In the past years I’ve seen the hype of brand activation while clients embrace experiential marketing as the uber cool new marketing gimmick. Our industry celebrates, how marketers include experiential in the marketing mix and how traditional marketing fails to deliver... Agencies opened their own brand activation companies and promotional, event, sponsorship and experiential marketing agencies started to bloom. All promised strategic alignment while “BREAKING THROUGH THE CLUTTER”. I’m sure every marketer in the world has read this sort of promise in a mission statement or in the -what we do- section on a corporate website. In my experience, from what I’ve seen and to be bluntly honest: IT’S BULL SHIT!
To make my case, I’ll set the stage around two examples of vast importance and huge visibility. The Montreal International Jazz Festival and The Honda Indy Toronto race, are huge events that mark the highlight of summer in Montreal and Toronto respectively, Drawing crowds from both Canada an abroad, these two events are landmarks in their own segment and generate a lot of interesting sponsorship opps (MONEY).
During the Jazz Fest in Montreal, one of the sponsors (Bell Canada) made a relevant presence on festival grounds. Being the communications and technology partner, they wanted to go beyond slapping their logo on the banner and wanted to ACTIVATE their new retail image and their not so “cool” device line. Most certainly, the retail marketing team was excited and they spoke to everybody else in marketing to come up with this. They either worked with their AOR or hired an experiential/event marketing firm to do things right.... I’m also sure, they worked with the same brief they used for traditional marketing and that they added a few buzz words they read on a book or on the past edition of marketing magazine.
So, first things first: Experience! Hah!! - I’m making this up, but pretending to be the experiential marketing agency- “Let’s bring the retail environment to the festival, let’s make it the hub for information. WOW! That’s relevant! And since we have retail out, let’s create an INTERACTION with people on the end of technology(devices). Yu! Hu!! So, let’s present the new retail image on booths in-line with the execution at retail.. Now, that’s a strategy for engagement and serious brand activation. As a result of the clients enthusiasm and commitment to the project, it all get’s approved and sent to production. Maybe one or two meetings with inter-agency teams for brand alignment purposes, creative art and that’s it: To production.
The agency is swamped with a lot of work and tight deadlines, but then again, they are charging on an engagement model based on the estimated number of attendees to the festival, so the bet will pay off, no problem. A few account people and some from creative are 200% on the project. They are developing and defining the dynamics, ordering decals, brochures, acrylic, writing copy, designing uniforms and promo material, as well as casting staff for the booth. So, it’s summer in Montreal and for some reason they believe Bell is sexy, so they hire on a 13 dollar/hour salary, the most curvy and exposed students out of McGill and Concordia. Right on: If you are seeking brand engagement, what better driver than cleavage and long tan legs......
After long nights of no sleep and a hard set-up shift, it’s SHOW TIME! Staff in place and all festival resources at hand, the festival begins and a sea of people flock Place Des Arts and 5 block around. As a well intended info booth, the Bell Experience was short in many things. First, in delivering an experience. Yes, It’s cool to walk into a tech dome that looks like Star Trek, but branding does not make an experience. OK, but it’s an information booth! So, information-communication-technology: It might make sense. When I walked in, I got a PITCH from Bell in the voice of a BEAUTIFUL university student wearing rather inappropriate clothing or maybe it was proper clothing with malfunctions throughout! I came in for information on the festival and got a minute flirt-pitch on Bell Mobility and Vu. I reformulated my query and was given a festival booklet and a program... BRAVO BELL, you suck! And to the agency involved in such a terrible EXPERIENCE: You suck more.
Agencies fail to deliver experiences being biased by traditional marketing, therefore believing that branding an event will translate into an experience! Stick to the brand promise and deliver on premise: PERIOD!
On the other hand but in the same line of mistakes, I attended a public teaser event around the Honda Indy Toronto race. Making it’s comeback after a year of absence and with a new title sponsor. A few days before the race and in the spirit to bring racing hype to the city, event organizers brought an activation to popular Dundas Square. There, sponsor, co-sponsors and race brands displayed all their muscle in an effort to “BRING BRANDS TO LIFE” in a “RELEVANT AND MEANINGFUL WAY”, “setting them apart from the competition. (Hahahaha, just an other catchy phrase you would see coming out of these self proclaimed experiential marketing agencies). Honda brought a few cars and even motorcycles to their central booth, Budweiser parked a massive trailer/bar on the other side, while other sponsors took smaller but everything but discrete stances, like: PizzaPizza, OLG and Schick. Throughout the whole day, they all stood out by being loud and pretending to make a ruckus, but you have to understand that todays branding has to make sense, otherwise you are just adding to the noise and there’s a lot of brand noise at Dundas Square.
PizzaPizza had a football game trying to be engaging yet far from relevant! OLG had a rather boring activity to uncover their brand promise: Of which I have no memory for being dull! Honda had sample dealership onsite, as if people want to see ordinary cars doing nothing! But the OSCAR of the misfits goes to Schick and their event/promo agency Boom! (one of the promo agents had a Boom! staff t-shirt).
Inside a tent they had a mechanical bull disguised as a razor. On every side there where two models who they dare to call “BRAND AMBASSADORS”, giving away razors for men to everyone. There was a ride facilitator, a time controller and a DJ/announcer worried about the ride and the timing, so I wonder if the brand stands for: Hanging on, falling, bouncing, shaking, yelling, shock, pain, aggressive or humiliating.
I hate it when brands think of branded entertainment as brand experience and in this case in particular, there is no connection or what so ever. Maybe they wanted to be fun, youthful and extreme, but when there is no narrative?? I’m sure the agency quantified engagement based on the number of samples given, a few pictures and maybe a video.
I’ve never seen such a foul ball hit, but since the agency is just nurturing the relationship for the buck, she either does her job right or she will be out of the job sooner than later.
Experiential marketing is not branding events at random: It must engage through an experience or it’s just a non-sense fake marketing ploy.