Japanese drinks giant Suntory recently invited a crowd of 300 people to double as both audience and musicians at a concert with a difference. Each person’s glass was tuned to a different note by the volume of whisky and note-shaped ice it contained.
This ‘Glassical Concert’ was created to attract younger audiences in a market where the population is not only ageing rapidly, but also shrinking.
The whisky-maker’s latest initiative is part of a growing trend of experiential campaigns that engage consumers through active participation in a physical space.
While experiential is far from new in Asia-Pacific, brands have started spending significantly more in recent years. A study by research firm Pearlfinders forecasts that marketing briefs in this category will jump six-fold in Asia this year with apparel, FMCG and consumer electronics brands seeing the greatest increase in spend. Global players like Red Bull, GE, and Rolls-Royce are ramping up activity and setting the standard for local players to emulate.
Ajab Samrai, chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather Japan, the agency behind the Suntory campaign, says experiential is “carving” into clients’ digital budgets.
Academic studies have consistently shown higher customer engagement with a brand leads to conversion and preference.
For some brands, experiential marketing is an economical way to create content for other advertising formats, including social media and television, cutting back on additional production costs.
Suntory, for instance, used the ‘glassical’ event to generate buzz for its Hibiki whisky with an interactive glass that produces audio and visual effects of the four seasons.
Shizuka Masuno, creative producer of Suntory, explains that the innovations the brand uses are not only meant to “wow” the limited number of participants on the ground, but also drum up excitement among the larger majority who view it on social media. Masuno declined to give details on how much of marketing spend goes to experiential.
Steve Walls, head of planning at Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore, says there isn’t a clear understanding of experiential in Asia and many so-called events do not offer much of an experience to consumers. Instead, they rely on promotional gimmicks such as freebies and “models in t-shirts that are slightly too small”. “Experiential requires [people] to take away the essence of the brand, or understand the brand more deeply, rather than leave with a carrier bag full of swag,” he says.
Suntory’s emphasis on secondary engagement is rare. Walls points out that many agencies in the region fail to plan their experiential in the same way and as such their social media posts rarely stand out or motivate shares.
Gauging return on investment is proving to be another challenge for brands. Walls says he has doubts about earned media figures and that brands should aim for more concrete objectives. Do it right, he says and a campaign can go toe-to-toe with traditional ads. “Either we want to make our money back through sales or get qualified leads. You start from there and judge its success against whether or not you managed to get there.”
An anti-smoking campaign by the Queensland Government last year — which gave participants a “makeunder” to depict the harmful effect of smoking on appearances — used its 130,019 video views and 14.1 million reach to prove effectiveness.
Singaporean budget airline Scoot’s ‘Ultimate take-off challenge’ (see Case Study) claims that its ROI was S$1.42 for every S$1 invested in the campaign. Suntory says the Glassical Concert led to a 70 per-cent increase in new patrons under the age of 35.
The success of experiential is not necessarily reflected in hard figures. Samrai argues that measuring emotional engagement is difficult, but smart brands are after an intangible but no less valuable result — brand love and loyalty.
Yet many clients see experiential as an afterthought, Walls laments. “I would go to clients and say, ‘You know what, let’s [invest] in a space where … we can speak with the voice we want to, as opposed to finely crafting what we [advertise] but ends up being the same as what everybody else is saying.’”
CASE STUDY Scoot’s endurance test
Budget airline Scoot was getting some big aircrafts, and wanted a reaction from the public. However, being the first airline in Singapore with the roomier Boeing 787 did not mean much to frequent fliers.
To create interest, Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore held Scoot’s ‘Ultimate take-off challenge’ at Marina Square last November. Over three days, participants had to stand with their arms outstretched like an aircraft for as long as they could. The last person standing won S$10,000 (US$7,500) and a trip to Seattle to help pick up the new Boeing 787.
According to Steve Walls, head of planning at Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore, participants waiting for their turn got to try out the seats and features of the new plane, interact with Scoot’s cabin crew, play games and check out flight deals at a travel fair. “The event was really simple, but it was smart because it gave people an experience of the plane,” Walls said. “We also made sure that we gave people standing in line something to watch, something to tweet about, and something to cheer for.”
The event saw 6,060 people, and helped sell more than 5,000 flight tickets, generating S$604,800 (US$454,000) in earned media.
BIG IDEAS Growing demand for authentic communication
Michael Thorne, product director and editor, Pearlfinders Marketing
The last 12 months have seen a profound shift in the use of experiential by brands in Asia. So far in 2015, over 20 per cent of the brand-side decision-makers we’ve interviewed across APAC revealed they were seeking input from experiential agencies to support this, four times as many as last year.
While this is part of a global trend, the heat around experiential in Asia outstrips the growth we are seeing in both European and North American markets.
Our interviews reveal that global players like Red Bull, GE and Rolls-Royce are ramping up activity, and they will set the standard for local challengers.
Indeed, as the volume of advertorials and paid-for blogs reaches saturation point, authentic experiences offer a logical alternative for brands to take. There are three industries where I’d anticipate a boost in experiential investment over the next three-to-five years: IT, finance and auto.
Driven by demand among SMEs and Mid-Caps, B2B Asian tech businesses will move beyond the industry trade shows and look to demonstrate their capabilities in a more innovative manner, such as installations in sporting stadiums. For banks battling for market share with mobile wallets, experiential campaigns will feature more in brands’ efforts to get closer to their consumers. Finally, car brands have been ploughing marketing dollars into major auto shows for years, but consumers are now looking for more than just a test drive. Look out for an increased investment in in-showroom experience, and associated projects for events specialists.
We’re not seeing experiential budgets cannibalise brands’ spend on traditional media buys just yet. However, creative and media planning specialists will need to work hard on the ROI piece to insure themselves against this possibility.
What’s for certain is that the most successful agencies will be those that can tie together impactful brand experiences with direct, measurable campaigns that drive the top line.
Our View: Reaching people isn’t the challenge — it’s figuring out how to connect with them that is critical. Got something to add? Please write to [email protected].