Experiential Activations Give a Big Boost to Your Marketing Efforts

Promoting a show like Westworld is actually not easy. The show’s plot is labyrinthian and complex, its setting is grandiose and mythical, and its characters are simultaneously archetypical and atypical. So, a marketer’s choice is to try and distill those concepts down into a pithy catchphrase or just go with, “it’s the show where robots think they’re cowboys.”

Instead, at the 2018 South by Southwest conference, HBO decided to do something different to promote Westworld’s second season. Working with Lyft to shuttle people from the SXSW event to two acres of land outside Austin, attendees were transported to a recreation of the western world from the HBO show.

The replica was stocked with actors each playing a part that felt as if it could have walked off the screen. In fact, 444 pages of scripts were written for the 60 actors playing the roles. Guests could interact with the characters, get a shave from a barber using a straight razor, go to the post office and collect mail, and collect Easter eggs that revealed clues to the upcoming second season.

This HBO example reveals the power of experiential marketing. For those unfamiliar with experiential marketing, it is a campaign to build brand loyalty by creating an emotional relationship between a brand and its current and potential customers. Experiential marketing is different from what we think of as traditional marketing is one significant way.

Marketing asks, “what can my product or brand do for a consumer?” Whereas, experiential marketing is all about what the customer wants from a brand.

If the difference between those two seems subtle, it’s not. In the first, an assumption is made about your audience and their needs. In the second, no assumption is made, just a service is provided. Your brand gains traction because it is at the heart of the event.

An effective experiential marketing campaign puts the customer’s needs first. It can also enhance and strengthen the rest of your marketing efforts, including digital outreach.

For example, to promote the release of his new album, “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music,” the hip-hop artist 2 Chainz rented a house on a busy Atlanta street, painted it completely bright pink except for the word “TRAP” in big, black letters, set an old sedan and washing machine (both thoroughly coated in the same bright pink), and dubbed it The Pink House.

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Photo Credit: NBC News

Inside, the house was decorated with artwork from local artists. Initially, the idea was for the house to contain a pop-up nail salon. However, the building became a viral and real-world success, so the approach shifted to providing a host of community services, such as free HIV testing, painting classes, and church services.

When “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music” dropped, it debuted at No. 2 overall and online streams hit No. 1 on Billboard’s rap album charts, thanks in part to the buzz generated by The Pink House.

Experiential marketing and live activations are an extremely powerful component to any marketing campaign. A recent Event Marketer study found that 84 percent of brands believe that event marketing is an essential part of their marketing campaigns. Also, 86 percent of those had plans to maintain their current level of event marketing or increase it.

When executed correctly, this type of marketing delivers an experience to consumers that makes them want to participate instead of feeling like they are being pitched to. It has been described as advertising that is difficult to ignore while being less intrusive than traditional efforts. In this era of skippable commercials and ad-blocking software, experiential marketing is a great way for brands to truly connect with consumers.

When setting up an experiential marketing campaign, you want to:

  • Identify your target market
  • Tell them an identifiable story – people are more likely to spread something by word of mouth when they identify with it
  • Create something of value
  • Establish well-defined goals and identify the metrics to measure them
  • Leverage social media to enrich online engagement

Experiential marketing can improve your brand’s marketing and image by helping you stand apart from the competition. Creating a fun, engaging experience will build buzz and deliver an event that people won’t want to miss. This also increases the chance that your guests will want to share your activation on their social media channels. Even better, if you include opportunities for photo ops or provide a personalized video, you’ll make it even easier for attendees to share their experiences.

You can also use technology, such as RFID or QR codes, to personalize the experience for attendees. By tying personal information to a digital identity, you are keying in on what interests each individual most. Your guests will love this personal touch, and you will collect valuable data about attendees – data that can be used to enhance future experiences.

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Photo Credit: Neap Event Solutions

Building buzz, fan engagement, photo ops, RIFD technology: all of these elements were present in Riot Games’ Riftwalk, an immersive experience that took fans through a physical simulation of the developer’s League of Legends game.

The Riftwalk made its first appearance in 2016 at PAX East in Boston. It was then toured to each location of the 2016 League of Legend’s World Championships.

Fans waited hours for a chance to tour The Riftwalk. Before entering the exhibition, visitors were given a bracelet containing a microchip. These RFID wristbands allowed attendees to reserve spots in advance, register their favorite character, and share their favorite parts of the game by filling out information online. During the event, the RFID wristbands would trigger monitors in each station of the exhibit and present content related to the attendee’s registered information – allowing fans to share their experiences on social media.

The Riftwalk recreated a snaking path through the Summoner’s Rift, League of Legends’ main battleground map. The journey included several photo opportunities:

  • An animated GIF at a Blue Platform, which allowed visitors to choose from a variety of prop weapons.
  • A 180-degree, bullet-time video featuring a 14.5-foot Baron Nashor sculpture.
  • A slow-motion video at a Red Platform. 
  • A 13-foot Thresh puppet where forced perspective would make fans appear as if they were standing inside Thresh’s signature lantern.

The visitor’s RFID wristband connected to each of these photo ops, and the final product was edited together and sent to attendee emails as a professional quality video.

The Riftwalk also included a museum of physical recreations of weapons that are used in the game plus a gallery of artwork.

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Here’s the interesting thing: half of the art pieces were created by Riot Games while half were created by its fan community. In fact, that included some show-stopping pieces like the huge Thresh puppet, which was created by 4 itchy Tasty! (a team of cosplayers) and professionals from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios (the group behind the animation for Robot Chicken).

Riot also invited cosplayers from the community to be a part of The Riftwalk. Cosplay (a contraction of the words “costume” and “play”) is when people create outfits to look like popular characters from movies, anime, and video games. Fans love the massive amount of work and intricate attention to detail that goes into their ensembles. Cosplayers can spend days and even weeks perfecting a character’s look, and that is only considering the time investment – there’s a significant monetary investment, as well. Cosplaying takes real work and commitment. So, inviting top-notch cosplayers to be a part of The Riftwalk was a way to celebrate the achievements and dedication of these individuals. It also added another element for everyone who passed through the exhibit to enjoy.

What The Riftwalk achieved was a way to promote League of Legends while embracing and celebrating the fan culture that has grown around the game. Like the best experiential marketing campaigns, The Riftwalk engaged fans throughout the activation and left them with positive memories and a takeaway (in the form of the video).

For ideas and thoughts about incorporating experiential marketing in your live events, give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9433.

sofia krsmanovic