Supermarkets, shopping malls and music festivals are the locations that spring most readily to mind for product sampling and other forms of face-to-face marketing. Yet these tried and trusted options, while still effective, have limitations in terms of flexibility, cost and impact.
In the battle for cut-through in a media-saturated environment, marketers need to think carefully about creating brand experiences that deliver against business objectives. As a result, brands and agencies are opting for more adventurous venues, such as cinema foyers, country shows and airports, in which to conduct face-to-face marketing that captivates consumers and emphasises the brand or product attributes.
'The problem is that retailers have changed their strategy toward field marketing in stores, and the opportunities as a brand to work with them are more limited, so you have to become more creative,' says Debra Eddy, senior marketing manager for healthy snack bar brand Nature Valley. 'We have conducted sampling campaigns for years, and experiential is becoming ever-more important. It is about displaying the brand equity in the right context.'
Nature Valley identified the UK's top walking spots as ideal and unexpected environments for sampling during the August Bank Holiday weekend. Four teams were dispatched to Scotland, the Lake District, Dartmoor/Exmoor and the Yorkshire Dales/Peak District to distribute almost 37,000 samples. Research found that 84% of consumers were receptive to the timing and location of the sampling. Moreover, Eddy says that the choice of walking spots triggered an instant association in consumers' minds with the healthy attributes of the product.
'With experiential there is a balance between being as close to the point of sale as possible and reaching the maximum target audience when they are receptive,' says Bruce Burnett, chief executive of Nature Valley's agency, i2i Marketing. 'Nature Valley gave people the product at the moment of need - a healthy bar when they were hungry from walking.'
This trend toward seeking out more creative and cost-effective ways to reach target audiences is, in part, being driven by the fact that stations, festivals and shopping centres are charging brands more for space in which to conduct face-to-face promotional activity.
However, Exentio sales and marketing director Phil Roberts says the starting point for activity must always be where the target consumer is at the point of need, and then matching the venue to the campaign so that it offers the biggest impact.
City-centre locations are an area on the rise. For R&R Ice Cream and its agency Rise Communications, the challenge was to deliver experiential marketing aimed at very different groups. Activity for the company's Skinny Cow brand targeted image-conscious women through its 'Cowavan' sampling at locations near fashion boutiques. 'We created so much more than a traditional sampling exercise to reach mothers when they were with their families,' says R&R senior brand marketing manager Charlotte Hambling. 'We were able to offer consumers real immersion in the brand experience.'
Another example of this was the Ribena Harvestival created by Exentio (formerly Mango) in July. Broadgate Circle in the City of London was transformed into a 'harvest' event through a farmers' market, country band and blackcurrant bushes.
An obvious issue with this sort of activity, however, is planning permission, and some brands find it is safer to approach organisations that can provide ready-made consumer-friendly locations, such as garden centres. This formed the basis of a drive rolled out by i2i for Plymouth Gin. It targeted gardeners as they tend to match the brand's 45-plus AB core target audience. Using the theme 'Enjoy your garden more with Plymouth Gin', the brand approached Wyevale Garden Centres to develop a sampling partnership, which led to bar areas being opened temporarily in stores to give visitors a surprise treat. Tracking was conducted through money-off coupons, which showed that 72,000 people sampled the drink during the 40 days of live activity. This led to the brand creating a bigger 'Plymouth Gin Palace' that toured five UK garden shows.
Cinemas are another growth area, allowing brands access to consumers in their leisure time, when they are often more receptive to brand messages. Skincare brand Sanex worked with Pearl & Dean and Manning Gottlieb OMD to stage a four-week Sanex 'Skin Deep' film season at the Prince Charles cinema in London's Leicester Square. Admission to the films was free, each was introduced by a Sanex representative and guest speaker, and research showed that opinions of Sanex were changed for the better among seven out of 10 attendees.
Blackjack Promotions also reports growth in the use of cinema foyers, though general manager Cristina Matassi warns that entering such leisure environments is not guaranteed to deliver results. 'Anything you do in these areas has to add value and enhance the consumer experience.' Blackjack does a lot of work in airports, the potential of which as experiential venues is significant, given the number of people passing through with time to kill. Heathrow's Terminal 5, due to open next spring, will incorporate an area designed specifically for experiential activity (see case study).
For travel client Thomson, experiential agency Hotcow installed a 'Stealth-o-meter' at Gatwick Airport, inviting holidaymakers to weigh their baggage and explaining that while many other charter airlines would charge, with Thomson the baggage costs were included in the holiday price.
'Choosing a location for experiential activity is similar to the placing of an ad,' says Hotcow managing director Sally Durcan. 'The main consideration is not simply one of total footfall numbers, but rather the right percentage of target audience within that, their dwell time and frequency of transit.'
Airports are a particularly effective location at which to target business travellers, and energy supplier E.ON capitalised on this as part of a campaign organised by experiential agency BEcause. While having their shoes shined, business consumers could answer questions on laptops that were provided to help them calculate their personal carbon footprint.
Such developments in the field marketing industry indicate that brands are increasingly trying to reach consumers in their everyday lives, even to the extent of entering the workplace; both Lucozade Energy, through Exentio, and Vodafone, via BEcause, have targeted manual labourers on building sites.
However, this raises the question of what untapped opportunities remain. The assumption is that brands can find new places to interact with consumer without any backlash. Ultimately, though, the risk is overkill. Brands are expected to be in venues such as shopping centres, but their presence in other arenas can jar. Those that fail to offer the consumer something tangible, in return for interrupting their day, risk damaging their brand equity, rather than enhancing their reputation.
CASE STUDY - TERMINAL 5, HEATHROW AIRPORT
If all runs to plan, in less than six months, on Thursday 27 March 2008, Heathrow Airport's £4.3bn Terminal 5 (T5) will open to passengers. According to airport owner BAA, the terminal should serve an audience of 27.3m passengers in its first year.
The T5 complex will feature 60 aircraft stands, two satellite buildings (the second to be completed by 2010), London Underground and Heathrow Express stations, a multi-storey car park and a control tower. Inside what will be the UK's biggest free-standing building will be the biggest experiential area of any airport in the UK.
This 9m2 experiential zone has a prominent central location and it is estimated that it will be seen by more than 75% of T5 passengers. 'The whole ethic of the terminal is to make it an experience for the passenger,' says Richard Malton, marketing director at JCDecaux Airport, which manages the advertising at Heathrow. 'The great opportunity with this zone is its scale - it is much bigger and grander than anything else at UK airports. It will also allow brands to reach that classic cash-rich, time-poor audience.'
Malton says the intention is to rent the space out to one brand at a time for significant periods. The rate card price for one year is £500,000.
There will also be a far smaller experiential area in the middle of the World Duty Free shop, with cosmetics and drinks brands prime targets for a promotional presence.
Prestigious retailers such as Harrods, Paul Smith and Tiffany have already signed up to take store space at T5, which will also boast celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's first airport restaurant. Blackjack Promotions general manager Cristina Matassi, whose business supplies promotional staff, including those who work in restricted areas of airports, believes attractions such as the Ramsay restaurant will pull some people into the airport early and increase dwell times. She adds that the sizeable experiential zone will appeal to 'iconic brands' keen to interact with consumers and that are prepared to refresh content on a quarterly or, potentially, monthly basis.
More broadly, in terms of T5's marketing opportunities, an estimated £25m has been invested in state-of-the-art digital technology and iconic poster advertising sites. One of the most striking of these is that of Global Gateways, which comprises four giant 29m x 36m lightboxes that dominate the ticket presentation channels.