I’ve been spending the past few days talking to the marketing agencies that run ‘experiential’ campaigns for brands. These are events held in stores, festivals, etc., where companies can interact directly with consumers to showcase a new make of car, the latest game console or mobile phone or whatever.
Social media has been playing a big role in these campaigns. If you take a roadshow to, say, ten major cities, or take a stand at a couple of big music festivals, you can interact directly with thousands of consumers. Creating a campaign website has always been seen as a way to extend the reach of the campaign to reach other people.
But in the past year, agencies have been going further, filming people at these events and then posting the clips on the website and YouTube. They are also creating their own Facebook and Twitter pages and encouraging people to create and share their own content.
An example: Adidas created a campaign to drive awareness of the tie-up with UEFA Champions League, visiting five different locations in the UK and inviting 10-14 year olds to show off their football skills. On its own that was never going to reach a lot of people. But by encouraging the kids to share their experiences the total reach was over 800,000 consumers.
Another is VW, which avoided conventional advertising when promoting its new camper vans and instead started an online dialogue with the camping community via social media, using content generated at marketing events.
The agencies make the point that social media is different from other forms of marketing. It’s not about pushing your message out, it’s about getting consumers to interact with you, by providing engaging events, competitions and other stuff that they are likely to be interested in, and then encouraging them to share it.
Some companies do worry about not being able to control what goes out – it’s just not what they are used to. It’s important to be aware of the pitfalls. For instance food brands who tried to copy the famous Cadbury gorilla ad, and get the same sort of exposure on YouTube, were heavily criticised, as their efforts lacked the creativity and spontaneity of the original.
But done well, it really works, the agencies say. And where experiential marketing used to be seen as a low-cost add-on to conventional advertising, the use of social media has suddenly made it into a viable alternative – and at virtually no extra cost.