Is your experiential idea portable?

spoonsYou know the feeling you get when someone tells a story, and ends up trailing off with “well, I guess you just had to be there…” Well, that’s the kind of dead fish many experiential campaigns serve up on a daily basis.

We spend so much time agonising over ‘the experience’, the ‘consumer journey’ and the ‘drive to sales’, that we forget the awful truth: the people who come up and engage with your experience don’t really matter.

Think about it.They’re generally few in number, and by getting involved they’ve proven they’re such a bunch of keenos that they’ll believe anything you say – just give them a choc ice, a friendly word and send them on their way. Easy.

But what about the people who don’t engage – you know, the ones you actually want to talk to – what are you giving to them? Chances are, nothing. And that’s why we should think about a new rule for campaigns: Don’t design experiences for the people who experience them – design them for the people who just hear about them. At first glance this might sound like another pointless plug for making things viral, but it’s not.

It’s a given that you want to create an idea that’s so cool and talkable that it’s making other agencies across the seas curse their unambitious client – sometimes you’ll achieve this and sometimes, well probably most times, you won’t.

No, this rule is for the more humble forms of indirect reach – the person who gets told about it later that day, the person that just glanced at it walking by, the client who you present the case study to four years later.

Those people are the important ones, the disinterested and the numerous – has your campaign influenced them? Here’s how you can tell: Does the top line gist of your activity clearly communicate the strategic message behind the campaign?

Don’t think about how this is going to play to the man who engages with your experience – think about how it’s going to play to his wife when he mentions it for five seconds through a mouthful of fish fingers at tea time later in the day.

If it plays well, this is what we might call a *Portable Idea* – and it’s a very rare phenomenon. A portable idea is an idea where just a glance, or a status update, or a dinner table chat is enough to communicate the brand’s message instantly.

You know when someone says “you had to be there”?  Well, this is the opposite.

Here’s a portable idea:

spoon project

I don’t know anything more about that project than literally what you see in that image.

But I totally get it, and just looking at that image made me think about Parkinson’s in the way they intended – I certainly didn’t have to be present to understand it, and neither did the thousands of people for whom this campaign was just a short anecdote, tweet or Instagram snap.

That campaign was built for everyone, direct and indirect, and as such has set itself up to achieve incredible reach with full impact.

Conversely, here’s a non-portable idea:

benj

Now, just like the Parkinson’s example, I know basically nothing about this campaign.

But from looking at this image and reading the blurb about it I’m none the wiser about the brand – and therefore the same thing would have applied to every person who strolled by without going in, to every person who was told “I got a free ice cream today” by an attendee.

Naturally all the usual caveats apply about the nature of the briefs (we’re comparing ice cream and Parkinson’s disease here…), however simply taking the broad point about portable ideas, would not every campaign, including the Ben & Jerry’s one above, benefit from being designed at least a little bit for people like us, reading about it in a vague unengaged manner 18 months later?

Your campaign is going to go places you don’t expect, and will never know about. Make sure it’s prepared for that journey.

Alex Smith is planning director at Sense

  • http://www.becausexm.com/ Joss Davidge

    Hmmm, someone forwarded this on to me as they didn’t understand the point that Alex was trying to make..and I agree.

    It also seems very odd that the Planning Manager for an experiential agency has such a negative and unfounded view of one of the UK’s fastest growing marketing mediums…maybe his view is being negatively skewed because he is only seeing ‘dead fish’ campaigns close to home!

    I really do not think that the 2 camps he outlines are mutually exclusive.

    I am also not a big advocate of designing campaigns with the ‘non target audience’ in mind, that feels like it is off strategy, and will only serve to waste the budget.

    I see no reason why great experiential campaigns, based on sound consumer insight/understanding and brilliant creative delivery, cannot both strongly engage and impact the direct target audience AND have a halo effect through amplification (verbal and digital) to a wider sphere.

    If it is a great idea, with real resonance, delivered with theatre and flair, and facilitating amplification through clever engagement techniques, then I don’t see what the problem is…but maybe I am missing the point :)

  • Guest

    Hey Joss – thanks for the reply.

    I entirely agree with your points – however I would have thought that was clear in the blog, maybe not :)

    You’re right, they aren’t remotely mutually exclusive. When I say to design ideas for people who aren’t there, I mean to convey that by doing this you’ll make a better experience for people who *are* there as well. It’ll be an all around stronger idea.

    This point also covers the target audience issue. Given that a target audience will generally be demographically determined (e.g. “men”) rather than situationally determined (e.g. “people at Westfield shopping centre), there will loads of target audience who will never directly see your campaign – but can still be influenced by it. Although the Parkinson’s example is from Israel, I imagine that I’m probably their target audience, so they’d be pleased they reached me.

    Because the spoon communicates so powerfully to me from just an image, it would have been doubly good for the people who actually tried to eat soup with it – even if they were literally the only people who they cared about reaching.

    Bottom line, it’s just a lateral way of approaching creative development to create ideas with a high degree of clarity and simplicity. Hope that cleared things up!

  • ALEX M H SMITH

    Hey Joss – thanks for reply.

    I entirely agree with your points – however I would have thought that was clear in the blog, maybe not :)

    You’re right, they aren’t remotely mutually exclusive. When I say to design ideas for people who aren’t there, I mean to convey that by doing this you’ll make a better experience for people who *are* there as well. It’ll be an all around stronger idea.

    This point also covers the target audience issue. Given that a target audience will generally be demographically determined (e.g. “men”) rather than situationally determined (e.g. “people at Westfield shopping centre), there will loads of target audience who will never directly see your campaign – but can still be influenced by it. Although the Parkinson’s example is from Israel, I imagine that I’m probably their target audience, so they’d be pleased they reached me.

    Because the spoon communicates so powerfully to me from just an image, it would have been doubly good for the people who actually tried to eat soup with it – even if they were literally the only people who they cared about reaching.

    Bottom line, it’s just a lateral way of approaching creative development to create ideas with a high degree of clarity and simplicity. Hope that cleared things up!

  • http://wearepww.com Ian Irving

    I must admit that upon reading the first post I too was a little confused and i must echo a certain point from Joss that perhaps Alex has only witnessed poor activation with little or no “Halo Effect”. However, I think that this debate has possibly been born from the fact that the market place for Experiential has become so cluttered and confused that we now see so many “me too” activations from agencies that have no concept of how a live experience should fit into the overall marketing plan of a brand, so few agencies have the capability to challenge a client and ask the pertinent questions about the bigger picture of a campaign and indeed the brands strategy.

    In a sector that is increasingly seeing experiential briefs coming out of media agencies and PR agencies and therefore more often than not we are seeing an inexperienced approach to live marketing, experiential agencies are not getting the chance to interrogate the brief and gain the insight of the bigger picture and what you end up with a pithy live experience that merely attracts a passing crowd and is therefore a pointless waste of marketing budget.

    I think that you are less likely to see a campaign that does not have the halo effect from established and strategically led experiential agencies.

  • ALEX M H SMITH

    Hey Ian,

    It’s not really a question of whether there’s a halo effect, so much as whether the halo effect has any value.

    Using the examples from the article you could theoretically say that 10 people “hearing about” the Parkinson’s campaign is worth more than 1,000 “hearing about” the Ben & Jerry’s one – simply because the nature of the concept is portable. Not “better”, just portable (meaning inherently communicating a message away from point of core interaction).

    Agree with your point about too many experiential campaigns being born too far downstream of the core brand issues.

  • Martin Homent

    The first example has a strong idea that’s easy to understand in a photo. (I would argue that you understand a spoon with a hole so instantly, that you probably won’t experience anything at all–unless the spoon is served in the bowl.)

    The second example appears to be a live event, that’s no doubt sampling ice cream. There’s no idea here to ‘get’ and probably doesn’t come across well in a small photo. But the video could be interesting to watch and I’m sure the target audience took some pics and shared the moment.

    I completely agree that, with the right creative approach, live experiences can offer some great shareable content for all of us to enjoy. The D Rose Jump Store and Pepsi Max Bus Stop being two good examples.

    But the examples given feel like they’re two completely different things. The important message, for me, is that clients need to see the powerful opportunity that live marketing can bring when an idea is at the heart of the campaign. A good idea will always breed good content.

  • ALEX M H SMITH

    Thanks for comment – it is fair to say that the examples are kind of apples and oranges to prove the point – however this principle still applies to very similar campaigns.

    Your example of the D Rose Jump Store is a great example of a portable idea. However compare it to the Nike House of Deadly. Structurally a very similar campaign, and also brilliant. But not a portable idea. Indeed I’d struggle to explain it to you, nor real determine a message, other than to say it’s very cool.

    Ultimately this is not a measure of how *good* an idea is, nor how *sharable*, not whether it creates good content (in fact it doesn’t necessarily correlate at all) – it is instead a measure of whether people receive the same level of comms regardless of the depth of their interaction.

  • Martin Homent

    And comparing the Adidas with Nike example makes your point both stronger and clearer, as you can highlight the difference between two ‘executions’ and brands that feel similar both produce good content. But one stands apart as it’s a ‘portable’ idea.