In an increasingly digitized world, experiential marketing is proving popular among brands eager to retain a real-world connection with their consumers.
Often heralded as a back to basics marketing approach, experiential marketing is in fact well suited to the needs of the modern consumer. For both Gen Z and millennials, there is a greater emphasis placed on experiences over material wealth, and experiential activations therefore allow brands to give these audiences what they crave. Such emotional connections can in turn drive long-term advocacy.
Here The Drum looks back on nine of the most interesting recent examples of experiential marketing from the likes of Vans, Smirnoff and Netflix.
Vans: House of Vans
The House of Vans event spaces are located in Brooklyn, New York, Chicago and London but also appear as pop-ups in various locations. The shoe retailer has created these event spaces for the skateboarding community to get together and enjoy shared passions like music, film, and sports.
On International Women’s Day this year, Vans used its spaces to promote women in skateboarding, hosting skate sessions, documentary screenings and live music. This immersive experience brought members of the skate community together to promote female visibility within the scene, part of an overarching marketing strategy for the brand.
The events spaces not only lent themselves well to the International Women’s Day activities but have also been used to promote the launch of a line of Vans x David Bowie trainers. The launch party for the line included music, art, and fashion to celebrate the music icon.
Smirnoff: ‘We’re open’
Supporting an initiative by Westminster Council and LGBT Foundation, vodka brand Smirnoff deployed groups of helpers to ensure that everyone got home safe throughout the festive period. These ‘Soho Angels’, based primarily in London’s West End, were trained to recognize those most vulnerable and provide support and guidance. This was part of a wider appeal across London to ensure nighttime safety throughout the city, yet this particular initiative was focused on the LGBTQ+ community, who are often attacked due to their sexual orientation.
The ‘Soho Angels’ were part of Smirnoff’s wider ‘We’re Open’ campaign which looks to promote inclusivity and equality. In supporting this initiative and improving nightlife safety for the queer community, Smirnoff ensured the wellbeing of its patrons in a less intrusive manner. It remains experiential marketing, providing a valuable experience without pushing the product in consumers' faces.
Xbox: Survival Billboard
To promote the exclusive Xbox game ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’, in 2015 the console brand challenged eight members of the public to an endurance test in a stunt dubbed ‘Survival Billboard’. The concept was created by m:united and McCann London, and saw the group try to withstand some of the world’s most extreme weather conditions for 24 hours, as chosen by Twitter followers. The winner would receive a holiday, inspired by the game.
In a move to raise awareness among the public around the issue of animal trafficking, WWF and The People’s Postcode Lottery produced a life-size elephant hologram that roamed the streets of London for a week. The animal charity looked to tackle the out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude that people tend to adapt over issues like this. This was part of a wider marketing campaign that also saw the design of a number of pedestrian crossings with prints of marine turtles, snow leopards and tigers, the animals most affected by the trade.
This particular activity was effective as it not only educated the public on the difficulties faced by these animals, but also physically placed them into the paths of the public. In doing so it bridged the gap between our modern world and the wild, helping us to understand the loss and knock-on effect this activity has on all of us.
Amnesty International: ‘Glass Box’
As part of another attention-grabbing campaign by a charity, Amnesty International looked to raise awareness of the inhumane treatment of refugees and their children at the hands of the UK government. To bring this issue to public light, Amnesty asked various families to spend the weekend in a glass box in London.
This activation was simple but effective, highlighting the aspects of family life that we so often take for granted, yet are denied to refugees. In a similar campaign, Amnesty introduced a ‘Family-free zone’, where parents were told they had to be separated from their children, causing much distress.
Paddy Power: ‘Sinner to Winner’
Paddy Power never misses the opportunity to poke fun at prominent events, and Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland in 2018 was no exception. While the bookmaker is no stranger to courting controversy, this activation was one that really got people talking - literally.
To give the Irish people the chance to absolve their sins and clear their conscience before the Pope arrived, Paddy Power erected a massive Drive Thru confessional box outside Dublin’s Phoenix Park.
This example of experiential marketing is highly memorable and serves to entwine Paddy Power with such a high-profile event, increasing brand awareness long after the experience has passed. This is just one example of how Paddy Power leverages its signature humor in marketing campaigns; the brand, in fact, has a track record of ruffling a few feathers.
Netflix: Luke’s Diners
To promote the 16th anniversary of Gilmore Girls and the release of its four-part reunion season, ‘A Year in the Life’, Netflix launched a nationwide campaign that converted 200 US coffee shops into Luke’s Diners.
Choosing to engage only independent coffee shops (very Stars Hollow), Netflix kept its budget low but brand awareness high; coffee shops reported crowds queuing around the corner before they had opened. This activation kept costs low, while also promoting the season in a way that fans of the show would really appreciate. As such, Netflix was able to generate a lot of personalized content on social media and brand awareness.
Ikea: Bath Boats Drive
In order to promote its newly opened and sustainable Greenwich store, the homewares giant sent two large boats made from the brand’s Smakryp bath model along London’s rivers to collect plastic and rubbish. When collected, this waste was then upcycled to make a sculpture that would stand in the new store.
Ikea positioned itself in this marketing ploy as an eco-warrior, driving not only positive sentiment around the brand but no doubt footfall to its latest store.
Desperados: ‘Epic Parties Imagined by You’
As part of the beer brand’s ‘Epic parties imagined by you’ series, Desperados claimed to have launched the largest-ever video light show. The unplugged party was the brainchild of Karolina Gilob, who felt that people’s dependency on their phones was negatively impacting their socialization at parties. Upon arrival, guests handed over their mobile in exchange for a beer. Following this, the phones were linked up and played synchronized animations in time with the music.
Different from the experiential marketing of today as it removes the element of social media to share the experience online, this activation succeeds in creating an entirely immersive experience that has been designed by consumers.