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The most effective brand activations: Converse, Greggs, Google, Tesla


By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

September 19, 2018 | 8 min read

The Drum lists the most effective and engaging PR stunts of 2018, as chosen by industry aficionados.

The most engaging brand activations of 2018 so far: Converse, Google & Tesla make the cut

The best PR stunts of 2018

The panel features industry experts from Amplify, Benefit Cosmetics, Hearst Magazines, Identity, and Initials Marketing spoke to The Drum about their favourite brand activations of the year. All members of the panel are judges for The Drum Experience Awards.

Jonathan Emmins, founder, Amplify

Sometimes brand experiences need to communicate and convey complex stories and messages - but not always. There’s been a run of clever, incredibly simple, easily accessible and most importantly memorable activations blurring the lines between brand experience, advertising, PR and media.

Google went global with its Home Mini ‘Size of a donut. Power of a superhero’ campaign – a simple play on how much the Home Mini looks like a donut. All around the world saw incredibly well executed pop-up Donut shops that encouraged people to experience and embrace a Home Mini to win one, or worst case win two donuts.

Google Home Mini: donut

Despite being weeks in advance of the actual holiday, Burger King has already bossed Halloween with their ‘Come as a clown, eat like a king’ trolling McDonald’s – doling out free whoppers to those dressed as clowns. It’s an incredibly low-cost experience that shouts volumes.

Burger King: Come as a clown

However, sometimes the best ideas don’t even need a strap-line. Placing 84 statues of men on the top of ITV’s Southbank building to raise awareness of 84 male suicides per week kicked off a debate we all needed to have – supported by an overwhelmingly thorough and well thought-out amplification campaign. Was it a brand experience? Maybe. Was it the best activation I’ve seen this year? Undoubtedly. Hats off all involved.

This was just one example of some of the major advancements in campaigns for raising the profile on mental health issues.

Calm: 84 suicides a week

Kyra White, head of brand activation, Benefit Cosmetics

One activation that stood out, and I attended was the Aperol Big Spritz event in Shoreditch. Everything was well thought out, fun and memorable. While the drink and the bar was the main focus, elements such as the rowboats on the orange river made it interactive and more than just a pop up to have a drink at.

All guests seemed to be enjoying it, it wasn’t too crowded which sometimes ruins an experience but had a great buzz. I didn’t know too much about the brand but the bartenders were well informed and explained the Italian heritage and how the event was designed to bring to spontaneous Italian/European spirit to us Brits.

The swinging seats, pizzas and branded giveaways provided lots of Instagram moments but I didn’t find myself glued to my phone, posting pics which was refreshing as I was enjoying the moment. Although it was a branded event it didn’t feel like I was being sold to which I think breaks with the traditional behaviors of many alcohol brands. I noticed a ton of outside advertising in the weeks following the event which was perfectly timed as it’s made the event stick with me.

Victoria Archbold, director of events and sponsorship, Hearst Live, Hearst Magazines UK

We are seeing a continuing trend towards less traditional fashion catwalk based shows and more immersive, experiential experiences putting the attendee at the heart of it. This year London Fashion Week successfully managed to turn even the most established fashionistas into small children. From playing in Stella McCartney's ball pit, to shopping fake groceries in Rixo’s store and Anya Hindmarsh’s who presented the opportunity to have an afternoon nap on her chubby cloud with a special acknowledgment for convincing key fashion names to don giant ‘baby grow’ like boiler suits– especially when it came to covering up their specially curated outfits).

Anya Hindmarsh: Giant beanbag

Here we have continued examples of how events are allowing brands, the individual's names and faces around them to express their personalities. It’s become less about eyes on the catwalk and more about the scroll of fingers on your smartphone.

Michael Geitzen, group managing director, Identity

Okay, so you’ve successfully figured out how to launch a private rocket into space, and safely land it, too. Now what? In February Elon Musk, the business visionary and real-life Tony Stark, dazzled the world by launching his own car into space, triggering a massive wave of promotion for two of his biggest companies at the same time.

The vehicle, a 2008 Tesla Roadster that Musk had previously used for his daily drive to work, was mounted on the top of a Falcon Heavy rocket and featured “Starman”, a spacesuit-clad mannequin sitting in the driver’s seat. The rocket was built and launched by Musk’s company, SpaceX, and of course, he owns Tesla too. Musk noted that one of the biggest challenges of the launch was creating a suit for Starman that could handle the rigors of space travel – it was fully functional – while looking cool and fashionable.

Tesla didn’t spend a penny on marketing for the stunt, but it did set SpaceX back some $500 million in planning and development. But the cultural impact, which included everything from global coverage, from more than two million concurrent viewers on YouTube and a wave of internet memes, made it oh so worth it.

Starman is currently orbiting the Earth, and you can visit to track exactly where he is at any time.

Rachel Bateman, head of live engagement and director, Initials Marketing

When it comes to the best brand activations of 2018, there are two in particular which stand out for me. The expected vs. the unexpected.

The Converse ‘One Star Hotel’, executed with high production value, saw Converse create a two day pop up in Shoreditch. The hotel focused on presenting an engaging line up of fashion, music, sneaker and skate experiences for Converse’s audience and influencers. The activation was an ‘Instagram playground’ and brought the Converse story alive for the highly engaged Gen Z target audience, increasing the brand’s overall reach and effectiveness through UGC.

Converse: One Star Hotel

Every part of the experience was highly considered and played up to their rebellious personality. Significantly, their products sat at the heart of the activation, with sneakers influencing rooms with their style, usage, and color.

As for the unexpected, I loved Greggs bakery’s Valentine’s activation.

Greggs: Valentine's Day

A brand that in order to get cut through needed to be different. The high street bakery chain became a candlelit restaurant for the evening of Valentine's Day through OpenTable. Using a key calendar moment, it gave media a great narrative and new angle to promote the brand and their later opening hours. Greggs used humor to bring the idea to life with its tongue in cheek take on Valentine’s occasion, providing a bespoke menu of bakery goods. This seemingly low budget activation attracted masses of media attention.

Greggs drew further media, and Piers Morgan, attention this year when it launched its vegan sausage roll.

The Drum Experience Awards are now open to submissions for 2019. Make sure you get your entries in before August 29 to receive a special discounted rate.

Sponsors of the 2018 awards are Identity and UGCA

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