The New Rules of Event Marketing

by / November 11, 2014

Flash mobs are so 2009. Want to make an experience that will resonate? Here, the brightest idea-generators in marketing share their thoughts on the latest trends in live events.

As much as stunt can seem like a dirty word, marketing through stand-out events has never been so maverick. Whether you call it event marketing, experiential marketing, live marketing, participatory advertising, or any other moniker, this is a brave new world of blowing things up, building in a technological overlay to real-world places, and convincing otherwise sane passes-by to dance or change clothes in the street—all with the motive of engaging consumers. We talked with some of the smartest minds in experiential marketing to find out how they pull off memorable events—and make sure there’s significant consumer engagement long after the event is over. Here’s what they told us.

1. Create an event within an event. “We try to create an event within an event where we can touch a consumer one-on-one, where you can engage directly, and teach them about your product, and do so by interacting in a quality way. I just got back from Sundance, and we were doing VIP and celebrity shuttling to events in our vehicles, and the goal for us is to create an event within the vehicle. For Ray Ban we did a truth-or-dare themed campaign. We have video within the shuttles, and asked the passengers truth-or-dare questions, and were giving away free sunglasses. We had people dancing in the middle of the street, we had people telling us their biggest secrets. And that was not only fun for participants, but became a huge hit online after the event. We try to make it almost mass media, where they’re telling their friends to go here, or watch this video, and we create a whole social-media event around it. Why does it work? People go to these things to experience new things, and we’re giving them that. They want to share it with their friends naturally when they see something cool.”
Ian Greenberg, senior vice president of Show Media, an advertising agency based in New York City, which ranked No. 236 on the 2010 Inc. 500 | 5000

2. Employ GPS and real-time event tracking. “I think one of the things that we’ve been playing around with Real Good Chair [a documentary in which 25 chairs by Blu Dot were placed around New York City and tracked by GPS and film crews] is location and GPS. It’s something that someone can participate in and watch and see in real-time. You don’t have to be there in the streets of New York to see it—you have a whole other community that can go along with that experience. That connection with another event, is really new and the power of new is huge. If it feels like a different experience—if it captures your fascination, that’s what really gets passed along, and builds the press and community around it. It’s what flash parades were two years ago—that’s the scramble in many ways. Has anyone done this before? Will this be felt like a copycat? It’s all about staying new.”
Michael Hart, founder of Mono, an agency based in Minneapolis

3. Add another dimension. “A lot of the technologies that are potentially transformative to events today are essentially invisible. People have gotten used to 3-D technology, projections, and augmented reality that to have them at events feels a lot more natural today. I’d say augmented reality is a great technology you can use in the live space for project demonstrations. A couple of years ago it would have felt a lot more awkward, forced, and generally very Minority Report. QR codes are pretty invisible at this point, too, becoming much less awkward, more natural, and that lets them become sparks for natural interactivity. H&M and Samsung have done very beautiful projection mapping on buildings in Europe. It’s the kind of thing that’s not what people think of as traditional event, but it’s experience in the public domain that gets attention, and really can have the potential to get the attention online just because it’s cool to watch.”
Liz Bigham, senior vice president and director of marketing for Jack Morton Worldwide

4. Use ubiquitous social networking as a conduit for exclusivity. “The giant gorilla in the room is how do you use Facebook through your event and on-site activity? The first thing that’s happening is that I’m seeing a lot of brands encouraging people to become fans right there on site. It used to be that you’d have to have a computer there and encourage people to sign directly on your machine. Now, you can offer a direct reward, a prize, a premium, for fanning the product right then and there on their smartphone or mobile device. It’s giving them some real immediate value. Immediate liking and friending is becoming more popular. I’ve also seen a lot of exclusive access to existing fans. You promote the event you’re going to be at on Facebook—and you say, ‘hey, if you’re going to be there, here’s an exclusive thing for our fans,’ whether it’s parking, a free T-shirt, meeting a musician or DJ. We’re beginning to see, taking whatever’s happening at your event, a video game event, a concert, a snowboarding contest, you’re seeing not only being able to have physical access to it, but there would be content exclusive to Facebook. You can pick up about a million new brand fans by a good strategy of creating exclusive Facebook content. Do you want to see an interview with Sean White, or some neat snowboard footage? You can only see that on Facebook.”
Issa Sawabini, a partner and owner at Fuse, a youth-marketing agency based in Burlington, Vermont

5. Hire outside experts. Lots of them. When working on a campaign for Mafia Wars, in which an explosion of an armored truck would be staged in the Nevada desert, David Moranville, creative director and executive vice president of Davis Elen Advertising, said: “We were hoping to get MythBusters involved with us so they’d do a show. In the meantime, we started looking into different detonations and different companies that obliterate things.” Turns out, Los Angeles has quite a variety of companies that detonate blasts for hire. Moranville picked a company in Burbank called WESTefx, which had worked with special effects and blast technology in Apollo 13, Transformers, and Batman.  The first thing Davis Elen learned was their armored truck … didn’t actually need to be armored. It was stripped of a lot of the interior weight, including armor, engine, and interior detailing. Blasting caps were added to the interior of all the doors, so at detonation each flies 20 or 30 feet.  The truck was filled with artificial money, also rigged to blast away at the first explosion. Also, he knew that when there’s fire, there should be fire officials. And an EMT. And some hired police. The number of officials you’ll need to hire depends on geography and how many civilians will be nearby the stunt. In this case, where about 75 people would be present, Moranville needed between two and four Fire Marshalls, between four and six hired law enforcement agents, and an EMT. The total cost was less than $10,000.

6. Don’t fear consumers’ brutal honesty. “We did a ride and drive campaign for Hyundai Sonata this part year, which was part of a bigger campaign called Sonata Uncensored. The cars had cameras in them, and we invited people to give the cars test drives. So the drivers and passengers, once inside, could record themselves giving uncensored feedback on the car. It was used as part of a Facebook campaign, and a lot of that content—and content like it—was used for TV ads. The insight: Events are not just a moment in time, they are content that can be used in lots of ways, whether that’s online, or on TV.”
—Liz Bigham, senior vice president and director of marketing for Jack Morton Worldwide

7. Mash-up your technology. “You have to be in tune to what has been done before. It’s trying to mash up things that haven’t been mashed up before. Bringing a couple of technologies and mediums together that haven’t been brought together before is the key. Old media with new media, or new tech with more comfortable older tech. And with that, you build a fascination with a new way the world can work. It’s increasingly true that tech and creativity are becoming one in the same. I think they was a period of time where technology was a platform, and it was a group of people who solved problems for systems and machinery. There was a creative group, separately. They didn’t get together. Now there are minds that come from a technology background and have creativity. The great melding of those worlds is right now. Geek has been cool for a while, and is only getting cooler.”
—Michael Hart, founder of Mono, an agency based in Minneapolis

8. Tweeten the deal. “Almost every brand that has an audience in the Twitter age group—young adults who aren’t too young—and is becoming used to making constant updates from the on-site/booth/whatever it is. It used to be you put up a sign up outside your booth when something was happening. Now you post updates online. Brands are also getting good at creating on-site experiences over Twitter. It could be an on-site scavenger hunt. It could be taking a photo—something fun and challenging, and if they bring that back they win a prize.”

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin  via Inc.

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