Embrace the alternative

Consumers are likely to share and view content that gives them an experience but marketers should not fall into the trap of over-branding.

After a year of major brand sponsorships and campaigns from the Olympics to the UEFA European Football Championship, brands are turning to niche immersive experiences to offer consumers an alternative to in-your-face advertising.

Although creating an experience may not have the same reach compared to a traditional print or TV ad, the ‘shareability’ of an event is favoured for its influence on like-minded consumers.

To launch the Lumia 920 and 820 handsets, Nokia created an experience that saw the brand take over an entire street in south east London to form a sound and light show last month. Nokia worked with Canadian electro-house DJ deadmau5 for the second time - he previously performed at the Lumia brand launch in 2011, which included a 4D projection on London’s Millbank Tower.

Nokia rigged up a square in Southwark using special software to ensure the light show played in sequence to the deadmau5 set. The ticketed event allowed only 500 people into the square and as the music started the technology ‘played’ the square like a musical instrument, creating a sound and light performance.

The show was also streamed live to 2,000 guests at The Electric nightclub in Brixton, south London, where deadmau5 played a gig after the initial event.

Adam Johnson, head of consumer marketing at Nokia, says: “We wanted to do something that wasn’t big and brash. In an Olympic year when one of our biggest competitors has been slapping its logo on stuff, we wanted to do something a bit more immersive, underground and intricate.”

Nokia aimed to show the phones’ features, in particular their ability to take images in low light, and wanted to reinforce its credibility as a music brand without overpowering consumers with brand messages and logos.

“It has to be entertaining both by being there and the content it creates; without that it becomes a dead end very quickly,” says Johnson. “It’s not about slapping an end frame on content and we didn’t show the phone during the event. You have to make sure the branding is in keeping with the rest of the show.

“We chose to do a light show and collaborate with deadmau5 again because you can create traction and the brand is expected to do it.”

Return on investment is a vital part of any marketing and brand activity and although physical attendance is one way to measure the success of an event, consumption and amplification of content is also important.

The event, although played live to only a small audience, was filmed and Nokia aims to use that content to amplify its message across the UK and worldwide. The YouTube video posted by Nokia attracted more than a million views within 10 days of being live on the channel.

Longer-term effects will be seen when Nokia measures brand metrics and evaluates whether these can be attributed to the event.

Exclusive events also have a strong social currency. During live shows, attendees often use smartphones and cameras to record footage to capture the moment and to say they were there when sharing footage with friends and family.

Secret Cinema is an example of an event that has high social ‘currency’ where people anticipate the event and will talk about it afterwards. Its slogan ‘Tell no one’ explains the idea - viewers are not told which movie they are going to see and have to keep what they have seen secret. The only details they receive is a location and dress code. Once at the event, they are immersed into the movie with elaborate set designs, actors and clues to the film that will be played after the experience.

Film-goers spend up to £50 per ticket, which could be considered expensive, but it works because the events give consumers an opportunity to take part in something exclusive.

The brand has been so successful that it is now offers Secret Restaurant and Secret Hotel packages. For example, the latest Secret Cinema event showed hit film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Attendees were subjected to a court case in which they were sentenced and taken by guards aboard a 1940s prison bus to a makeshift prison. Suits were swapped for numbered uniforms and prisoners had to do chores in order to make parole after which guards gathered them to watch the film.

Newly-launched Secret Hotel lets attendees to stay in the ‘cells’ and those who dined at the Secret Restaurant dressed in 1940s clothes and ate with the governor of the prison.

This kind of event provides consumers with an experience they remember and most importantly share, once the secret is revealed. However, there are also immersive experiences that involve crowdsourced creativity from consumers.

The Heineken Experience’s sole mission is to create ambassadors of Heineken and this year has attracted nearly 600,000 visitors; the brand is celebrating its 140th anniversary this month. The first Heineken brewery in Amsterdam was transformed into a museum and finally into the Heineken Experience. It allows consumers to see the past, present and future of the brand, finishing with a beer and tour of Amsterdam.

It is important to involve consumers in the brand. It’s one of the most advance ways to get insights

Dirk Lubbers, manager of the Heineken Experience, says it showcases product innovation and tells a story about the brand. He adds: “People want to see the heart and soul of the brand and they seek the place that it originally came from. That’s the experience.”

A video screen featuring 5,000 green Heineken bottles lit with LEDs has been erected at the Heineken Experience and people can send in messages and photos via social media. There is a live stream on Facebook so they can see if their messages feature on the wall.

Heineken is also running a crowdsourcing event asking people to take part in a future bottle design challenge. The top 30 designs will be exhibited at Milan’s Design Week in April 2013 and the winner will see their design become Heineken’s limited edition bottle for 2013/14.

Head of global design Mark van Iterson says: “The activity is increasing loyalty and making Heineken into a loved brand and closer to consumers’ hearts.

“It’s increasingly important for us to involve consumers in the brand. It’s one of the most advanced ways to get insights and consumer understanding. This activity is the maximum engagement you can have in a brand, consumers have a chance to design a real bottle for Heineken and it’s a great way to engage people.”

Engagement is a key area of experiential marketing, allowing brands that are solely digital to enter into the physical world and convey their message in exchange for an experience.

Laptop manufacturer ASUS, which is well known in mainland Europe and is now marketing in the UK, is working with agency iD Experiential to create a pop-up experience around its Zenbook model in five cities. The experience includes a Zen Cafe, which allows those who like the ASUS Facebook page to check-in or tweet to get a cup of herbal tea while they try out the laptops. There is also a chance to win a laptop.

Using experiential means “you’re getting consumers interested in a different way,” says James Coad, marketing manager at ASUS. “If you’re a brand that sells soft drinks you can give those away and churn out samples. But we’re selling laptops that will cost £1,500 so instead of a demonstration we wanted to have an experience of something that relates to the product.”

Electronic Arts also uses immersive marketing to give people a taste of its games products. The brand’s Christmas activity is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year (see case study, below).

Head of retail and experiential marketing Penny Humphrey says: “Ten years ago we were taking baby steps. We have changed a lot and experiential has grown massively within EA. Our games have a different personality and we run experiential to enhance that personality and tailor activity to our audiences and titles.”

Whether it is an exclusive event or experiential campaign, it is clear that consumers share and view content that gives them an experience, allowing them to take part in something credible and influence others. The important aspect for brands is allowing that experience to happen without over-branding but instead immersing consumers in an activity that resonates with their core values to raise brand equity in the long term.

Case study: EA Games Play4Xmas

The EA Games Play4Xmas tour is running for the 10th year at shopping centres across the UK. The tour gives consumers the chance to trial four of EA’s biggest games: Medal of Honor, FIFA, Need for Speed and Dead Space 3. It has worked with Circle Agency since 2002.

The brand is aiming to drive awareness, sales and pre-orders ahead of Christmas. The tour includes one-to-one demonstrations by staff, a live stage and tournament area and an EA photo mechanic called ‘Get in the game’ that allows consumers to pose inside their favourite game with Facebook integration for social sharing.

After 10 years the event has visited 24 shopping centres across the UK and has an average dwell time from consumers of 19 minutes. More than 2 million one-to-one demos have been completed over 1,257 live event days with 171,000 ‘Get in the game’ photos taken.

Consumer feedback from the campaign is also collated and given to the studio where creative teams use the data as they create the next game.

Head of retail and experiential marketing Penny Humphrey says: “Our games have a different personality [to those games from other companies] and we run experiential marketing to enhance that personality and tailor activity to our audiences and titles.

“Our products are emotional and the best way for us to connect our products with people is for them to play it. We are a digital product and we do a lot in digital spheres and on social media but having a physical presence so people can connect with our brand is really important to us.”

 

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