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Experience the Message
How Experiential Marketing Is Changing the Brand World
By Max Lenderman Carroll & Graf Publishers
Copyright © 2007 Max Lenderman
All right reserved.
Making Friends with Brands
My marketing career began as a co-founder of a “youth marketing” agency in Montreal in 1999, when my partners, Adam and Jonathan Starr, and I started an on-line portal for North American college and university students called uPath.com. Our mission was to be authentic to students’ needs and relevant to their lifestyles. I was the editor-in-chief and creative director of the portal. I had to make sure we gave students a voice. In doing so, we began supporting student causes, clubs, and local bands. We encouraged and supported young writers, and paid them like we meant it. We also began sponsoring campus events and off-campus concerts. In order to reach our target market, we needed to be where they were, and provide them with a head-turning branded experience. Our success on campus did not go unnoticed. Our clients stopped asking for banner ads. They wanted to be there physically with us instead. Our access to student lifestyle venues across the country — earned through our grassroots efforts — allowed us to begin building brand experiences for our clients’ young consumers.
Access to campus and youth venues also allowed us to start deploying street teams tosupport our event marketing. In 2001, we began to offer “guerrilla marketing” solutions to clients that did not have the deep pockets to afford the advertising and venue fees that come with event marketing or sponsorships. Our form of guerrilla marketing had a specific ethos to it: it had to be based on some form of relevant experience associated with the brand we were marketing. We didn’t want to add to the clutter. Our target audience was too marketing-savvy for that. Smart kids can smell a marketing come-on from a mile away. The guerrilla marketing we chose to wage, in all its manifestations, cut through the ad clutter by invoking a powerful sensory or cognitive consumer response. Our guerrilla marketing campaigns revolved around the idea of providing a consumer experience with the brand. Instead of creating ads and writing copy, we were creating unconventional branded experiences for our audience with hundreds of our own brand guerrillas, whom we called our Gears. We named the company Gearwerx.
Our marketing battles weren’t being waged on TV screens and in magazine spreads. They were fought on the streets, in the bars and nightclubs, in malls and movie theatre lobbies, at beaches and ski hills, in the downtown cores and on leafy university campuses. We were taking brands directly to the people. In doing so, we engaged them in a form of dialogue that was simply not possible with mass marketing and advertising. We used personal interactions between our Gears and consumers to develop trust and empathy. Our Gears “spoke the language” of our target market. They dressed the same. They believed in the same things. Many of our Gears heard about the company from their friends who had worked for us, but we made it a priority to constantly recruit new guerrillas with specific skill sets, abilities, and passions. If we were marketing an alternative sports brand, then we would recruit skaters and boarders. If it was a beauty product that was about to launch, then we would find aestheticians to join the guerrilla teams. If we needed to reach the student audience, then the teams were deployed to campus to get the message out. Our guerrillas were authentic to the brands they were marketing. When they spoke to consumers, they meant what they said.
Creating unconventional brand experiences with our Gears won the company eager clients looking to reach an elusive and ad-savvy youth audience. In the summer of 2003, a major hair-care company was introducing a hair gel called Hard into the Canadian marketplace. (You can probably guess the name of the company.) This gel was targeted squarely at the teen and young-adult market. The advertising was edgy, the models were edgy, the name was edgy, and so were its target consumers. But the target consumers were also edgy enough to ignore traditional advertising. They were prone to laugh at models on the screen or page, and actually cared how well a product worked before buying it. Most importantly, this target consumer needed to be shown — in-their-face — how well a product named Hard could stand up to their lifestyle and hairstyle choices.
We worked closely with GMR Marketing to create the Hard Truck and Crew, a head-turning and fully branded bright green Hummer H2 that pulled up in front of a concert venue. Out of the truck flew six punk-rock guys and girls, their outfits and hair reflecting the post-grunge punk-pop ethos. The crew proceeded to set up a couple of industrial-grade fans in front of the Hummer. All concert-goers passing through the fans on their way into the concert were struck by a blast of air. Instantly, their edgy coiffed hair got tussled. Could their hair product stand up to the Hard Challenge? Hundreds of punks and hardcore concert-goers went head-to-head with the Crew to see whose hair could “stand up” to industrial-strength wind tunnels. Losers got free Hard product. Winners — and there were a few of them — got massive bragging rights with their friends for days to come.
Or imagine Reading Week on campus: bleary-eyed students stagger with their jumbo-sized coffee mugs from their dorms to class to the library to the campus centre. This is their daily pattern for weeks leading up to their midterm exams, until a little fun comes roaring onto the quad, thanks to DaimlerChrysler Canada. The company hired Gearwerx to develop and execute a Jeep-sponsored national campus tour to reconnect the brand with the student market. We rolled three vibrantly coloured Jeep TJs up to the front of the main campus centre right in the middle of exams. Taking a cue from runaway hits like American Idol and Popstars, we customized one of the Jeeps with a state-of-the-art mobile karaoke machine and propped up the experience with a mobile soundstage — a PA system, large screens, karaoke DJ and MC — to let the kids blow off some steam and belt out a couple Mariah Carey or Metallica ditties and some sappy duets.
Excerpted from Experience the Message by Max Lenderman Copyright © 2007 by Max Lenderman. Excerpted by permission.
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