There’s nothing wrong with admitting the confines of your apartment stopped cutting it. It’s been over two years since we entered the pandemic and we’ve just about exhausted every form of self-entertainment. That hunger deep inside you, that itch you can’t seem to scratch—what is that? It’s the desire for interactive, connecting entertainment experiences.
If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. In fact, millions of people this summer felt the same way, and they bought tickets for summer music festivals around the world just to chase that feeling. And with millions showing up to these festivals across the globe came a great opportunity for advertisers. This summer marked the return of live music, and the brands that had success are the ones who were willing to go a little deeper than merely slapping a logo on a stage.
We’ve all seen it: A brand’s logo stretched above a musician’s head as they sing their hit song. But can you remember which brand it was? The chances are low because, the reality is, people aren’t going to music festivals with the intention of becoming an ad target. They’re going for the experience. Therefore, it only makes sense to make advertising experiential as well. Its full potential is untapped, which is what makes it so exciting from an advertising perspective.
Experiential advertising at its core offers consumers an immersive experience with a brand. In essence, it’s not just about selling a product to a customer in the moment but building an overall sentiment toward a brand and what they offer. Over the last couple of years, it has grown in popularity as brands recognize the incredible impact it can have on their success.
In 2019, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) broke the mold for experiential advertising. In the midst of Coachella festivities, random concertgoers received a notification on their phone. It was Glover, asking to AirDrop a photo of Adidas sneakers to them. When people accepted, they learned that the photo was actually a coupon to receive a free pair of shoes. It was a collaboration between Glover and Adidas, at a nearby tent. Experiential advertising was nothing new at the time, but the moment showed just how impactful it could be when done effectively.
So, what makes an experiential ad effective? It has just as much to do with what surrounds the brand as the brand itself. After all, brands aren’t selling consumers on a product but, rather, an experience that just so happens to involve a product. With the Glover example, customers were asked in the process of receiving the shoes to sign a contract promising they’d wear the shoes to his headlining show. That contract, along with the AirDrop, intentionally created a bond between the Coachella attendee and Glover. It was as if Glover was personally asking fans for a favor, and that simple connection between artist, brand and consumer created an experience that those audience members will surely never forget.
The best experiential advertising campaigns are feats of creativity and oftentimes not repeatable. That’s what makes it a great opportunity. The best can only be done once because they are hyper-focused, tailored specifically for the event, the artist or the audience. A good example is Durex, which in June executed a sponsorship at LadyLand in Brooklyn, a queer music festival and pride party. To match the electric energy of this gathering, Durex coordinated a stage takeover, during which drag queens used an air cannon to shoot condoms into the crowd. The experience amplified the energy on stage and shared it with the crowd, all while promoting safe sex practices. Audience members walked away not only with free condoms but a fun memory associated with the brand.
In addition to treating each moment individually, there are overarching rules that can make experiential advertising more effective. Critically, an experience should linger with audience members. Any good moment leaves fans buzzing after the fact and agencies can coordinate that effort. In the LadyLand example, Durex coordinated social media engagement during and after the event to keep the conversation alive and create deeper engagement with the brand. In generating cross-media touchpoints, brands are far more likely to see longer-term results from their experience.
Most importantly, the value of experiential advertising relies upon sincerity. If a brand doesn’t belong at a certain festival or next to a certain artist, audiences will notice. When brainstorming an activation, don’t just think, “How will my brand benefit from this?” Also consider, “What are we bringing to this audience?”
As we look ahead to the future of experiential advertising, its success will continue to rely upon ingenuity. If the same formula is copied over and over, it will only trend out. When brands innovate and share creative ideas that place experience over an immediate sale, as well as cross-promote their campaigns via social media after the fact, they’ll see incredible value in the long term. Because yes, it could be free shoes or condoms shared in the moment and a product itself can only last so long. But a memory? A memory can last a lifetime.
This work was originally published on Adweek.