Are marketers too obsessed with IRL 'brand activations'? - Philly


Oct. 7, 2016 11:44 am

Are marketers too obsessed with IRL ‘brand activations’?

Greg Ippolito argues that in our digital age, these types of lavish marketing stunts are often not worth it.
USA Network’s “brand activation” for Mr. Robot at South by Southwest 2016.

USA Network's "brand activation" for Mr. Robot at South by Southwest 2016.

(Photo via Statesman Shots)

These days, marketers are gambling their chips, in increasing numbers, on brand activations.

Brand activations, which refer to any means of generating consumer interest by allowing consumers to engage with a product or service in a unique way, are the proverbial “next big thing.” Spending on brand activation campaigns is projected to exceed $595 billion by year’s end.

It’s no wonder. They’re exciting and fun. They allow marketers to be creative in new and innovative ways. And, if done right, a brand activation can create a big splash that ripples out through the enthusiasm of journalists, “influencers,” social media lane-whisperers and the like.

But exactly how and where are marketers investing their brand activation dollars? And to what end?

According to a report from the Association of National Advertisers, the vast majority of brand activation budgets go to non-digital campaigns and their components (“experiential” and “relationship” efforts alone account for almost 41 percent of overall spend). This is despite the fact that such campaigns can be enormously expensive and time-consuming to create and launch … and the return you’ll get back can be hard to quantify — and, one would think, even harder to justify.

Yet, like vinyl records, the allure of analog brand activations seems to transcend logic.

Think about how strange this is. In an era where data mining and campaign measurement are of paramount importance to marketers, the typical brand activation offers neither.

Take for example the USA Network’s fsociety amusement park experience, which launched at South by Southwest 2016. It’s a case study in how a brand activation can open wide the door to imaginative thinking. But, while attendees may have had a great time riding the ferris wheel or playing in the arcade, there’s no telling how many of them went home and started watching Mr. Robot as a result. And, even if you could quantify that, was the added viewership profitable enough to justify the cost of this (albeit very impressive) campaign?

In the ANA report, a brand activation is defined as “marketing that both builds a brand’s image and drives a specific consumer behavior or action.” If the goal is to raise brand awareness and drive a specific action, why aren’t more marketers challenging themselves to do this digitally?


In contrast to its analog counterparts, a digital brand activation requires a lot less time and money to create, and it delivers measurable results, which, if built on a sound and tested strategy, are reliable from the outset. What marketer wouldn’t like that? Hell, what CMO, CFO or CEO wouldn’t like that?

A digital brand activation won’t typically create the same splash of, say, a live-action shootout in a town square but the benefits of this quieter (and smarter) approach are obvious:

  • Immediate results (whether awareness, lead-gen or direct sales)
  • Quick set-up and launch (within weeks, typically)
  • Real-time performance measurement
  • Continuous campaign optimization
  • Strong, quantifiable return on investment (ROI)

Strategically speaking, at a high-level, leverage search and social media to target your best audiences and drive them to an online destination that provides an immersive, exhilarating experience. With that framework in place, let your imagination run wild.

Unlike with a live-action shootout, you won’t be left wondering what the street gawkers are thinking, nor to what degree your display of public theater drove any desirable action.

With a digital brand activation, you’ll know. To the number.


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