Summer's here, and marketers are successfully and creatively engaging people where they’re spending more time — outside.
Warmer weather lures millions of consumers off the couch and into the streets, and brands have long taken advantage of that. Consider such summertime fixtures as the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile — now a full WienerFleet — the Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular and even planes pulling banners across the sky at the beach.
But as reliable and beloved as such old-school approaches may be, marketers and advertisers this year seem committed to creating more elaborate, immersive, interactive and memorable experiences with their out-of-home (OOH) advertising.
"This year is proving that OOH can be so much more than a tactical execution, but also an opportunity to create wholly-owned interactive brand experiences," said David Krupp, CEO, North America, for Kinetic, an agency specializing in experiential campaigns.
Putting purpose behind activations
One such brand experience this year was Kinetic's campaign for sparkling water brand Perrier. For four days in mid-July, the Perrier Flavor Studio, a pop-up store filled with features designed for social sharing, operated out of Greene Street in New York's Soho neighborhood. The event included a studio space with original artwork from artist AKACorleone, live music, an interactive art wall, a bubble ball pit with a selfie mirror on the ceiling, a hashtag photo printer, a Twitter vending machine and a Perrier "mocktail" bar.
Kristen Liggett, account director at agencyEA, also sees a shift toward unusual and memorable experiences that can drive consumer interaction.
"Brands are putting a greater emphasis on delivering unique and authentic experiences that put a strong focus on purpose behind an activation," Liggett told Marketing Dive. "This means we're seeing less man-on-the-street, sampling activations and more authentic engagements that fit naturally within a given environment and the interests of their target demographics."
For example, agencyEA recently partnered with Clif Bar, a brand that wants to associate itself with sustainability and outdoor activities, to develop an outdoor activation at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago's Union Park. The effort featured backyard-style games made with reclaimed wood and signage from repurposed CDs and cassette tapes.
"We demonstrated to festival-goers that Clif Bar is an authentic brand that cares for the planet; product sampling was very secondary to that," Liggett said.
Leveraging blockbuster — and block party — events
This 2017 style of OOH — emphasizing authenticity, location, and social media — tends to center around major events and busy locations. For example, at this year's "Citi Summer Streets" festival in New York, when seven miles of road will be closed to cars for three consecutive Saturdays in August, marketers are planning a variety of over-the-top experiences aimed at getting attendees to stop, participate and then share the experience on social media.
One notable installation will be LG's 6,750-square-foot water park, which is designed to look like the brand's QuadWash dishwashers, complete with obstacle courses made of giant dishes and cutlery-shaped waterslides.
But a slew of other brands (and their agency partners) are also planning to make a splash at Summer Streets. Among the noteworthy installations:
- Vita Coco Coconut Water is bringing back its Coco Beach experience, which features a 270-foot water slide, misting stations and cabanas for relaxation, for a second year.
- Honest Tea will host its Mobile Tea Garden, an immersive experience highlighting the impact of Fair Trade Certified ingredients.
- Citi is planning a virtual reality station where visitors can experience a 360-degree view of Mount Everest.
On the West Coast, Comic-Con, which ran from July 21-24 at the San Diego Convention Center, attracted both visitors and innovative marketers. Among the immersive experiences offered to attendees were:
- A chance to pretend to be a visitor to Westworld, the futuristic theme park in the HBO hit of the same name. Copies of some sets, notably the saloon and the intake facility, were built in a nearby hotel.
- Alcon Entertainment, Warner Bros. and Johnnie Walker were behind a 12,800-square-foot exhibit, populated by 34 actors in costume, tied to the new "Blade Runner" movie.
- Amazon looked to generate social-media buzz for its "The Tick" series by deploying actors in the main character's distinctive superhero attire across San Diego.
Connecting with an elusive audience
Helping drive the experiential trend is research that suggests millennials may be particularly open to such campaigns.
A 2014 study by Harris Group found that 78% of millennials would prefer to increase their spending on experiences rather than material objects. Perhaps more significantly, some 69% of millennials told researchers they experience "FOMO" — the fear of missing out — and thus seek out events and experiences where they can engage and share on social media. (It's worth noting that the Harris study was conducted on behalf of Eventbrite, a seller of event tickets.)
For major OOH experiential campaigns to work, they need to attract an audience. Thus, the appeal of Summer Streets, which attracted some 300,000 visitors last year, and Comic Con, which had some 100,000 visitors.
Digital and mobile as connective tissue
But, in another trend that's gained traction this year, brands aren't waiting for consumers to come to an installation. Instead, OOH experiences are coming to consumers through digital OOH — advanced, interactive, real-time screens in multiple locations.
"Digital OOH continues to expand and improve with new placements and screens giving the channel a big refresh," said Heather Pidgeon, vice president of media for Genuine, a Boston-based agency specializing in digital brand experiences. "You can see them everywhere now: there are screens at gas stations, elevators and gyms; they are all taking advantage of a captive audience with idle time."
And many of these new digital OOH screens are mobile. Sometimes the emphasis is on getting consumers to use their own screens to connect with a brand. Genuine, for example, built a flu tracker app for Novartis that monitors the spread of the illness through uploads from consumers' phones.
Sometimes the idea is to send a screen around town to attract views. For example, Kinetic used real-time data from the taxi-hailing Curb app to display travel times to local airports on the rooftop displays of New York cabs.
By using either of these OOH variations — memorable event, interactive screen or some combination of both — marketers are learning a surprising lesson. In the summer of 2017, it's not the product you sell that distraction-craving, photo-sharing, FOMO-addled consumers want — it's the marketing itself.