Not every member of an experiential campaign team needs to stand out from the crowd. Dominique Packham, Staffing Director at Sense, looks at the situations where being invisible can be critical for the success of a campaign.
Successful experiential marketing is all about bringing a brand to life in the real world to make the best possible connection with its target audience to maximise engagement. Traditionally, this has been through overt brand ambassadors clad in striking uniforms, engaging directly with the public. This approach still works well, as The Economist discovered recently with its successful summer subscriptions drive offering insect ice cream to professionals in London and Hong Kong. It proved a great way to target people most likely to be interested in taking up a subscription to the magazine, as it addressed the world food shortage, a key Economist topic.
However, the growing sophistication and creativity of experiential activities, driven by the need to develop more unique and relevant experiences for brands, means, increasingly, experiential staff need to be invisible. That’s not to say they don’t exist. In fact, we’re using more staff than ever. It’s just that our activations are requiring more organisation behind the scenes, while those ‘front of house’ are not necessarily identifiable as brand ambassadors.
Creating the illusion
Yes, I’m talking deception. But not designed to con an audience, rather to heighten the experience to make it more fun and engaging. The extreme end of this trend is prankvertising, where the general public finds itself on the end of a practical joke around a particular brand, which is filmed with the intention of taking it viral. Sometimes these are real or set up – as in the supposed member of the public is actually an actor. One recent example was the launch of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s new headphone brand ROC Live Life Loud. Ronaldo is well known for his fancy footwork and this activity saw him disguised with scruffy hair and big beard performing football tricks on the streets of Madrid. Most people ignored him, but when a young boy stopped to play with him and got himself a signed football, an internet clip of the incident went viral and an advertiser’s dream came true! Was that boy real? Who knows? Often creating effective real world impact requires a bit of fakery.
Secret Cinema is a great example of the kind of techniques being increasingly used to create immersive experiential events, where promotional staff use their acting and role-playing abilities to deepen the experience for consumers. Secret Cinema fuses film, music, theatre and art, creating large-scale cultural experiences in abandoned spaces. Audiences explore immersive worlds where fiction and reality blur. Its popularity has seen it grow year-on-year and it now has a 100-day run over the summer.
Guitar Hero Live exploded onto the gamer scene after a five-year absence at festivals over the summer with an experience staffed almost entirely by role-playing actors. A two-storey branded iconic guitar amp offered festival-goers the chance to try the new game before release on the first floor. Meanwhile ‘security guards’ spotted ‘bands’ (groups of two to six people) from the queue, who where then whisked upstairs to the VIP backstage green room, where they were looked after by A&R staff and adored by fans – all played by actors, of course – to make them feel like real rock stars.
The show must go on
This kind of experience pushes promotional staff to new heights. They need to be able to play their part all day long, repeating and re-delivering over and over again, which is no easy task.
There will also be a host of truly invisible behind-the-scenes staff managing, re-stocking, fixing and tidying to keep the activity constantly on track. Just like a theatre or film set, there will be the few leading actors, supported by many more people ensuring the ‘stars’ can put on the best possible show. These unsung heroes are just as important as the ‘cast’, as they ensure that the illusion is maintained throughout.
Successful activation means staff need to be fully immersed in and knowledgeable of the brand in order to naturally embody it. Training days are, therefore, more interactive and involve role plays and scenarios that may arise from consumer interactions, so staff don’t break character and reveal their true selves. Implemented correctly, this can deliver incredible engagement levels for brands and great fun – along with added value – for consumers.
Dominique Packham is Staffing Director at Sense