roadshow, the storefront, guerrilla sampling and so on. Just like with print, any given experiential activity you see is likely to fit into a format you have seen many times before. But this does not make perfect sense.
Experiential, unlike other channels, has no logistical necessity to limit itself in this, or any, way. Instead it represents an opportunity for a brand to do something tangible in the real world, which gives value to its customers and dramatises its message. And this something could be anything.
Check out this example: Suzuki Denmark wanted to illustrate that its cars provided 30 per cent better fuel economy than its competitors’. What would be a shorthand experiential approach to this? Applying the message to a standard format might create, say, an educational lounge in shopping centres where everything is 30 per cent bigger than usual. Not thrilling, but plausible.
But that is not what its agency Robert/Boisen & Like-Minded did. Appreciating that experiential has no prescribed limits on what you can create, the agency ignored precedent and just looked at the brief. Solution? Open a petrol station. This petrol station sold real petrol, to real people, for real money, only for 30 per cent less than other stations in the area.
The message was simple: this is what it would be like for you every day with a Suzuki. But the format was unique. There is no precedent for opening a petrol station for marketing purposes and no one has done it since. It just happened to be a great solution for that particular brief.
This is the perfect illustration of the potential that experiential offers compared with any other media channel – a total freedom from a set media canvas.
Moving your brand beyond precedent
Bearing this in mind, it is strange that you can drill most experiential campaigns down to the same handful of formats. These are precedents that are often applied without even realising it is being done.
Taking the Suzuki approach and tailoring your idea and format to answer the brand challenge perfectly not only creates unique and talkable campaigns, but creates sensible ones too, with potential reach and clarity of message far exceeding the square-peg round-hole orthodoxy which is commonplace.
The key to identifying the opportunities that lie within every brief comes from finding an experiential agency that develops concepts through the teamwork of creative and strategic planning. What planning brings to the table is prioritisation of the specific brand problem at the heart of every brief.
Briefs then cease to be only a question of how can we achieve x samples or y contacts (questions answered easily by any of the standard experiential formats), but they instead focus on the goals behind those samples and contacts. The answers to these questions will be very brand-specific and so will create brand-specific executions that are simultaneously radical and sensible.
When we were briefed by Sky to drive consideration of the issues behind its Rainforest Rescue initiative, we dug into the brand problem, realising that unless it is directly relevant to consumers personally, appeals to their conscience amount to mere background noise.
To sell a concern that lives thousands of miles away, that concern needs to be brought closer to home. So we created a series of permanent interactive Rainforest Rescue trails at Forestry Commission sites around the country, the idea being that allowing visitors to appreciate the environment around them helps them to care for one further away.
Perhaps this seems like a nice, open brief that lent itself to such radical executions, but this off-canvas approach can be applied to even the most rigid of experiential tasks. When Glaceau vitaminwater wanted 400,000 bottles distributed via office drops to creative influencers and their peers for a super-competitive cost per sample, it naturally restricted our logistics a touch.
However, by understanding that the priority was to build vitaminwater’s credibility among these whizz kids, we were inspired to take a counterintuitive approach to standard drops – starting with a deliberately exclusive experiential delivery to hand-picked elites within offices, totally bypassing their peers. Because we recognised them, they recognised us, allowing a mass sampling follow-up that was now charged with context and meaning, delivering both bottles and message.
In essence, deep consideration of the brand problem will lead to highly bespoke campaign formats that are both interesting and effective.
Applying the theory
The bottom line is that experiential has a unique level of campaign format flexibility which can be coaxed out of any brief by the teamwork of planning and creative, generating thrilling campaigns. Next time you are briefing an experiential campaign, take advantage by:
- Keeping your brief problem focused and open to original solutions.
- Approaching agencies with integrated strategic and creative teams.
- Reviewing the responses you get back by asking yourself, is this response truly specific to my brief?