Getting phygital: How McKinney’s Experiential Marketing team makes a lasting impression
In our New York office are seven people focused on making real-life interactions with brands unforgettable realities. It’s called experiential marketing, and though everyone from AdAge to Adweek talked about it this month, we’ve been doing it for years. More than event planning, experiential marketing intentionally brings together brands and consumers in a core, multisensory experience that often verges on the phygital — that’s both physical and digital.
Consider the high-energy Samsung UNPACKED 2013 Episode 2 event in Times Square last September that helped launch two new Samsung products. For this, the McKinney team engineered a product launch event that included a surprise performance by Icona Pop and live-streamed it from New York to a similar launch event in Berlin. The stream was then reversed, coming to New York on multiple large LED screens in Times Square. Thousands of concertgoers tested the Galaxy Gear smart watch and the Galaxy Note 3 in an outdoor “experience zone.” Though a live concert can be a purely physical experience, the addition of the live-streaming and the social sharing by attendees took it quickly and equally into the digital space. It got phygital.
Experiential marketing events usually rely on an incentive to initially get people interested and involved — like a free fun activity or concert, or the promise of a coupon — but a collective, sensory experience is what people remember, talk about and share online. “All digital products can benefit from a real-world experience because it gives people a reason to share,” explains McKinney Experiential Marketing Project Director Frank Moran. “Agencies can also use video shot during a live event to reach those who couldn’t be there.” He gives the example of the one-day event orchestrated and recorded for AMC to promote a new season of “The Walking Dead.” Though only a few people experienced zombie hands grabbing at them from a sidewalk grate in New York City, more than 4 million have watched the video of their experience on YouTube alone.
More and more marketers are realizing the value of creating a real-world branded experience that integrates or encourages online sharing: Last year, they spent an estimated 4.7% more on event and experiential marketing than they did in 2012. One benefit to marketers that event-goers may not be aware of is the amount of data collected. Michelle Son, director of Experiential Marketing, explains, “You can collect people’s email addresses and ask them to take surveys while they are at the event, either about the brand or the product, even about the experience we’ve created for them. It’s a great way to get to know your target, and because they are having a good time, it’s not intrusive.”
It’s a lot of fun for the McKinney team, too, but also a lot of work. Talent must be sourced, venues secured, companies hired to build temporary and often gigantic structures, brand ambassadors must be trained to work the event, maintenance teams briefed, and sometimes security hired. Our experiential marketing team ended 2013 in Atlanta at an SEC Football Championship pre-game event getting 3,300 energized fans eager for the new SEC Network on ESPN, and they began 2014 at the Las Vegas Convention Center transforming 28,000 square feet space at the Consumer Electronics Show into a Samsung universe for more than 150,000 tech-minded attendees. At the former, visitors uploaded almost 800 photos to the SEC Network Facebook page and the @iwantSECNetwork Twitter page, and at least 60 percent of them were tweeted by fans.
Another recent article in Agency Spy argued that experiential marketing is going extinct because “the new authentic standards for branded content” rely so heavily on digital, not physical, experiences. But we disagree. There is both a need for and a value in trying a product, interacting in person with others who have a similar interest (in technology or in sports teams, for example), having fun and thanking a brand for making it all possible. There are seven people in McKinney’s New York office who know for certain that experiential marketing, when it combines the digital and physical, is instead evolving. And we’re excited to be a part of it.