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Defining ‘Brand Activation’

The question that often arises is what the Cannes Intrenational Advertising Festival of Creativity’s Award category of ‘Promo and Activation Lions’ is all about.

Is it about so-called ‘Experiental Marketing’, or the other popular buzz-words, ‘Brand Activation’? Or is it just a descriptor for what is essentially, and simply, a brand promotion? A valid question that one wonders if even the competition judges could answer with alacrity.

The Cannes Festival ‘Promo and Activation Lions’ catogory description claims it is about the best use of Experiental Marketing and includes out of store consumer experiences of promotional and pblicity stunts, live advertising and a host of various interactive events for which they provide a substantial list.

What is unfortunately not evident from their category description is the required simple answer. It seems like the ‘Promo and Activation Lion’ category includes everything and excludes nothing.

Here is my take on what is what.

I think there are quite distinct differences between Brand Activation, Experiental Communication/Marketing and Brand Promotions.

Brand Activation is about fostering brand kinship with a rewarding inter-active, out-of home consumer experience that activates ‘as many senses as possible’.

Tactical Versus Strategic Brand Interventions

Brand Activation is usually a very localised activity, and a one-off exercise that is seldom or ever repeated like the staged Tic-Tac event in France. It is a tactical brand intervention whereas Experiential Marketing is strategic.

Although Experiential Marketing is also about consumer experiences that activates as ‘many senses as possible’, the focus here is on a carefully planned strategy of positioning a brand long-term and sustaining a defined communication platform in a national or global market on a annual basis.

Pioneers in this field have been Red-Bull with their many international, brand promoted events that are widely covered annually on national TV and international digital channels.

I think it’s partially correct in thinking that whatever it’s called, it is still a Brand Promotion. However, the objective of providing of an out-of-home consumer experience that provokes ‘as many senses as possible’ does add a very important dimension that probably deserves separate category classifications.

Provoking As Many Senses As Possible                                                        

A Brand Promotion of handing out flyers at a traffic intersection is not going to qualify as an interactive, out-of home consumer experience that evokes enough senses to want to tweet about.

A good example of what ‘provoking all the senses’ means in practical and creative terms is the Glade brand sponsored, New York event, ‘Museum of Feelings”.

1. Glade Brand Activation, Museum of Feelings, New Kork

Advertising Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago

This New York City event attracted more than 56,000 visitors after opening and also won four Lion awards for O&M at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

2. Tic-Tac Brand Activation, France

Advertising Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Paris

This meticulously planned outdoor, one-off Brand Activation, used live flash-mobs, aided by giant screens showing people falling over and the entire event, staged in the city of Rouen, was captured on film by hidden cameras.

The film footage was edited for a commercial to be flighted on the Internet and the weekend that ‘worst breath in the world’ was launched, it clocked up 200,000 views and caused an online sensation when it rapidly went viral.

3. The Art Institute of Chicago, Airbnb Van Gogh’s Bedroom

Advertising Agency: Leo Burnett, Chicago

Leo Burnett’s ‘immersive art experience’ project involved building a livable model of Van Gogh’s ‘Bedroom’ that one could rent on Airbnb.

The campaign won four Gold awards at the Clio Awards, for Brand Design, Branded Entertainment, Engagement/Experiential, and Out of Home.

At the Cannes International Festival of Creativity it won 7 Gold Lions and a Creative Effectiveness Grand Prix. Effectiveness is judged on brand impact and this immersive activation certainly achieved that by attracting an additional 200,000 visitors to the The Art Institute of Chicago.