Experience is the message

Experiential marketing is often overlooked, but this wave of real-world ads proves it's more relevant than ever, writes School CEO

As marketers and advertisers chase trends and tools to reach elusive audiences, they have often ignored experiential marketing in favor of digital and television ads.

That is a serious mistake; experiential campaigns are more important than ever and will continue to be crucial for the foreseeable future.

A confluence of market forces is making experiential indispensible. Perhaps the most prevalent is the fact that messaging is becoming more complex for people to process. Just think about all those telephone plans and features that various carriers use to compete with each other, or financing options for appliances and cars.

Even more complex is healthcare and health insurance. The SCOTUS ruling in support of much of the Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare — was a boon to millions of people who were previously uninsured. It was also a boon for state marketplaces, insurance companies and the marketing agencies that serve them.

And yet to the average person, the notion of insurance and state marketplaces is still quite confusing. To break through and really start enrolling millions into the program will require more than just ads; it will require real-world outreach and personal engagement. This is exactly the advantage that experiential marketing provides.

Interestingly, an increasing number of TV spots are actually experiential campaigns on camera. Think of the Push For Drama video for TNT, or those Febreze commercials where people are blindfolded in the midst of garbage, or any one of those car spots where real people take real test drives. (Especially this latest work for Chevy Silverado).

I especially admire the experiential approaches that top agencies like Droga5 are taking — the work for Prudential, featuring giant dominos, was great and wholly experiential, as is this new ad for NRG.  These are all examples of experiential ideas becoming TV-centric work — more of this kind of hybridization is on the horizon.

It’s important to note that at time when most people mistrust advertising, we are beginning to use real people to tell brand stories for us. This is as experiential as it gets. The ability to be authentic and credible through real-world experiences is integral for brand trust. Great brands should be eager to create unfiltered engagements with their audiences, and experiential approaches to their marketing strategies do just that.

Experientialism is certainly found in broadcast and video content, but it is equally applicable to online and mobile marketing. As "digital" becomes more prevalent in our consuming life, the need for "physical" engagements will grow in parallel.  

In fact, creating bridges between physical and digital experiences will integral to experiential campaigns going forward. Products and innovations will follow suit. The physical-digital dynamic — increasingly symbiotic and important to marketing campaigns — manifests itself in many different ways.

Read more from Max Lenderman

Take Amazon’s Dash button, for instance. This physical button lets you place an order for a single, specific product from brands like Glad, Gatorade, Clorox, Maxwell House, Tide, Gillette and Bounty. Stick the button anywhere you like and, when you run low, press the button and an order is automatically shipped to you. And Amazon sells each one for $4.99.

A recent survey from Javelin found that people are now using their phones to buy more physical than digital things. "Even with the mobile purchasing of digital goods such as music, games and apps, physical goods now are the most popular products bought by the majority (51%) of mobile purchasers," it stated. "Physical goods are the only product type to grow in the world of mobile purchasing."

This example, of how we will use our digital tools to transact physical purchases and experiences, provides a glimpse into the future of our business. And experiential approaches are at the heart of what’s to come. We will increasingly rely on real-world campaigns that require authentic engagements and live experiences. In other words, experiential will make marketing more personal, more responsive and more human. It’s a brand-new world, indeed.

Max Lenderman is co­-founder of School, a purposeful creative shop based in Boulder, San Francisco and New York and part of the Project:WorldWide family of agencies.

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