A new experience
With millennials top of mind among brands and sports properties, agencies are being tasked to create innovative strategies to reach this finicky demo through event and experiential marketing. That, combined with changing technology, has created challenges and opportunities for agencies that can get the formula right.
SportsBusiness Journal invited seven marketers to our Charlotte offices in May to discuss trends in event and experiential marketing, how social and digital have changed their approach, and the mistakes they still see brands and sports properties making.
What are you seeing out there that you find interesting?
Brian Gordon, Engine Shop: We’re finding that we’re at the center of a lot of integrated marketing campaigns now that are rooted in some experiential, tentpole sponsorship asset, as opposed to years ago it was a little bit more siloed. Really a lot of things are falling into us and we’re finding ourselves in a leadership position, which is obviously tremendous.
Fred Porro, Wasserman Media Group: I find it interesting that how today the lines are blurred between social, digital, experiential and even measurement. Back in the day, brands would go out and hire a digital agency and they would go out and find an experiential agency, and then would find another agency to go measure everything. Today there’s a lot of agencies that can do everything. One shop. So I think that added value has really redefined the landscape, specifically in our industry.
Matt Manning, MKTG: I agree with that. It’s gone cyclical back to convergence and more of a one-stop-shop territory as opposed to silos, definitely.
Anne Sullivan, Octagon: I also agree that it’s an integration of passion points. So if you have a sporting event, to make the event broader to the audience that’s there, to make it more interesting, maybe there’s a culinary event, maybe there’s a fashion show with athletes who are wearing fashions of one of the sponsors, maybe there’s a concert or music that’s going on. So not only is it more interesting for the people at the experience, but what it also does is key on a millennial insight that they want all of their passion points engaged and put together in one place at a time.
Gordon: To me one of the most interesting things that is happening is how our staff is shaping our business and how millennial staff and our 20-somethings and 30-somethings, how we cater to them, how we align them with certain types of business that are of interest and value to them. … From an account structure standpoint, we shuffle things around, it could be every six to nine months. We just went through a process where we tore down every single program, every single account we have, and we rebuilt them from the ground up. And we try to align — if someone has a passion point of music, we want them on music programs, if somebody has a passion for the arts, we want them on arts programs. They’re going to be more passionate. They bring a deeper level of knowledge to the table. And it really is shaping how we’re servicing business and what the client experience is on the other end.
Manning: I think that’s the crux of it. The consumer-value equation has changed and experience is now at the forefront of that. That’s the social currency and that’s what everyone is looking for, whether you’re a millennial, all the way through to someone who is in their 40s. People want the experience to share by whatever channel, and that creates social currency. And that’s an integral part of today’s life.
Cameron Wagner, GMR: It used to be that we had very squishy measurement on experiential. Now we have hard metrics on experiential, and we can show a brand how it proves out for them and how it connects. And social/digital has really helped out with that because we’re no longer just talking to the people at the event. We can actually show the amplifications.
Porro: Measurement, for us, comes in two parts. One is social, as you say. It’s real time, it’s very segmented. And the second part is through the technologies that we’re using … Not only can you personalize the experience, personalize the content, but you have access to all of this information, this rich data that is incredibly valuable to brands, and that has completely changed the landscape.
Wagner: And continue the conversation later, so you can still talk to that person three months later.
Sunshine: We can take an experience where a brand used to look at it as it would only live in that event and that setting. Now we’re amplifying that through social and the technologies we have.
Sullivan: We’re three phases — the invitation, the event itself, and then the post, the content.
Russ Jones, CAA: I think one trend that I’ve seen that’s really gotten a lot of attention lately is just putting experiences on a smaller group of people. So you’re really focusing down on a group of buddies, or one person, and capturing that as content and really blurring the line between that experience that happens in real life and how it lives digitally and beyond that. … There are a number of campaigns that we’ve seen that have been successful that are really just one experience that one person has that everyone gets to share because it’s getting pushed out there [socially] by millennial audiences.
Go behind the scenes of our roundtable and hear additional insights from the marketers.
Jones: We’re talking about using passion points, we’re talking about millennial audiences. And when you talk about millennials, in your pocket [with your phone] you’ve got the ability to reach thousands of people, if not more. So really the user, the person who is actually engaging at the event, becomes exponentially more important to you. So I think the shift is going to happen with when you go to see a live event, it becomes a platform to create content. It becomes a virtual studio for brands to engage consumers to come out. … Consumers in general are creating content and the events themselves are the place where they connect to a passion point that means a lot to them. Brands are getting smart to that by using the events as a platform to engage and create content. It’s interconnected to everything we’re talking about. We’re doing it at retail, we’re doing it in guerrilla activities, we’re doing it at home, and it’s all connected.
Sullivan: Yes, it’s not events or social, it’s events and social.
Manning: What’s interesting is how those two have become intertwined and how one serves the other. They both
Wagner: When they start creating organic content that you can’t tell if it happened at your event or it happened hundreds of miles away because somebody saw it through a social mechanism and started creating their own content, then the blurred line of what happened at your event and what’s happening organically as a result of your event is a really exciting place to be for brands.
For the first time, Sports Illustrated held a consumer-facing event around its annual swimsuit issue.
Gordon: Where it gets really interesting is when you’re working on toothpaste and not super models. It’s easy to create a furor with super models. I’m a toothpaste guy. That’s when you really have to earn your money, when a brand wants to employ this type of strategy but it’s a boring [consumer packaged goods] product. We did a campaign with Depend. You try to make Depend cool and relevant and engaging and that’s a huge challenge.
Wagner: And your target probably isn’t as socially motivated as millennials when you’re talking about Depend.
Gordon: Well, actually it was a millennial campaign, which was the most fascinating thing I’ve ever experienced.
|Engine Shop created an event for Depend that fit just right with millennials.
Jones: When you go back to the event as the platform, to be that place where you can publish content, it is all about giving them something unique that connects them to the event, something they are going to be proud about and get their audiences excited about, like putting on Depend, as a grown-up.
Any concerns of not being able to control the content generated from an event or experience?
Jones: I think it helps a lot when the brand is in line with the audience, that it’s an endemic brand to what that audience believes.
Gordon: Brands have to be prepared to take the risk and they have to be smart about it and they have to be willing to do it. I think brands that are willing to take that risk and be authentic and put themselves out there are winning.
Porro: I don’t think you necessarily have to take a risk, though, because social media allows you to get a response from your target immediately. So if you do your research up front, you won’t run into that situation. That happened to Budweiser recently with its campaign. [Editor’s note: Bud Light bottles contained the phrase, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”] If they had done their homework, just that quick-time response would have automatically shown you, “don’t do that, don’t go there.”
Manning: That’s the key to this, the conversation between brands and consumers. The new dimension, the new world we live in, means there is inherent vulnerability for brands. That makes it both inspiring and exciting, and it means that we have a role to play in that in terms of trying to channel it and funnel it in the right direction.
Gordon: It’s not the brand, it’s our clients who are the VPs of marketing, the CMOs or the CEOs that are willing to take risk. And it’s risk in a sense that anything for a large brand that’s different, whoever is making the call to be different is taking risk. Because if it works, you’re a hero, but if it doesn’t there’s a human being that’s sitting there that someone’s going to go to and say, “Are you crazy? Did you really think that was a good idea?”
Wagner: Sometimes there are just brands that you know that there are detractors of that brand. As soon as you go social with anything, you know you’re going to have a certain percentage that are going to be detractors to whatever you say because they’re detractors of the brands. Most of the brands that we work with that are willing to take risks on social media know that reality and they’ve already gauged their willingness to accept that percentage of detractions, so to speak, and they have a response for it, one that they’ve thought about, one that’s on brand and on message and true to who they are.
Manning: We all know that some brands will take that route and some brands won’t take that route, but it’s a calculated risk. If you’re willing to take that calculated risk, the upside of the authentic, consumer brand advocacy passing from one consumer to another without your involvement at that level, that’s gold for brands.
Jones: I think the brands that get in trouble are the ones that it wouldn’t be logical for them to take that risk in the first place. The ones that are doing it and taking the risk and getting slapped on the hand, they’re being forgiven as quickly as they’re being called out for it. It’s not like you have an audience that’s dying on the sword because Bud Light said one thing. That will be gone. It will have gotten a ton of exposure, and all of the other things that they are doing, taking risk doing, is working really well. … Should they have done a little more study on the upfront? Absolutely. But will their core consumer forgive them for that? 100 percent. I don’t think it’s as it used to be, that if you screwed up, you’re done as a brand. I think it’s more ebb and flow and you’ve got people talking and it’s really more conversational.
How has social and digital changed the approach? Is it no longer the approach to start with a structure or a footprint that you’re going to develop at an event or high-volume place?
Sunshine: I think there are still a lot of cases where you know you are going to be present at an event, you’re going to be activating somewhere, but now it’s a must that you’re thinking how you amplify that beyond the event space with social.
Sullivan: Theoretically it could start with, “Here is the platform, here is what we want to accomplish,” and you may or may not have an event or an event may be part of it.
Porro: I hear the word event being used less and less, and now it’s all about a campaign. They want something that
Sunshine: What’s interesting too is that in the world of social, it gives us opportunities as well. There [have] been cases where we’ve seen chatter on social and because of that conversation we were able to develop an event from that. We created an experience for Amtrak which was completely built off social. We saw influencers talking about how they write well while they’re on trains, and moving quickly from that, we turned that into an experience which later traveled to South by Southwest. But without social and monitoring that, we wouldn’t have developed it.
Jones: You look at how social and digital have connected all these different environments that we execute experiential campaigns. It’s also in the upfront of going and listening to sentiment. We might be here in Charlotte and we may want to know what’s relevant in Charlotte because we have a brand launching here. We’re actually listening to what’s going on, what conversations are being had among our target demographic before we get into a market. … We’re measuring it with all the analytics and the ROI is being proven out because we can actually attribute sales to conversations that people are having before you even launch a campaign.
Gordon: You asked what the starting point is. I can remember back, and I’m sure everyone else here can, too, when integrated marketing first really started happening, 2000, 2001, 2002. That was kind of the buzzword. But integrated marketing was really agencies sitting around a table and then operating in silos. It wasn’t really integrated. … Back then it was we just want the big idea. But invariably the big idea always came from the ad agency or the creative agency, or whomever. I think nowadays we may have certain mandatories like we have to have a physical space or we need to be at a particular event, but it is idea driven. We don’t know where that idea might manifest itself in terms of a channel, whether it’s going to lean more digital/social or whether it’s going to lean more toward a pop-up that’s guerrilla, but really we’re just trying to come up with ideas that connect the brand, the brand challenge, with some kind of story that’s going to resonate with consumers.
Manning: We’re now official retail partners with Nike and Beats by Dre. We actually sell stuff for them. So it’s not only from the actual experience, but our client is saying to us, you’ve got them, keep going. So we now, for Beats and Nike, we’re an official retailer, so we actually sell. … There’s much more convergence, and I don’t see that stopping. I just see that continuing. The difficulty is that shopper marketing is such a massive territory. And we are not shopper marketers by any means. But everyone here has done pop-up in some shape or form. It’s the same difference. In pop-up, you’re still selling stuff, so it’s just a natural progression.
Social media provides opportunities to measure return on investment and to gauge sentiment before and after an event.
Gordon: I think the pace in which the world is moving right now, that consumers are moving, that trends are moving, it’s why a lot of it is coming into our camp, because we’ve always been built to react very quickly. We’ll get a call now and in three weeks we have to have something going. Traditional ad agencies, creative, they’re just not built to move like that. So anything that’s even a creative idea that needs to move quickly, our clients say our creative agency isn’t going to do it, our big digital agency isn’t going to do it — even if it’s outside our normal work, they’re looking at us and going “Can you guys figure this out?”
Wagner: Even the physical stuff we build now is meant to be nimble enough to change pretty quickly through the digital components that are in it. Everything we build, if we sense that something is not working, we can make changes and have it feel and look differently within a week. We build them with that in mind.
Porro: This is where the technology comes into play. Not only are you getting lead generation from them, but you’re also personalizing that content. At the same time, if something is going wrong, you are able to adapt in real time. And this is all completely transparent to the consumer. They don’t know what’s going on. Some of the things we’re playing around with now is facial mapping. So not only are you going to be personalizing the experience, you’re also taking a photo of them. They’d probably be scared if they knew what was going on behind the scenes, but we’re making it much more efficient and a much quicker experience for them as well.
Wagner: Even facial mapping with someone standing in front of a screen, we can assess their age range and then the content can be different for them than it is for you. And that is amazing. That’s amazing that we can create that different of an experience with a brand in the same footprint.
Porro: Just a couple of weekends ago we had something called The Magic Checkout for merchandising at an event we did in which we tagged, using an RFID tag, all of the merchandise. They literally could just grab everything they wanted to. They actually went over an RFID mat and it would calculate all the merchandise they had, right there, [put it] on the credit card and you’re out. From a brand standpoint, their sales went up incredibly. From a consumer standpoint, the whole process was cut by 80 percent. … We position it as a convenience for them, but it’s a tremendous value for everybody.
Manning: The thing we’re looking at at the moment … is geo mapping and the level of detail that they’re getting to now. I’m not going to say frightening, but it’s just ridiculous. … Diageo is one of our clients. Let’s say they’re doing an event in a bar, or wherever that may be, we can literally look at a map and go, “This area is hot tonight in town, switch it,” or “Actually the demographic you’re looking for, for some reason, they are going out of [the] ballgame over here and are heading in that direction, so move your promotional staff.”
Jones: It’s software being built to utilize the fact that we all have this in our pocket [phone] and this knows who we are and it can access information and culminate in a place that you can very easily look at it and use it as tools. There are so many tools in this industry now. We’re developing our own that we’re using that is off the shelf. It’s not just the environments and how we’re connecting. It’s the planning, it’s the ability to react quickly, it’s the ability to improve what we’re doing on the fly, and I don’t think there’s any other medium that can do that.
How have budgets changed because of these different forms of reaching fans through activation? Is it more affordable to do these digital and social campaigns rather than build out a large piece or a large structure?
Gordon: Yes and no. Technology costs can be much, much higher. Overall costs … we’re building things to be a
Porro: What happens is that since it’s moving so quickly, some of the stuff that we’ve done around telepresence, which is very cool, very personalized, using avatars and whatnot, the problem is that to repurpose that is still very expensive, and by the time you find the economies of scale of it, you’ve moved on. You have to justify that budget point, and I think that’s where it becomes more challenging.
Gordon: That’s where technology is a big danger in our business because falling in love with the newest and latest and greatest technologies is not the best thing, especially for a lot of clients. … You have to really find that happy medium with what’s good technology, what’s actually functional and works based on a particular brand and brand objective. What’s not wasting money.
Lower costs are making virtual reality a more affordable option.
Porro: One technology that is just getting started and the price will come down, and it will be around for a while, is [virtual reality]. I think that’s still very expensive, but some of the stuff that we’ve produced with VR is less than 10,000 [dollars] where originally it would have cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Jones: I definitely agree that spending has gone up, and we’re getting a lot more recognition, we’re getting a seat at the table, we’re getting the asks to come in as an agency that is not just the add-on.
Any different approach by the leagues and the properties as opposed to the brand side as far as creating events and experiences? Are they thinking about it in the same way?
Gordon: Slow. Antiquated. Behind the times.
Wagner: Teams are doing better than properties because they’re selling tickets, so [they] have that incentive to do better.
Jones: It’s about attracting an audience that makes them relevant to the brands. In the PGA, we brought in the kid
Gordon: I think there’s a general level of interest in preserving the status quo because the status quo has been pretty good. But things are changing so rapidly that I agree it’s very reactive. If there’s a problem, they’re going to figure out how to address it. And a lot of it is actually brand driven. Brands are pushing for it and that’s why they’re changing because they want to be able to create experiential opportunities for the brands.
What would you like to see the leagues do?
Wagner: I just think sometimes they can be averse to spending money on innovation and they’ve just kind of had to.
Porro: They let brands do it. They let their partners do it.
Gordon: Some of the teams have done a really good job, and I think it really is at the team level because they are incented to try, they’ve got to sell stuff. The leagues get their rights, they have their TV deals, it kind of is what it is, so it’s not as much. But even if you go and look at what Barclays [Center] has done to create a true community atmosphere around there and bringing in the local community and making that really a pillar of new Brooklyn really has been amazing. … Then we were down looking in Atlanta and the Hawks have an old building. This is the first year that they’ve been a great team in a while. But they’re really focusing on what can we do creatively. What can we do from a technology standpoint because they’re not building a new building. Those are where innovations are going to come out if you’re in a 20-year-old building and you know you’re not going to get funding in order to build a new one.
Porro: I would like to see, if the leagues aren’t going to do it, if they’re going to continue to say, “OK I’m going to let my brands, or all my sponsors do it, or my broadcaster do it,” then at least to not go out there and charge them for everything. “Oh, what do you want to do? Well, that’s x times 10.”
Jones: I think there are a lot of brands looking at their league deals and saying, “Should I be spending all this? How do I go and get more than just the signage and all of the traditional stuff?”
Porro: I think these deals, the 10-year deals, those are dying because of how technology is influencing rights. … You still see a lot of five-year deals with options for the second five. But still five, that’s a lifetime. … We’re also seeing a lot of our clients saying, “Do I have to renew my deal with the league or can I do a deal specifically with the team?”
Gordon: The devil’s advocate is, how are leagues doing from a partnership standpoint? How is the tour on fire? I don’t understand it. They’re knocking down eight-figure deal after eight-figure deal. So why are they incented to change? It’s not broken yet.
If we were to bring this group back in three years, what would the discussion look like? How will the dynamic have changed?
Sullivan: I think the millennials are going to start getting married and having babies and this whole thing is going to change because you can’t afford to be interested in just you and your experience anymore. It will be an interesting shift.
Jones: I think one of the things worth talking about is technology. I think all of the different things that will heighten the experiences we can have one on one. I think of things that will connect consumers to their passion points, platforms like Periscope for instance, that will change the way that consumers are viewing their favorite sports game, their favorite actors getting ready to go out on stage, whatever it may be. It literally gives the audience a direct look at what they are the most passionate about, and it’s going to be interesting to see what the NFLs of the world do with that and see what the pro golf tour does with that, because those are going to have to be considered. That will inevitably cross into the environment where we all live and breathe and it will inevitably be a new tool for us to harness and make connections with.
Manning: I think this group and our industry as a whole will be far more involved in the next three years in the live experience and how that translates to both people in and around games and sitting at home, because it’s all experiential. You look at the struggles of some of the rights holders to make the games or the rounds shorter, faster, quicker, more engaging, whatever, eventually that’s going to come back and it’s going to sit somewhere and this group will be involved in some way, shape or form. … This goes back to the millennials. They do not have five hours to play a round of golf. You look at TopGolf. That is a pure experience that is taking the core of golf and turning it into an experience.
Porro: We’re just getting started with some of the technology. Some are already becoming outdated, like green screen, and some are just getting started, even though they are very immersive, like VR. I think that’s going to shape not only the way that we as experiential experts look at what we do, but everyday consumers’ lives.
Sunshine: You talked about the A-B campaign. It’s almost like you have to remind yourself. You see that on TV and you think of it more as an advertising campaign, but at the end of the day, that’s an experiential campaign that touches and feeds into their ad campaign and everything that they do.
Manning: One of our agencies in London created this billboard in London and it was an interactive billboard, and it
|Check out the technology behind the British Airways billboard.|
Jones: Look at things like even theater. Go to Broadway and go to Punchdrunk and see this immersive theater experience. It’s not just about watching what’s happening on stage. They’re getting the audience involved. You’re going to surely see that coming over into the brand marketing space. I just read about one that a client did. They basically created this thing for Absolut where this whole group of fans of Jack White were brought to this area and they were quarantined. They didn’t know what the hell was happening. And then Jack White comes down this fire pole and he starts playing and everyone’s freaking out. … Talk about immersive experiences. Hollywood is asking, “How should we launch films in this new age?” It shouldn’t be a red carpet. That’s an old antiquated way of doing it. Will experiential bleed into that world? I think absolutely.
What sort of information are you compiling or aggregating on any of the individuals who are partaking of one of these experiences? Are there barriers to what you can and can’t access, specifically for younger people?
Wagner: The thing on measurement, too, is that we now have access to clients’ research departments in a very different way than we used to, so there is a tremendous amount of collaboration going on in the planning. We used to see it in the back end …. It’s happening on the front end now. Once we know how we’re going to measure the program with that collaboration with their research department and take their research and benchmark it against what we’re doing … we find that we create models that really are substantiated internally and validated internally for them, which is huge. … And I agree the hardest thing to talk clients out of, especially when you’re dealing with their research departments, is don’t ask too much. We’ve got to keep this real simple. We’ve got to boil it down to just essentially what we need to know.
So what’s simple? What do you need to know?
Wagner: We’re never going to suggest if you do an interceptor asking more than three to five questions. Ever. And we’re certainly not going to ask them to type it in themselves. We’re not going to do anything that is going to interrupt and change the experience that they just had with the brand.
Porro: That’s why we do a lot with sentiment analysis. So we create algorithms that actually take the conversation that they’re posting on social media and then it analyzes that conversation to get feedback from them. So we’re doing it subliminally. … And that sentiment analysis, when it first started, it used to be positive and negative. Now that sentiment analysis is incredibly detailed.
Jones: I think the activations also differ. You can always build programs that are all about getting the one-on-one feedback. There’s also a big difference in the brands that are doing it. Patagonia is going to do a lot different engagement of a consumer than a Pepsi will because you have these lifelong Patagonia fans that are out camping around the world and they love it, it’s their way of life. You’re going to get a lot more out of fans for certain brands, from the people who are true followers of those brands.
One experience that you’ve encountered that you found well done, enlightening and engaging.
Gordon: I’ll say one that’s actually old at this point, but it speaks to how you launch a film, is the “Carrie” viral.
|Watch the making of the "Carrie" viral video.
Sullivan: One of the ones I love is the Patrón
|See the Patrón Secret Dining Society in play in Chicago.|
Jones: One that I’ve seen that I got a kick out of
|Watch mall shoppers get a surprise test drive from Nissan.
What are some of the mistakes that you can see brands making still?
Wagner: A lot of it is with millennials. Every client you talk to says they want to reach millennials. Then you look
Gordon: We have a client that until three years ago, they just simply didn’t have a product that was appropriate for that particular audience. So if you don’t have a product that works for that audience … then don’t come to us and say we want to reach millennials. It starts with the product.
Jones: Brands are making a mistake by hopping on the bandwagon, they’re going to be cool because there’s this thing that everyone is doing and we have this idea, but it’s not authentic and it’s going to come out the wrong way and it’s going to be seen in a bad light and it’s going to be one of those apologetic moments where the brand screwed up and they have to say, “We didn’t do that right.” … That’s happening a lot. I think brands are wasting money and wasting time going after the flash in the pan, the hot thing to do.