Cannes Special: See me, touch me, feel me

Advertisers are bringing the virtual into the real world with unique brand experiences that consumers can’t wait to get their hands on.

As advertisers search for meaningful ways to connect with consumers and bring users out of their den of a detached digital world, experiential marketing is helping their cause by isolating, engaging and making the target work for the brand. But how does one push experiential marketing to the point where it becomes memorable and unique? The only way to succeed is to get creative, and some marketers are proving that sometimes the mode of communication can contain more creativity than you can shake a 30-second commercial at.
Creating experience, and even simulating it, isn’t always a clear-cut path. For instance, last summer, Toronto-based agency Capital C embarked on a never-before-attempted Virtual Hair Play Van with Axe. “Our biggest challenge was that we needed to sample,” says Bogart Edwards, senior account director, Capital C. The Axe “Hair Action” campaign had already been underway in more traditional formats. “We were trying to build an experience that talked to ‘Hair Action,’ but we couldn’t actually do it, because someone would have to stop, wash their hair, and then have the experience.” To remedy this, Capital C created a branded truck and turned to Monster Media to program five “Hair Play” scenarios. One involved female hands fighting for the chance to play with the (virtually) lucky man’s hair. “The technology had been done (facial recognition) in a more permanent fixture, but it hadn’t been done in a mobile way,” says Edwards.
Female hands were pre-recorded in front of a green-screen, with the male participants’ faces captured at the event site by a camera and then superimposed onto the original green-screen video. The result was that the participants got to watch as they got some “Hair Play” from feisty ladies’ bangle-clad arms. The assumption was, of course, that the virtual results would translate into the real world for these lucky fellows.

The van, the first of its kind in Canada, ventured to 11 different spots over the span of one month, including campuses, and events like the Warped Tour and the Montreal Jazz Festival. As Edwards explains, “Rather than just flogging samples on the street where someone could pick it up, look at it, and say ‘yeah, whatever’ and throw it down, we wanted something that was fun and engaging.” He continues, “Our guy is obviously net savvy, he’s on Facebook, he’s out all over the place. We just wanted to grab him for a minute, give him a little bit of education without it being a tutorial – because what 20-year-old wants to listen to that kind of thing – and allow them to share that with their friends.” The photos taken of the scenarios could be uploaded to Facebook, at which point the user’s friends could “like” the picture and the young man would have the chance to win a $10,000 prize.
This human propensity for life-sharing fits perfectly into the experiential model, as the marketers of the Xbox Hub found out last summer.
Xbox’s Kinect gaming console allows users to play games without the use of remote controls, using infrared technology. “Kinect was one of those products that until you got in front of it and played a game, you would have no idea how great it is.” says Kyle Guttormson, account manager, Mosaic Experiential Marketing. Creating an experience with the Kinect console was thus a necessity.
The Hub was a massive undertaking that spanned a full station of subway ads, to videos taken of the participants and uploaded to Facebook, to the media pull orchestrated by PR agency High Road.
The Kinect Hubs were located in Montreal and Toronto, in the cities’ most frequented areas, next to their respective Eaton Centre malls. “Between the two Hubs, we had about 97,000 people try Kinect,” says Guttormson. Even if you didn’t play it, the experience was a rich one. “You stick around…you hear the message and see the magic.”
What’s clear is that marketers are learning from their experiential marketing efforts – a part of the marketing mix that brings as many marketing elements together as an advertiser can afford to thread in. Learning to coordinate all those messages means new best practices can be cemented in the process.
“In everything we do, there’s an experiential component,” says Eric Charles, marketing communications manager, Microsoft Canada.  “Our job is to get [the audience] off digital and give them the real experience.”
Experiential marketing naturally lends itself to elements of perception – sight, taste, smell, touch – and has the potential to create a deep emotional connection with the consumer. Nivea knows all too well how an experience can solidify a bond with a brand. In celebration of its 100th year, Nivea launched a full-scale marketing campaign with an experiential pop-up shop called the Nivea Haus in Toronto in March. Featuring interactive skin tests, personalized skincare, photo shoots, product samples and a partnership with the Xbox Kinect game Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, the Nivea Haus kicked off a campaign, which was supported by a contest, a microsite linked from, a PR campaign and newspaper ads.

Nivea Haus “allowed us to bring to life our holistic approach to beauty and our strong belief that skin has a central physical and emotional role in our lives,” says Larry LaPorta, general manager, Beiersdorf Canada (Nivea’s parent company). “During times of economic crisis, people migrate towards brands they trust. Nivea is one of those brands.” LaPorta explains that consumers perceive Nivea to be a brand that provides good value for one’s dollars, spurring the need to provide consumer incentives at the Haus, in the form of sampling and trials.
The PR and media campaign components speak to the results, explains LaPorta. Bloggers and members of the media attended the “sneak peek” event at the location prior to the Haus reveal, which led to social media commentary and many positive online reviews. Quantitatively, the numbers speak for themselves. “To date, we have generated over 20 million impressions as a result of the event.” Laporta continues, “almost 20,000 consumers visited Nivea Haus and we gave away over 70,000 samples….we had roughly three people per minute coming into the Haus.”
Additionally, experiential marketing can provide the key to educating the consumer in a manner that doesn’t feel like a classroom. “We know from our research that our consumers want information and education on skin care,” and not surprisingly, what resonated most with Haus visitors was the skin analyzer and skin type consultation, says LaPorta.
Experiential marketing, like other marketing elements, hinges upon relevance, interaction and integration. And as LaPorta explains, the important thing for Nivea was to extend the consumer connections created during the Haus, and continue that feeling beyond the execution.
Dove has gone a step further, and since 2008 has opened four permanent spa locations in Canada, where pro line products and skin care consultations are always on tap.
Connecting with people is key in this world where “social” media is not just Twitter and Facebook, it’s also “person-to-person, face-to-face” interaction, says Tony Chapman, CEO of Capital C. According to Chapman, that’s where the opportunity in experiential marketing lies. “It takes you from ‘look what I paid for’ to ‘look what I experienced and am willing to share and talk about.’”
Beyond the attention-getting factor and the relevance to a marketer’s target, great experiential marketing should have “shareability,” suggests Chapman. Especially when “everybody’s a paparazzo. Everybody has their own publication.”