Taking brands out-of-store revolutionised the activations industry by transferring activations to touch-points as diverse as forecourts, malls, nightclubs, street corners, taverns and taxi ranks. Nikki Temkin spoke to some of the experts in activations about the trends as well as their successes and challenges.
Activations have come a long way from being the poor cousins who did the despised in-store promotions, perpetuating the belief that consumers will buy anything from a pretty face, says Michelle Combrinck, CEO of Zinto Marketing. “Everything changed when clients realised that they didn’t have to restrict promotions to the in-store scenario.”
Taking brands out-of-store revolutionised the industry by transferring activations to touch-points as diverse as forecourts, malls, nightclubs, street corners, taverns and taxi ranks etc. Brands like Red Bull and Heineken led the way, changing the game with campaigns such as ‘Space Jump’ and ‘the Candidate’. “They gave us the credibility we needed to move from second-rate marketing/media citizens to one of the big boys,” Combrinck explains.
In the local sector, big news was the acquisition of The Creative Counsel (TCC) in September last year by Publicis for a reported R1 billion. Group co-CEO, Neu-Ner says that their pioneering strategy was defined by changing the way consumers shop by looking at what they buy, where they buy it and how often they buy. He has also said that activations have become a consumer science as the focus shifts away from brands and focuses on the consumer.
“While activations are sometimes mistakenly viewed as extensions or by-products of social media and digital advertising, their effectiveness on the ground, in terms of converting consumers into brand ambassadors and converting ideas into sales, is powerful,” he explains.
Annie Malan Promotions is another successful player in the space. Malan affirms, “Always treat everybody with respect. I train promoters for free on several topics. By the time they work for our clients they’re loyal and knowledgeable because we grow people and we exist to empower.”
She believes that clients keep on coming back to her because over and above brand awareness, they also incorporate added-value services such as market research, sales leads and in-store merchandising into their offering. Plus, they focus on their speciality. “We’re uber-efficient, offer a high-energy, dynamic environment and transparency. We deliver fast and are available 24-7,” she explains.
Combrinck says that Zinto Marketing, responsible for memorable campaigns such as The MTN ‘Yello Bus’ and ‘Dance Against Drugs’ with Willards, roots their business strategy in the commercial application of the performing arts to the business of branded entertainment.
In other words, when “selling” a brand, it needs to be presented as a desirable item that enhances consumers’ life experience – putting it in an entertainment context usually does this job.
“Telling the brand story in a compelling way is the most important thing. A good/successful brand activation is not just a promotion with bells and whistles – it looks into the heart of the brand to find that bit of magic that will create a lasting brand-consumer connection,” says Combrinck.
Connect the consumer
Leanne Pechey, managing director of Hot Stuff Marketing, agrees, saying, “The only way to succeed is to connect the consumer to the brand in a memorable and relevant manner. We can no longer expect the consumer to come to us – we must take the brand to the consumer and interact with them in an unsaturated environment.”
And, for the Oomph! Media Group, responsible for the effective Sanlam ‘Heroes’ campaign, building forward integration as well as media and amplification opportunities into each of their campaigns, by taking a multi-engagement approach (using efficient methods or combining multiple promotional tools and available media opportunities), is a priority, says Rory Brien, chief sales and marketing officer.
Simon Milne, group strategic sales head at Media Connection, reiterates that a successful activation is a combination of authenticity and conversion. “Our strategy for any activation is to communicate the wow factor of the brand or service and to help the recipient understand that this wow brand/service is a need in their life,” he says.
What’s certain is that interactivity captures attention – people love to participate, especially if there are prizes to be won.
“It’s been proven time and again that getting consumers on stage to strut their stuff is a very powerful way to engage them in the brand story,” says Combrinck. The most exciting moment of the company’s Ariel Activation campaign was setting a new Guinness World Record (still held) for the most women washing clothes in one minute.
Not a quick-fix solution
One of The Media Connection’s most successful client relationships has been with OK Furniture Store openings where they have canvassed the communities in which stores are opening. Much of this was done through loud hailing in branded vans with speakers on the roof and using a well-known local radio presenter as MC.
Combrinck maintains that although brand activation can be used to bolster flagging sales etc, there needs to be follow-through for long-term results – they’re not a quick-fix solution.
“Ongoing research delivers info to clients which takes an in-depth look at whether activations are indeed working at the right touchpoint, at the right time of the month/year and targeting prime prospect,” she says.
Neu-Ner agrees saying, “We’re seeing a huge drive to accurately quantify returns. The mobile phone has created an opportunity to both engage and measure effectively so the move is towards mobile activations that mobilise consumers to change the way they act or transact.”
Promise of great things
Social media holds the promise of great things but is still in an infancy stage. For Neu-Ner, activations themselves have become a trend – companies are now looking to engage consumers as opposed to advertise to them. He asserts that in the not- so -distant future, social media will be the one stop activation platform that will allow for engagement, profiling, sharing and transacting.
Apps were a big deal at SXSW Interactive 2015. Saatchi & Saatchi L.A. brought the virtual reality headset (Oculus Rift) to the party with apps they’d built for some of their clients. Toyota put the headset wearer inside a new Toyota. “I can think of a million and one ways of using this baby in all sorts of activations!” Combrinck says.
She believes that activations are a cut-throat business and that to stay on top you need to create brand experiences that generate social buzz and incorporate apps like Snapchat into campaigns.
“If consumers don’t tweet, share, snapchat or Instagram about your activation, then it’s not doing the job it’s supposed to,” she says. Research apparently shows that the main market who use their mobiles subscribe to sms’s from wholesalers about specials and then pass the message on via old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
“Social media is an important game changer. We’ve come to rely to a large degree on consumers spreading the word via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. If they enjoyed the brand experience your activation offered, they spread the word,” Combrinck adds.
Attention to detail
However, Malan maintains that human attention to detail overrides the ease of apps. “A successful brand activation is not always fancy creative (like a helicopter we once did for Absa which made SABC headlines), it’s increased market share, activated sales and a really great one-on-one consumer interaction. Our Ouma Rusks ‘Thanking Consumers for Voting’ campaign created a national sell-out of stock by that month-end,” she explains.
Milne sees social media as offering the opportunity to interact with more personality types. “Distant onlookers can take part through their ‘private’ platform, namely their smart phone. All sorts of additional elements can be added without massive cost or logistics,” he says. The Media Connection enjoys using the social media platforms of radio stations to drive conversations.
Oomph! Media Group has developed top class propriety software to use and integrate into programmes including grass-roots interventions which allows them to amplify and create useable content for digital and social media.
Innovation top of the list
“Technology, engagement and social media will be intrinsic to activations; this is a direct reflection of consumer-driven needs and interests. Variety and innovation is also top of the list,” says Vaughan Berry, director at Provantage Media Group.
He’s referring to pop up stores from shipping containers, commuter shelters transformed into barber shops and other creative means of engaging with targeted consumers.”
Hotstuff Media’s ‘My Labello Moment’ appealed to the target market in a fun and “on trend” manner which translated directly to an increase in sales. For each Labello product purchased, consumers were rewarded with a free frozen yoghurt from the Labello Frozen Yoghurt trailer. Consumers captured their #MyLabelloMoments and uploaded them to Facebook which ensured a digital footprint. “If people aren’t talking about it, it may as well never have happened,” Pechey says.
Malan views social media as the wedding cake of the industry – everybody loves to include it in their campaigns but are consumers actually eating the cake?
“It has a long way to go. We can tweet and Facebook and Instagram as much as we like but social media users are incredibly tech savvy and if there’s not something in it for them, you’ll end up in a recycle bin. Where social media is used purely to educate and communicate but not to drive a hard sale, it yields good results however, it does not place the products in shopping trolleys,” she says.
Causal marketing is another trend that continues to play a strong roll in innovation.“ Creating positive societal upliftment and change whilst managing to meet the brand’s objectives and goals requires constant innovation. Global trends show that consumers prefer to spend with companies who care for the environment and its inhabitants,” explains Trevor Henning, operations director at Oomph!.
Brien too believes that activations and campaigns that echo the good community citizen sentiment benefit greatly from genuine social commitment.
When it comes to measuring effectiveness, every campaign has its own objectives. “Some are measured on sales, some on leads generated, some on the number of samples handed out and some on the number of views of the actual campaign or the PR around the campaign or an increase in market share/sales,” says Neu-Ner.
Interest shown in products or a trending conversation on social media is not really quantifiable, unless that interest turns into an action that results in sales. “Task-driven activations are always the first choice because they give you a tangible measuring tool,” says Milne.
It also comes down to direct and indirect reach: has there been a desired behaviour change? How many consumers were engaged with over a weekend? How many tasted or sampled a product? How many came up on stage to participate? How many digital impressions were there based on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram interactions? Berry believes brand resonance sets a great activation apart from a mediocre one.
“Metrics is a challenging issue. Sometimes we can only deduce from the information supplied by client how successful a campaign is or isn’t in terms of sales. In the case of activations with an in-store component we’re usually able to track sales successfully,” affirms Combrinck.
Some large retailers like Pick n Pay are trying to do their own in-store promotions with their own full-time staff. “Activations might seem easy and it has a low barrier to entry but it is far more specialised than it might seem on the surface,” Malan maintains.
Neu-Ner views leadership and lack of transformation as some of the biggest issues facing activations. “There’s a need to push back to clients so we can produce work that’s innovative, creative, that pushes boundaries and demonstrates real ROI. We’re also not adapting and adopting technology sufficiently.”
He also believes that the industry needs to invest in supporting black entrepreneurs to establish their businesses and transfer skills. “A lot of small agencies start up and fizzle out a year or two later because of lack of experience in business management,” he adds.
Highly-trained and experienced brand activation/operations/client services people are definitely a challenge. Zinto Marketing spotted the gap and will launch Zenzele: School of Brand Activation this year. Other challenges for Combrinck include, “Budgets, the logistics of staging and executing campaigns in areas with limited infrastructure; co-ordinating countrywide campaigns and obtaining various local authorities’ permissions and regulations to stage activations or events.”
Clients want bang for their buck in a tough economic climate. Berry says, “Fixed budgets often cater to accommodate multiple activation touchpoints which can minimise the impact of an activation touchpoint, inadvertently affecting awareness and conversion to sales.”
Pechey perceives the greatest challenges as their greatest opportunities. “They keep us on our toes and ensure that we never stop innovating and growing the activations space,” she says.
It’s essential that activations players remain relevant and exciting and keep up to speed with trends.
Milne concludes, “Some are gimmicky or sensational, but don’t deliver results. We need to carefully select the best ways to communicate and engage markets as our environments change.”
This story first appeared in the April issue of The Media magazine.
Image: Zinto Marketing’s Willards Dance Against Drugs activation/Facebook
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