"Experiential Marketing, it’s a potent way to cut through the clutter and grab attention" - The Drum
Experiential marketing and PR stunts have become increasingly popular over the years and although they were once seen as separate entities, they are now closely linked.
When executed properly your brand can simply sit back and reap the rewards. Experiential marketing and PR stunts are a unique way to raise awareness, generate press coverage and quickly create explosive conversations about your brand on social media.
Consumers now expect experiences that create shareable and relatable moments.
Your target audience should no longer be considered a passive audience but one that co-collaborates and joins the journey of evolution with your brand.
In this piece, you will find the best collection of experiential wins and gain practical insight into how you can create unique experiences that matter to your customers, while simultaneously revolutionising your brand. I will be exploring how you can incorporate PR stunts and experiential marketing techniques within your wider marketing strategy, regardless of your budget, so that you can achieve an unforgettable buzz about your brand.
Let’s go back to the start
PR stunts are by no means a new thing. Back in 1928 George Washington Hill, president of American Tobacco Company, hired the founding father of public relations, Edward Bernays, to revolutionise the way smoking was seen among women. Smoking in the 1920s was a perfectly acceptable social habit for men. However, for women it would be considered a social taboo with instances of some being handed prison sentences to reprimand such behaviour.
It was the job of Bernays to convince women that following in the footsteps of their male counterparts and taking up smoking would benefit them in the fight for gender equality. And so, the Torches of Freedom campaign, the first PR stunt of its kind, was born.
On the 31st of March 1929, Bernays made his first move with the campaign. During the Easter Parade, his willing secretary Bertha Hunt lit a Lucky Strike cigarette on the bustling Fifth Avenue. Of course, behind the scenes all the right moves had been orchestrated to ensure that this stunt was going to be seen by as many people as possible.
Bernays hired a group of ten young women to follow in the footsteps of Hunt and ‘light up’ among the crowds at the parade. The press had been informed prior to the stunt taking place and in the days that followed, the story had been covered in every well read newspaper across America. Sales for cigarettes increased and women felt somewhat empowered.
Although we have come a long way since the workings of Bernays, many of the fundamental principles remain the same.
1. Audience - Identify the key audience you want to reach as an outcome of the stunt. If you don’t have a news hook then it is unlikely to be picked up by the press. PR stunts are a great way to reinvent your brand and reach, and an audience you may not necessarily communicate with, as Bernays did with American Tobacco Company.
2. Messaging - Work out key messaging and how you are going to get these messages to resonate with your target audience. Do not force messaging on your desired audience; if your brand messages don’t align with their values it is more likely to have a detrimental effect than positive.
3. Planning - To execute a stunt every element must be taken into consideration and planned meticulously. It is impossible to do a run-through without jeopardising genuine public reaction so the strategy and final implementation must be managed meticulously with all variables outside of your control taken into consideration.
4. Media - Inform important stakeholders (media/influencers) before the stunt takes place to ensure you maximise the opportunity for coverage. Get the right people there with the right information and your content will create itself.
Who Is Doing It Well?
When it's time to think about memorable stunts there is no escaping the fact there are some brands that are innovating and leading the way when it comes to PR stunts and experiential marketing.
Cast your mind back to 2012 when Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner stepped out of his capsule and into the stratosphere on behalf of the Red Bull Stratos operation. The numbers surrounding this stunt are quite staggering. Baumgartner began his freefall from a record height of 128,100 foot at an eye-watering top speed of 833.9mph; on the ground was a 300-man team supporting the $30 million operation.
It is also estimated that around 8 million people watched the YouTube live stream, with 40 TV stations and 130 digital outlets broadcasting the event - and views for the mission highlights video on YouTube keep rising.
Why was this stunt so successful?
Well, it was quite literally out of this world. There is something, we as people, find fascinating about others putting themselves in situations that push the limits of ‘normal’ human behaviour. In the lead-up to the event it was described as 'death defying' with huge speculation around the effects the stunt would have on Baumgartner’s body. It was reported in the Guardian, by Baumgartner, that at one point he thought his life was in genuine danger due to the way he was descending back to Earth. Could it be the case that some people were simply watching to see if Baumgartner would survive or not?
What's interesting is, as shown in the graph below, you can see that the mentions around the event, in October 2012, actually focused on Baumgartner (blue) as opposed to the Red Bull brand.
Another example of a brand who have nailed the PR stunt is Paddy Power. Just look at this screenshot. Four out of the first five results reference Paddy Power - so what are they doing so well?
Anyone remember Roy the Redeemer? Before the 2012 European Championships, Paddy Power erected a 108ft statue of England’s former manager, Roy Hodgson, on the White Cliffs of Dover.
The stunt was a humorous nod towards the England football team having a successful tournament. The statue was created as part of the ‘We Hear You’ initiative in which the famous bookies acted on suggestions made via followers on social media.
This was a great of example of making your customers part of the experience and taking them on a journey with your brand in a pivotal time frame for your business.
It is also a demonstration of tapping into the common values of your audience. It is no secret that the English football team historically do not do very well in international tournaments.
Imagine it. You’re on your usual commute to work, coffee in hand, scrolling through Twitter, catching up on current affairs. Your train pulls up at your stop and instead of getting off and being greeted by the wall of agitated commuters waiting to get on, you’re met by a giant life sized polar bear. No, you aren’t dreaming - you've found yourself among Sky Atlantic’s PR stunt for TV show Fortitude.
Sky Atlantic wanted to drive intrigue and excitement around their upcoming arctic crime drama. 48 hours before the launch of the show, an 8ft long, fully animated polar bear was unleashed onto the streets of London in spots such as Hampstead Heath, Charing Cross Underground and the South Bank.
were nearly 47 million impressions on Twitter with 30 million of those coming from the UK. The show launched with around 700,000 viewers - the biggest audience to date for a UK originated drama on the channel. Fortitude averaged 722,000 viewers and a 3.5% audience share from 9pm, nearly 20 times the ratings for that particular time slot on Sky Atlantic.
“People talk about experiences every day because life is ultimately an amalgamation of daily experiences. Experiences are real. They are true life. If someone is going about their daily lives as usual, and within their normal routine they engage in a positive brand experience, then that consumer will be likely to discuss or mention it to most of the people that they interact with for the rest of the day or even week.” Smilansky (2009)
This stunt is a prime example of giving people an unexpected experience in their day to day lives. Nobody had to go out of their way to do anything apart from go about their business of going to work or taking in the sights of London. Nobody was asked to do anything with the experience but instead took it upon themselves to create a buzz on social media, resulting in exactly the outcome Sky Atlantic were looking for.
Sony Pictures #GhostbustersWaterloo
To promote the release of Sony Pictures’ remake of the well-loved classic Ghostbusters, a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was seen breaking out of the ground and London’s Waterloo Station on July 11th, 2016.
laying on the slogan ‘something strange in your neighbourhood’ Sony Pictures completely transformed Waterloo Station into a film-themed showcase over a two-week period, with commuters encouraged to capture a picture and share it on Twitter using the #ghostbusterswaterloo.
Actors were also on hand to interact with commuters, giving them a completely rounded experience and engaging with as many of their senses as possible. Business cards were also distributed to passers by who could call the Ghostbusters headquarters on 0800 2229 911 and hear a message from the Ghostbusters team. The number was also displayed on phone boxes across the UK, plastered with the ever so iconic slogan: “Who you gonna call?”.
As well as being highly engaged with on social media, the stunt was picked up by the media who absolutely loved it. National, local/regional and trade media covered the stunt, resulting in positive coverage for the release of the film.
You can see some of the coverage below:
• International Business Times
• Digital Spy
This stunt is the perfect example of giving people an experience that reinforces recognisable messages and re-engages them with a brand that may have fallen off their radar. Making the experience highly shareable on Twitter leads to intrigue from other people who may be in the area and can come and interact with your experience.
Roman Originals #TheDress
Surely dress gate is one of the most heated debates of the last ten years and it well and truly divided the internet. Whether you were team blue-black or team white-gold it was a conversation you simply couldn’t escape.
A simple image of a blue and black striped dress was posted to Tumblr asking followers for their opinion on what colour the dress was. For me personally, I saw white and gold and I genuinely couldn’t understand how people were ‘mistaking’ this for a blue and black dress. Within hours the dress was EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t look online or turn on the TV or radio without people discussing #TheDress and after just one day of media coverage Roman Originals saw a 560% increase in global sales of the dress.
In the month after the story broke, data shows that Roman Originals saw a 17,550% increase in press mentions, from giants including The New York Times and Wired having their say, and a staggering 2,339% increase in new back links to the site.
The debate saw celebrities go into meltdown with Taylor Swift describing she saw the dress as blue and black and the whole thing had left her ‘confused and scared’ while the tweet also caused a divide in the Kardashian-West household with Kim declaring the dress was white and gold and Kanye disputing the claims of his wife!
Roman Originals quickly piggybacked off the inadvertent social media frenzy unfolding before them and quickly brought the now famous dress back into stock, placed it on the homepage and announced the true colour of the dress. Roman Originals then went on to release the same dress, but this time in white and gold, again increasing more exposure for their brand.
This PR stunt really highlights how technology has revolutionised the way brands can establish themselves in the digital space. Something as simple as an image has the ability to go viral very quickly. The ability to bring celebrities and ‘normal people’ into the same conversation via the power of social media is something quite phenomenal for a brand to be a part of. As well-known American marketing consultant Jay Baer puts it:
“Content is fire, social media is gasoline.”
Carlsberg: Probably the best…
In 2015 Carlsberg, the Danish brewer, launched an interesting billboard near the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane in London and featured the slogan: 'Probably the best poster in the world.' The poster followed the revived “If Carlsberg did” campaign.
Not only did Carlsberg erect a huge poster in the capital city, but for one day only it fitted a beer tap so that passers by could help themselves to half a pint of cold lager straight from the tap.
The billboard was technically unbranded, but the recognisable slogan set on the iconic green colours of Carlsberg and instantly people knew the brand at the helm of the creative stunt.
Ryan Newey, Executive Creative Director of Fold7, the agency behind the stunt, commented: “'If Carlsberg did’ is an iconic property. Our challenge was to take something that is already so well known and bring it to life in a way that will engage today’s consumer. Our ambition was to create the world’s best poster, and one that serves beer could certainly fit the bill."
So, what can you take from this? Keep it simple. A recognisable slogan, free beer, a little bit of luck with the weather and this campaign was a hit with all who interacted with it.
Plain clothed Carlsberg staff were on hand to make sure that the campaign ran smoothly but other than that, the management on the day was minimal.
I have no doubt that Carlsberg still had massive investment with this campaign, but it just shows that getting your product in front of people in an usual way is the best way to grab their attention and get them interacting with your brand.
For more stunts that have focused on social marketing campaigns, my colleague Tami Briesies compiled a list of some of the best past and present.
6 Tips for how to make it work for your brand
When looking at these stunts and campaigns created by bigger brands it is easy to forget about the outcomes achieved and focus on the money spent to create these stunts. It’s no secret - a big experiential marketing campaign will cost you an awful lot of money.
But bigger doesn’t always mean better and spending money will not guarantee you results. A smaller, well-planned campaign can drive results for your brand even when you are working on a budget. Often, the concept outweighs the investment in terms of driving results for your brand.
Here are some tips to follow to plan an effective experiential campaign for your business.
1. Be realistic
All you need is a creative idea. Experiential marketing and PR stunts is now common practice for a lot of brands, so you need to do something people won’t have seen before. Do your research and see what has and hasn’t been done before and use these as the premise for your ideation process.
2. Quality first
Everything you do should be done well. Don’t over stretch your experience with extravagant gestures and over the top elements. Keep it simple so you can ensure quality at all times. If you get the quality right, then consumers are guaranteed a positive experience.
3. Create a timeline…
…. and stick to it. The quickest way to spend too much money is by doing everything last minute. Creating a timeline will allow you to shop around and get the best prices and compile all budget requirements ahead of the event.
4. Take advantage of existing events and resources
Don’t reinvent the wheel. If there are certain calendar dates or existing events that you can tag on to, get the right permissions and go for it. Sometimes it’s just easier to join the conversation than start it.
5. Utilise social media
Social media should be your best friend. Think about your slogan and event details carefully and use your social media channels as a way of communicating this with your audience. Think about making the content shareable, the more eyeballs that see it the better. Journalists, now more than ever, are all using social media effectively.
6. Avoid being corporate
Most stunts are going to need a picture and/or video element, but please resist diluting them with corporate branding and logos. A great stunt will prompt people to learn more about who is behind the campaign's success and why it has been done.
6 tips for how to measure success of your PR efforts
1. Did you meet the objectives outlined at the beginning of the campaign?
First things first, always revert to the objectives you set out to complete at the very beginning. If you made these objectives measurable then it should be relatively easy to determine whether you can class your PR stunt/event/experience as a success.
2. Eyeballs on the day
Of course, one way to measure the success of your event or stunt is to keep a track of the footfall on the day. How many people actively interacted with your brand? How many people passed through the area? It’s pretty straightforward; if you didn’t see a single person all day, then not a single person saw you. So, who is going to kick start the conversation about your brand?
3. Social media interactions
Social media is a great way to measure the success of your event or experience. Social media measurements should always focus on conversations about your brand and the sentiment in which you are being talked about. Setting up a hashtag and getting people to engage with it can be a great way to quickly measure the success of your event or experience. If positive social media mentions and conversations about your brand increase before, during and after your event or experience then you can count this as a success.
4. Media coverage - how were these interacted with?
Media coverage, of course, is every PR's end goal so keeping an eye on how many media mentions you get is vital. Setting up Google Alerts and other brand tracking measures will help you keep on top of who is talking about you online. Using tools such as SEMRush and Majestic can help you determine the quality of these sites and give you an indication of the number of eyeballs on your content. It is also worth looking at how the media coverage is interacted with. Are people commenting on it or sharing it on social platforms? If they are, you have just extended your reach even further.
5. Website traffic
Google Analytics allows us to measure visitor numbers over any given period, and view this data against PR activity. This is useful in tracking activity throughout the campaign against the time of spikes in visitor numbers to the website to measure what is working and receiving positive engagement from consumers. Digging a little deeper in this, you will also get an insight into the pages that are working well on your site and keeping consumers on there.
Sales that come direct from a PR stunt or experiential marketing event can be relatively hard to quantify. Give people something at the event, a discount code for example, and this will help you track your contribution to sales. It is always worth asking your consumers where they heard about you. Hopefully a percentage of them will say through media/social/online - which will indicate to you that your PR efforts are working.
What can we expect to see from experiential in 2017?
First of all, we have to think about social developments. Now, more than ever, we will see social focus even more on live video. With the development of Facebook Live and Snapchat, brands can now broadcast content in real-time to an already existing audience. The key here is understanding what consumers are expecting to see from this content and what will make content engaging and shareable.
Michael Brown, Insight Director at Universal McCann, commented on the topic of live video:
"Brands should tread carefully here unless they have a robust understanding of what consumers want to see (if anything!); consumers will easily see through ill thought-through efforts in this space as not being credible and simply vague attempts at being relevant."
Speaking in Barcelona at the 2016 Mobile World Congress, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg commented:
“Most of the content [on Facebook] 10 years ago was text, and then photos, and now it’s quickly becoming videos. I just think that we’re going to live in a world a few years from now where the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video.”
An example of a brand who have really embraced Facebook Live, and who have taken a series style approach, is beauty brand Benefit cosmetics. Essentially, Benefit broadcast a themed video series called ‘BeneUniversity’ and ‘Tipsy Tricks’ in which the audience will be given tips and tricks to perfect their makeup looks.
The videos are a two-way communication between brand and consumer in which the brand ask consumers what products they would like to see being used in the particular makeup look. They give the audience a small timeframe to respond before following through with the feedback received.
This strategy enabled the brand to keep their audience engaged while at the same time gaining extremely valuable insight into the products that their audience prefer. They also allow their viewers to submit ideas via comments or Snapchat to help them influence future topics for the Benefit hosts to cover.
It is worth mentioning that it's not just brands who are thinking about live video, more and more media outlets are now using it as part of their strategy for engaging with their readership. It may be worth putting the feelers out. Are there sites out there you can collaborate with to get your brand in front of their audience?
With sharing content comes an air of caution. If a stunt/experience is executed properly then it can go viral in a very short amount of time. Here brands should be wary about the risks of ‘live sharing’ and be prepared to give up a certain amount of control over content output. If something goes horribly wrong, you can guarantee this will spread around the internet like wildfire, and once it is out there it is impossible to take back.
We also can’t ignore the need to blend real experiences with virtual experiences such as virtual and augmented reality. Imagine if Felix Baumgartner was to attempt another record breaking jump from space. Would there be a way we would be able to use a virtual reality headset to go on that journey with him? A great example of the high demand for blended experiences is the success of Pokémon Go, when the world was literally turned into a real life playground. The challenge brands now face is ensuring the longevity of this hype. Although Pokémon Go was successful, the impact was short lived.
Michael Brown went on to comment on this emerging trend:
“VR is currently treading a delicate line between seeming genuinely futuristic – and just gimmicky. This could be because the equipment needed to enjoy it is still generally quite invasive. It’s a matter of time before tech catches up and provides seamless solutions, and once it does, the possibilities for brands to enhance people’s lives via VR throughout the day (and not just at occasional moments with friends) – will be unlocked. Imagine ‘experiencing’ a film on the train into work by Fox Entertainment, or doing ‘hawks eye’ every time a questionable ball drops during a weekend tennis match by Slazenger. The possibilities for brands to ‘pimp’ everyday moments will be endless.”
As mentioned earlier on in this article, experiential is now about giving consumers an individual experience that allows them to create relatable moments. In 2017, I predict that we can expect to see brands going bigger and better to ensure they are leading the way in providing consumers with truly memorable moments.
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