Experiential Advertising Is Sweet

Nintendo, a hot young entertainment startup out of Japan, spent the summer on a promotional tour of the United States. Between June and September, the company bounced around 13 of the country’s biggest markets and invited locals of all ages to hang out and play — setting up creative and colorful areas with high-def TVs and the latest games for the Nintendo Switch. This summer of play was branded the “Summer of Play,” and was a rousing success in experiential advertising.

It’s yet to be seen if this exciting campaign will make Nintendo a household name. (From the looks of it, it may have a fighting chance.) But at the very least, it’s another winning example of experiential advertising: the marketing philosophy built upon tangible, engaging interactions between companies and potential customers.

Image Credit: Go Nintendo

Image Credit: Nintendo Wire

Now, experiential marketing ain’t cheap. It’s also not for everyone — for instance, a corporate tax firm may not translate well into a sensory encounter. With the way things are going, though, I wouldn’t … write it off. In a 2016 survey by the Event Marketing Institute (EMI), 74 percent of consumers said they are more likely to spend after engaging with these branded “event marketing experiences.” And in a 2015 survey, 29 percent of brands reported an ROI of at least 10-to-1 after an experiential event. Much of the data in these surveys points toward an upward trend in the popularity and success of experiential advertising as a whole.

Plus, it’s worth noting: Experiential advertising is sweet.

Think of it this way: Would you rather watch an ad of someone washing their hair, sandwiched between countless other clips? Or actually get to feel what it’s like to have that shampoo grace your noggin, while surrounded by smiling, selfie-shooting new friends lathering their own scalps? (Assuming we all shampoo here.) In the case of Nintendo: Is there any pop-up ad or magazine full-pager that could replicate the feeling of actually playing the game at hand? Let alone in an vibrant, shady tent on a warm summer day?

For brands who can pull off an experiential event, the lasting impression on those who engage with it is a rare, special commodity.

Experiential or “event” marketers simply have a larger canvas to paint on than traditional or digital marketers: the physical world. There will always be a need for these other advertising methods. They can reach a far wider audience with less effort, and have a degree of permanence and control that a “happening” can never achieve. But for those brands who can pull off an experiential event, the lasting impression on those who engage with it is a rare, special commodity.

It’s no surprise, then, that established marketing companies are dipping their toes in the water; giants like BBDO and Deutsch have a growing portfolio of branded events with some big-name clients. Pop culture meccas like Coachella and SXSW are now venerable Super Bowls of innovative marketing experiences. Event Marketer magazine launched the Ex Awards in the early aughts — planned around the company’s annual Experiential Marketing Summit — that recognizes excellence across numerous categories (e.g., Best Trade Show Experience, Best Use of Guerilla/Street Marketing and so on). Clicking through some of the recent winners can give you an idea of how impressive and compelling these events can be, often injecting a “wow” factor into ordinary products and places.

One example from this year is Gatorade’s Fuel Lab, winner of Best Consumer Environment at the Ex Awards. The traveling brand “activation” combined a virtual reality chat with major sports stars, an entertaining crash course in body science, and an interactive station where visitors designed a customized bottle and ideal flavor of Gatorade — all in an environment designed after the actual Gatorade testing facility in Barrington, Illinois. Visitors received their one-of-a-kind bottle (along with a free backpack!) at the end of the ordeal, out of a locker that lit up with their name.

Image Credit: Behance

Image Credit: FormScience

This is just one of the hundreds of awesome campaigns witnessed and experienced this year. Experiential marketing continues to grab the attention of brands across a litany of industries, and firms around the globe have no choice but to step their collective games up. As with the internet and social media before it, experiential is swiftly changing the very meaning of “marketing.”

It’s no longer enough to just give consumers a piece of paper with your name on it; they need an event — something to laugh, talk and tweet about. And if you have a product worth experiencing, now is the time to build awareness through experience. The right campaign can become a defining chapter in your narrative, and a pretty sweet memory for those who experience it. In a world where memories are all but the official currency, these ideas are a true thing of value.

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