Activations are an interactive way of marketing. Melina Meletakos discovers how technology has changed them.
The latest form of activation is far removed from the promotional folk handing out blocks of cheese in supermarket aisles. Now, it is all about activations that can trigger and sustain dialogue with individual customers.
This is not to say that the supermarket handouts, and those who insist you try their new face cream, are out of vogue. They aren’t because they work so well.
However, as technology has changed the face of most things, the lines separating activations, social media and digital advertising into neat marketing packages have become blurred, says Ran Neu-Ner, joint CEO of The Creative Counsel. “This is thanks to new technology which has made activations platform-agnostic. Activations have evolved into anything that changes the way consumers act or transact,” he says.
Leanne Pechey, managing director of Hot Stuff Marketing, says activations are all about creating experiences for consumers. “This is threefold for us,” she says. “It involves enticing consumers, engaging them and making them believe what you are telling them.” New technologies, she adds, keep this dialogue going and, as technology evolves, new tools emerge to do this.
Integrating these different platforms can be challenging, says Pechey, because technology is moving so quickly. “We deal with this challenge every single day. It’s about understanding what is available to you.” For this reason, Pechey explains, Hot Stuff Marketing has a team of young people whose job it is to understand and be connected to all the platforms available.
In this new world of activations, tools such as mass personalisation are becoming increasingly important, says Neu-Ner. This technique combines the personalisation of something being tailor-made for a specific person with the low costs associated with mass production.
As an example of a failure of mass personalisation, Neu-Ner cites a personal experience where, as a Jewish man, he received an SMS promoting adult male circumcision. This was unsuccessful because it was not relevant to him.
“You can segment people when doing activations. This SMS could have excluded people whose religion means they have been circumcised at birth. You have to be smart about it. When you use a mass medium like sending an SMS you can still make the advertising message feel personal.”
This kind of mass personalisation can, of course, be made easier by the wealth of data that can be collected on consumers to customise the advertising messages they receive according to their preferences. Pick n Pay’s Smart Shopper programme, for example, allows customers to earn points by swiping their card in-store every time they make a purchase. These points accumulate into redeemable vouchers that can be used in Pick n Pay stores. “You identify yourself every time you swipe that card,” Neu-Ner explains. “They know if you are a male or female, your age, how often you shop and then link this information to what is in your shopping basket. They know where you are shopping, what you are buying and the frequency of your purchases.”
This kind of consumer intelligence is far more effective than the old ‘spray and pray’ approach, he adds.
According to Pechey, “Gaining insight from the data gathered allows the conversation with consumers to continue once the purchase is over. This is quite new but very beneficial.”
Asked about the possibility of a backlash from consumers who don’t like the idea of marketers knowing so much about them, Neu-Ner says the information of a group of individuals is used instead of the information of a single individual.
“This may be contentious, but it’s a trade-off that people have to make. Unless they have something to hide, there is no reason for them to be concerned about their personal information. It is merely being used to add value and enhance their user experience,” he explains.
This has ensured that activations are no longer the ugly stepchild shunned when the advertising budget is divided. Pechey says activations have been given a bad rap because of fly-by-night agencies devaluing the medium and driven prices down.
“You have to create experiences to build brand loyalty and to build brand loyalty you have to create talkability. This is where technology comes in,” she says.
“There has been a massive shift in the world of activations. The concept is broad but we need to challenge brands to look for new mediums to do them,” says Nan-Ner.
This post was first published in the May 2015 issue of The Media magazine.