Today’s consumers are much happier with the tie–ups between brands and events, and in some cases the endorsement can be a mark of quality
Where do you begin with a word like experiential? The trick used to be for companies to submerge their brand into a consumer experience. Brands were almost apologetic about the events and activities they were bankrolling, as if to say ‘we shouldn’t really be here so we’re not going to intrude on your free time or your experience, and we’re certainly not going to try to sell you anything’.
This nervous attitude may, in part, have stemmed from the approach of ‘badging’ an existing event and having little control over the consumer’s experience, or not wanting to invade with an overtly commercial platform as part of their activity.
The consumer ‘experiential’ campaign box was one that needed to be ticked but couldn’t be measured or evaluated, apart from the perception that it was cool and somehow added to the brand DNA. It usually delivered low numbers and made little impact.
However, as the rest of the below–the–line marketing world moves further toward advertiser–funded content, with digital downloads, mobile applications and online content, so an overtly branded presence at an event has also become acceptable, particularly if it adds value. Consumers now seem to actively embrace brands as part of their entertainment experience. Indeed, some look for the endorsement and assurance that a brand with which they are comfortable provides.
Brands now have confidence in their own identity to replicate or replace the entertainment provider roles, be it music promoter, record label or broadcaster.
As a result, commercial opportunities have grown exponentially for brands with the confidence to communicate aggressively at their events. This brave new world is a model that companies are rapidly embracing as consumers have grown to accept that brands and events are now inextricably linked.
Companies now view their entertainment platforms as viable commercial sellers; Virgin was one of the first to recognise this with the overtly branded V Festival that communicates as much about the brand as any of the bands on stage.
ITCH works closely with Virgin’s sponsorship team to create multiple touchpoints across site. There are Virgin ‘Angels’ to help campers carry their tents and we provide useful things such as recharge points for their phones.
We ensure we link everything back to the phones as well through ‘Text the Fest’, an interactive messaging service on the main stage. There’s also an opportunity to download performance times. Finally, there is the chance to swap to a free Virgin SIM, and even buy a handset.
Once a company has embraced experiential as a commercial opportunity, it reviews these events with the same critical eye as all of its other retail and marketing activities. How can we maximise the marketing opportunity and create commercial opportunities?
Where once companies were limited to the people who turned up on the day, now media fragmentation and new media opportunities can deliver the kind of numbers that a promoter could previously only dream about.
Consumers happily download live music as well as watch heavily branded TV shows. Meanwhile Second Life, the virtual world, recently created a virtual festival as part of a campaign with The Guardian. In effect an extension of the newspaper’s Glastonbury work, the activity delivered significant audience figures.
These opportunities have now elevated ‘experiential’ activity to marketing’s top table. At ITCH, we are now being brought into planning meetings much earlier and being used to help develop client marketing strategies. Experiential now delivers the same kind of numbers and ROI as advertising, and is evaluated and quantified by similar criteria.
Indeed, brand tracking for one of our clients even showed that an event compared favourably against its TV campaign. Long live brand engagement!