When talk turns to experiential marketing and commentators volunteer their favourite examples, more often than not, lists will include something digital, sparking a debate over what actually constitutes experiential.
Earlier this month, Anna Linthicum’s article on What is Experiential Marketing correctly stated that experiential can take place over a screen, as long as the consumer of the content is actively engaging with it.
But what does that engagement actually mean?
Anna’s examples included Virtual Reality experiences and an IKEA gamification tie-up with Snapchat, which certainly fits the 21st century definition of engaging an audience through direct interaction with a brand and / or its products.
However, they don’t meet the traditional ‘five senses of experiential’ requirement to engage more than an audience’s visual and auditory perceptions (after all, audiences can’t touch, taste or smell in the digital space.. not yet anyhow).
What constitutes ‘actively engaging with brand content’ has evolved considerably over the past decade as content and how we consume it has also evolved.
An early example, which split opinion back in October 2012, was Red Bull’s live YouTube feed of Felix Baumgartner becoming the first skydiver to break the speed of sound as he jumped from more than 24 miles above the earth.
At the time, the brand stunt attracted more than eight million views and is currently up to 46 million YouTube hits.
But could it be classed as an experiential marketing campaign?
The short answer in 2012 was no. After all, the only person Red Bull gave wings to that day was Felix himself.
Although eight million people engaged with the activity, their engagement was passive rather than an active interaction with the Red Bull brand. They were, in effect, just watching digital TV.
Or were they?
At the start of that decade, Apple released the iPad so by the time Felix threw himself to earth in a Red Bull-branded spacesuit, the notion of ‘second screening’ was an accelerating consumer behaviour - allowing viewers to ‘actively engage with brand content’ via social media, whilst watching it on TV or the Internet.
More than three million tweets were sent during Baumgartner’s jump, many of which were tweeted in response to Red Bull’s request for questions to put to Felix during his post-jump press conference.
Since then, the lines that once separated experiential (or sensory) marketing activity from brand sponsorship, product placement and more recently, content marketing, have grown increasingly blurred.
Just because you can’t touch, taste or smell something doesn’t mean you can’t now actively engage with it.
My recent Five Experiential Marketing Solutions were nostalgic pure-play examples, engaging all five human senses.
Today, human behavioural change, this time accelerated by a global pandemic, has temporarily replaced sensory and face-to-face marketing with virtual events, digital innovation and the rise of the Connected TV.
In the digital space, experiential content solutions can be just as effective, boosting interaction and satisfaction levels at virtual events and driving brand engagement across digital touch-points such as social, mobile and e-commerce.
Instead of fuelling the senses, experiential digital content stirs the emotions - driving equivalent results in brand loyalty, awareness and purchasing decisions.
You don’t have to persuade someone to jump out of a space craft attached to a helium balloon on the edge of the earth’s atmosphere either (although daring to do something different can still produce exceptional results).
Here’s three experiential digital solutions from three major brands to inspire content creation and virtual event campaign planning.
1) Mastercard and The BRIT Awards
Mastercard has been the headline sponsor of The BRIT Awards for 23 years. During that time, in partnership with its agencies, it has evolved its experiential activity to blend digital content with exclusive cardholder experiences, Priceless® surprises and onsite activity to showcase the brand’s passion for music.
In 2021, due to UK lockdown restrictions, Mastercard’s activation focused on bringing people together in new, digital ways - celebrating the power of music every day, the achievements of British artists and encouraging families to enjoy a unique night of stunning performances.
Mastercard’s digital-first campaign for 2021 was led by the #BRITsMOVER Challenge on TikTok, working with choreographer Ashley Banjo to teach the nation an exclusive dance routine to George Michael’s Freedom! '90 track and encourage users to have a go.
By awards night, the challenge had over 2.8 billion views.
The top entrants got to duet on TikTok with Ashley in the days leading up to the BRITs ceremony and 14 of the best performances were selected to feature on Mastercard’s TV idents, aired during the show.
The Mastercard #BRITsMOVER winner was announced and awarded their prize in a surprise video call with BRIT Awards host, Jack Whitehall.
Mastercard also created limited edition, audio connected LED face masks, which react in real-time to music, plus a stay-at-home BRITs in a Box experience, which sold-out in two hours and included access to a virtual Mastercard pre-show party featuring live performances from Tom Walker, a previous BRIT Award winner, Hamzaa and Alice Levine.
Marketing take-away: Evolve pre-event and post-event content for different channels. Encourage and reward engagement with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and shareable experiences.
2) Fly Campari Group
Campari Group, in partnership with connected experience agency SharpEnd, disrupted the global travel retail industry with a radical approach to delivering a virtual brand experience, as part of The Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo 2020.
Instead of a conventional exhibition booth, the creative solution was to land a virtual private jet in the middle of the exhibition hall.
Every show visitor was invited to enjoy a pre-flight cocktail in the Campari Group Departures Lounge, before embarking on a round-the-world brand experience with flights to Italy, America and Scotland to discover the homes of Aperol, Wild Turkey bourbon and The Glen Grant premium-aged single malt scotch.
On boarding the private jet, visitors selected a drink that corresponded with their choice of destination before ‘fastening seatbelts’ and being transported to Venice, Kentucky or Speyside, to explore each 360-degree environment, complete with interactive touch-points delving deeper into each brand.
There was even a live cocktail-making masterclass, hosted by global brand ambassador, Davide Fornasiero, which was then available to view on-demand.
After visiting each destination, viewers had their virtual passport stamped and could either travel on to the next destination or return to the lounge and speak with a brand representative.
The Fly Campari Group experience was the number one most visited stand at The Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo 2020, across all exhibitor categories.
The average number of visits per competitor stand totalled 1,530, whereas Fly Campari Group received 2,257 visits (47% higher than the average) - with an average dwell time of three minutes and 10 seconds.
Marketing take-away: Digital experiential activity isn’t restricted by nature’s laws, such as gravity and space so move beyond just translating the physical into the virtual by letting your creativity fly.
3) Range Rover Sport dragon challenge
By 2018, the demand for SUVs in America had accelerated. Increased competition, with the backing of greater sales volumes and share of voice, saw sales of Range Rover Sport stripped away (-32% year-on-year) and brand loyalty decline.
Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) managed to stop the decline by reminding buyers of the brand’s performance credentials and by making existing and prospective owners proud of the fact that Range Rover Sport is capable of going to places its competitors cannot.
Bringing this idea to life involved taking the new Range Rover Sport to Tianmen Mountain Road in the Hunan Province, China; a road that incorporates a dizzying 99 hairpin bends along 11.3km of mountain road.
At the summit, JLR attempted what no other car manufacturer had ever attempted before - to drive up 999 steps, at 45 degrees, to Heaven's Gate.
To achieve this, JLR enlisted Ho-Pin Tung, Le Mans 24-Hour winner and driver for Jaguar Formula E Racing, plus Phil Jones, the Land Rover Experience Special Projects Expert.
Documenting every second of the challenge, JLR created a six-minute YouTube documentary, which featured the extensive testing at Land Rover facilities in Solihull when replica steps were built to test how the vehicle would cope.
Shorter-form Dragon Challenge video content was also distributed across paid and owned media.
Unique visitors to Range Rover Sport pages on LandRoverUSA.com increased by 46%, including 39,820 incremental vehicle configurations (the strongest predictor of conversion).
Range Rover Sport test-drive submissions increased by 96.1% and sales shifted back into positive growth with a year-on-year increase of 30% (reversing the 32% year-on-year decline).