Free samples still best way to win friends

As more brands incorporate social media into their experiential campaigns, a study seen by Marketing Week reveals the free sample is still highly valued.


As any regular commuter on public transport will tell you, field marketing is a great way of acquiring a free drink for lunch, a mid-morning snack bar or some deodorant for an after-work gym session. But are these freebies likely to convert recipients into paying customers?

Arguably, using a scattergun approach of handing samples to every shape and size of demographic would suggest the technique is not that likely to create loyal customers. However, a recent study from research consultancy BDRC Continental shown exclusively to Marketing Week, claims that sampling merged with an element of experiential is an effective way of marketing products.

On average, spontaneous brand awareness increases by 90% according to BDRC’s study of more than 50 experiential campaigns. Likelihood to purchase rises by 91% and word of mouth is also greatly influenced by consumers experiencing a brand directly through sampling or bigger events. Addressing the criticism that field and experiential marketing simply don’t have the volume reach of traditional media channels, the research claims that for every one person who attends an event, they go on to recommend to a further four people.

For example, Beiersdorf recently ran a field marketing campaign for its Nivea Visage face cream, which saw consultants give people advice about how to use the products and handed out samples at 11 shopping centres in the UK.

While this process takes more time and resource than only handing out sachets of the product, BDRC’s analysis of the roadshow demonstrates that nearly a quarter of those surveyed valued this personal touch. However, a further 49% said that a free product was the best part of the experience and several said that the queues for the show were too long.

BDRC also analysed Adidas’s adTOUR field marketing activity, which toured the UK for a year between 2009 and 2010 targeting regular sports players from all age groups. Using a combination of activities and experts, Adidas aimed to drive sales through product trial such as trying on footwear and sports advice to interested amateurs. Those who had tried the product claimed they were more likely to buy product than a control group who had no interaction with the roadshow.

Marketers are beginning to realise the impact an experiential campaign can have, says Rebekah Reynard, research manager at BDRC Continental. “Handing out tea bags in Tube stations is never going to have the same impact as sitting down with someone for five minutes. But experiential marketing has always been considered expensive.

“While a TV campaign reaches a huge number of people and experiential is limited because of the footfall, but the latter is worth the investment because the results of experiential work are so much higher.”

Almost 70% of those given free samples asked further questions about the product

LucyAttley, Unilever

Low-cost media

The ability to integrate an experiential or field marketing campaign into the rest of the marketing mix while retaining its measurability is becoming key, particularly with a view to exploiting social media. A recent campaign for Lynx deodorant demonstrated that it is possible to merge the high volume impact of advertising with low-cost media such as YouTube by using the catalyst of an experiential campaign.

Unilever worked with Mindshare Invention and production company Grand Visual to create an augmented reality campaign for a new Lynx fragrance, Excite, using its outdoor advertising space at the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham and London’s Victoria station two pivotal destinations for its key demographic of 18to 25-year-old males. The “Angel Ambush” saw members of the public appear on the interactive billboards, surrounded by virtual reality angels who would then flirt outrageously with them.

“Creating something so fun and engaging meant that the video was seen by 950,000 people online and the campaign achieved press coverage around the world including a piece in Wired magazine,” says Selina Sykes, marketing manager for Lynx. The campaign also earned a bronze award in the Digital Out of Home category at the 2011 Cannes Lions.

For Lynx, the key to the experiential campaign’s success wasn’t its pure measurability as a standalone campaign, but its ability to integrate into an established online brand presence which then proved much more measurable in terms of online metrics. It also drove the key young male demographic to social media and online video.

Brand experiences are not just limited to shopping centres or commuter stations.

According to recent research from the Direct Marketing Association and Toluna QuickSurveys, festival-goers particularly welcome them.

Good taste: Dessert brand Gü uses sampling campaigns and social media as part of its field marketing activity

In a poll of 1,000 18to 34-year-old music festival goers, 39% said they had participated in one or more sponsor-branded activities, such as taking part in competitions or visiting a sponsor’s tent, while 21% said they had been given free product samples. The results also revealed a high level of support for corporate sponsorship and branded activities, with 34% saying they believed its presence had a positive effect on their festival experience and just 13% saying it had a negative effect.

Even brands where the consumer could arguably be said to be excited enough by the product itself have taken to creating added value field marketing campaigns. Joseph Liu, senior brand manager at upmarket dessert brand Gü, explains: “We gave people the chance to give in to their ’inner rock star’ by mounting a giant drum kit onto a Gü billboard in central London. Passers-by were invited to take the giant drum sticks and bang on the drums.”

The result was a YouTube film and subsequent press coverage, but Liu admits: “We can often equate media hits to media value, which in turn allows us to assess ROI on our marketing spend, but assessing actual purchase conversion that resulted from this particular activity proved to be more difficult.”

While social media activity and press coverage are often positive spin-offs from experiential campaigns, location-based services on photo-sharing sites are starting to play to a greater part in field marketing. The Guardian newspaper is currently using them to promote its autumn Book Swap campaign, where readers are encouraged to leave books in interesting locations and treasure hunting consumers are encouraged to photograph their finds and post them to social sites.

Chris Lawson, Guardian News & Media’s content, sales and marketing director, says: “We know our readers are passionate about books and we think this is a fun way for them to share in the enjoyment of reading. This is our first ever book swap and is a refreshing way of engaging with people using social media and to reach new audiences.”

While social media is playing an increasingly large part in experiential activity, it seems commuters will still be able to get their lunchtime drinks for free. As Liu at Gü concludes: “Getting our products into the hands of consumers is critical. Field marketing plays a unique role in allowing us to have face time and direct contact with our consumers, which is still invaluable in an increasingly digital marketing ecosystem.”


marketer viewpoint

Joseph Liu

Senior brand manager

One of the keys for success is ensuring you have a way of continuing the conversation beyond the field marketing itself, ideally through data capture. Providing a clear brief and immersing the sampling team in the brand before the activity is very important since they’ll be representing your brand.

In future, we’re hoping to more tightly link our field marketing with our digital activation efforts to allow us to continue conversations with consumers long after the actual field marketing activity.

The two tend to go hand in hand for us, with product launches often coinciding with seasonal trends. Therefore, we often do highlight the new products, but we also make a point to continue supporting our core line of products during activities.

It’s always important to be clear about the objectives for each activity. Marketers can fall into the trap of wanting a piece of activity to accomplish disparate objectives. While it may be feasible to drive awareness, consideration, preference, trial and loyalty in one go, trying to do this in one fell swoop often results in diluting the overall effectiveness.

Getting our products into the hands of consumers is still critical since they often sell themselves once people taste the free sample. While above-the-line activity provides broad reach and other promotional activity creates additional touchpoints with consumers, field marketing plays a unique role in allowing us to have face time and direct contact with our consumers.

Good clean fun: Persil 2in1 with Comfort samples were handed out at Camp Bestival


Persil/Comfort at Camp Bestival

Camp Bestival is promoted as a family-friendly festival on the Isle of Wight, which Persil used to target parents looking for ways of enjoying the event while keeping their children happy. It enlisted the help of Tullo Marshall Warren, which conceived a large-scale Teddy Bear’s Picnic under the title Pass on the Love where children were offered activities and parents could get refreshments, as well as samples of Persil 2in1 with Comfort to take away.

The campaign extended into CSR, word of mouth and digital activity by encouraging families to bring soft toys to the picnic that were then donated to Oxfam. It also used parenting forum Netmums to encourage mothers to host miniature versions of the picnic once they were home. These events were then blogged about on the Netmums site and other parenting blogs.

Lucy Attley, marketing manager for Persil and Surf at Unilever UK and Ireland, claims: “Over the course of the weekend we had more than 1,500 adults and 2,500 children visiting our stand and gave away 1,500 full-size bottles of products to trial.”

She adds that almost 70% of those given free samples asked further questions about the product. And two-thirds said they would consider swapping from their current product to Persil 2in1 with Comfort.

Attley puts the success of the campaign down to the relaxed atmosphere at the festival. She claims the brand experience made sense in the context (where people are likely to hanker after being clean) and the charitable element tied in with the spirit of the festival ethos.

In fact, far from being an anti-capitalist hotbed, festivals are ripe for experiential marketing, according to Steve Radford, chair of the DMA’s Field Marketing & Brand Experience Council: “In spite of the traditional view of brands ’harming’ the festival experience, we’ve found that festival goers not only welcome them, they engage with them. This is a perfect example of field and experiential marketing finding the right setting in which to connect brands with consumers.”



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