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Now is the time to be a good brand

We find ourselves in incredible times. On 1st January 2020, no one could have predicted where we’d collectively be three months into the new decade. A global health crisis appearing from nowhere, costing lives and straining the world’s already stretched health services. A terrible economic cost, with many jobs lost and businesses folding. There have been winners and losers, the majority losers with falling revenues for many products and services.

It may seem insensitive to talk about the brand building potential of these strange times. However, if Coronavirus has taught us one thing it is the importance of a healthy economy. When people stop moving and spending, jobs are lost and lives are impacted. If businesses and brands are successful, we all win. That’s capitalism!

“Chaos is a ladder” – Petyr Baelish, Game of Thrones.

Without sounding too heartless, the chaos caused by Covid-19 provides a huge opportunity for businesses. It is an opportunity to reinvent, redefine and reinvigorate, to stockpile that most important of commodities – consumer trust. Now is the time to lay the foundations that will determine whether a business will falter or flourish in the coming years and decades. 

From media companies hit by fake news to FMCG brands tainted through association with damaging online content, the trust gap has widened in recent years, killing whatever customer loyalty existed. In a world where we are bombarded by advertising and marketing in different forms, how come only a handful of brands garner our attention? Hint: it’s to do with long-term thinking. 

The shift towards marketing with real-world purpose has helped to a degree, but so often efforts have lacked authenticity or smacked of tokenism. However, a global crisis provides an opportunity to reverse this trend, with brands and businesses making a difference in the real world by showing altruism when people need it most.

The situation may look grim, but at some point, life will return to normal. As spring arrives, we’re already starting to see the shoots of recovery in China almost five months after the first cases were recorded in the country. When this happens in Europe, the Americas, Australasia, Africa, and other parts of Asia, it’s key for brands to be as prepared for it as possible. How? Not by planning the next ROI driving campaign, but by building their brand now through meaningful campaigns.

Some excellent research carried out in the past couple of weeks provides a useful road map. Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer surveyed 25,000 people across 30 markets between 14 and 23 March, providing a guide to what people want to see brands do during times of crisis. The most popular response is telling: “look after your employees and help national and global efforts where possible.” Some 78% of those surveyed expect companies to worry about their employees’ health, and to favour flexible working. Meanwhile, 41% are looking for support for hospitals, and 35% help for government. The second message is that brands shouldn’t just do good stuff, but also talk about how they are being helpful (77%), inform people about how they are reacting to the new situation (75%), and offer reassurance (70%).

Will brands that act well during these times see tangible business results? According to GfK’s poll of 1,000 US consumers, 73% of those surveyed say the way companies act during the crisis will affect future purchase decisions.

There are already some great examples. Making a direct impact on people’s physical health, a number of alcohol brands, including BrewDog, Psychopomp Microdistillery, 58 Gin and Verdant Spirits in the UK are manufacturing hand sanitiser gel from denatured alcohol and giving it to hospitals for free. Dyson is manufacturing much-needed ventilators.

FMCG giant Unilever has committed €100 million to curtail the spread of the virus through the donation of soap, sanitiser, bleach, and food to help protect the lives and livelihoods of consumers, suppliers, and its workforce. To help the world’s worst-hit country, Vodafone Italy has launched a campaign filmed entirely from the crew’s homes which simultaneously shows the importance of connectivity and raises money for The Red Cross. Even the Royal Mint is getting in on the act, using its manufacturing facility in South Wales to make medical visors to protect frontline care workers, spurred on by its engineers who kept to help the NHS. And who can’t love Joe Wicks and his morning, online PE lessons?

Not every business can support the healthcare effort, so others are devising innovative ways to keep up the spirits of the global population in not-so-beautiful isolation. Uber Eats lifted delivery charges and has offered discounts on food deliveries, helping people on lockdown and struggling restaurants. BrewDog has created a virtual pub to bring people together and promote social distancing, while restaurant chain Chipotle is hosting virtual lunch hangouts.

What all these examples have in common is they actually make a difference. All will be feeling the impact of the lockdown themselves, yet they show people their conscience. Building trust in this way will drive future recovery and long-term success. Employee morale should not be underestimated either.

These extraordinary times require an extraordinary response. Businesses and brands face scrutiny and rightly so. Rise to the challenge and brands can build a platform of trust that will prove invaluable in the future. The world won’t forget those that did what they could when the chips were down. 

Vaughan Edmonds is a Planner at global brand experience agency Sense.

This article was published in Advertising Week.

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How to run a successful experiential marketing campaign

Running a successful experiential marketing campaign takes planning and processes, as well as preparing for the unexpected.

We’ve learned this the hard way from our 15 years on the front lines here at Sense. As with all marketing campaigns, your experiential goals should align with your wider brand and business objectives. So, to maximise your campaign’s consistency and impact, you’ll need an agreed process that your whole team can work through together.

Experiential marketing campaigns are different to traditional campaigns in that they always involve an element of direct customer interaction. This needs to be built into your campaign process from the strategy stage, because it’s often at the heart of the campaign itself. Every experience is different, but here are six fundamental and future-proof steps to make sure your experiential marketing campaigns have maximum impact.

1. Understand your goals

First, it’s a case of scrutinising the brief and working out the best team to deliver the campaign. What special creative skills and experience does it demand?

Once an initial team of account handlers, planners, creatives, production, and staffing personnel has been formed, it’s time to sit everyone down and go through the brief thoroughly. This is the time to work out what the brand requires, identifying critical areas. It’s also the time to question the client and partner agencies for any areas that need clarifying, and get any additional information. Goals are the grounding for every great campaign. We’ve waxed lyrical about them here, so have a read before getting creative.

2. Creative, strategic planning and budget harmony!

With your brief on the table and your team in place, you’ll need to work with everyone to build an exciting creative concept backed with a solid strategy, and all within budget – easy, right?

Your planners should work alongside creative and production to dig into consumer insights and build concepts. Alongside this, you’ll need to establish the cost of the experiential marketing execution, taking all elements into account. The live part of the experiential campaign means there’ll be one or more events to organise, possibly a tour. This needs to be costed as accurately as possible, along with internal resources, developing and producing the creative, production requirements and supporting staffing. And all while staying true to the brand’s goals. Carefully sourcing suppliers with the right skills and experience is vital, as well as negotiating the best deal.

If your client has set a budget in the brief, how does your estimated figure compare? If it’s higher than specified, look for ways to reduce costs without impacting the effectiveness of the campaign.

If you feel that the campaign ROI could be compromised by the budget, it’s important to make this clear to your client.

Key to this is the brief response…

3. Get campaign sign off

With the campaign planned and an initial budget calculated, it’s time to present your creative ideas. For many, this is one of the highlights and “big buzzes” of agency life. It’s arguably even more exciting with experiential marketing, as there’s more theatre involved.

Your pitch shouldn’t focus solely on the campaign, but rather how the activation will achieve the goals and objectives while staying true to the product, company, and brand. You need to give the client the confidence that consumers will get an accurate brand experience, because no other type of campaign has such a personal touch.

Be as transparent as possible and invite feedback. An open and honest discussion at this stage is vital to managing expectations and agreeing on an accurate budget.

A pitch should inspire and motivate while highlighting your true understanding of the brand. After all, if an agency can’t engage a client at this point, how will the campaign engage the target audience once it’s live?

4. Plan and prepare the activation

There could be a little back-and-forth after presenting the brief response, but once the client’s happy with the proposal, it’s time to flesh it out. This involves working closely with your team and your chosen suppliers to formulate the full-timing plans and get the financials nailed down.

Designing and making the key physical creative elements of the campaign can take the longest time, so this needs to be up and running as soon as possible.

Recruiting appropriate brand ambassadors is also vital. Rather than simply pulling them from an existing ‘staffing pool’, it’s best to source them specifically to meet the requirements of the campaign, so they perfectly reflect the brand. Your chosen team of brand ambassadors and influencers then needs to be thoroughly trained.

The location should be carefully selected to enable the activation to engage with the target audience and bring the experiential concept to life. If this is a tour, the logistics must be planned out and booked.

This stage can take anything from three weeks for a tight turnaround on a sampling campaign, to up to six months when planning a roadshow or live event. PR stunts and integrated campaigns involving other disciplines are more complex so demand more time to align strategies.

5. Go live!

No other type of campaign is as involving or exciting as an experiential marketing activation because it takes place in the real world and directly engages with customers. When dealing with real-world situations anything can happen, from a festival being cancelled to staff illnesses, so all eventualities need to be planned for and contingencies put in place.

Before live, it’s vital for experiential marketing agencies to do a mock set up of the activation (if appropriate) and make final checks on all aspects to iron out any last-minute glitches. Be ready to act on any problems as soon as the campaign’s live so they can be dealt with quickly and effectively. The account management team should carry out ongoing monitoring of the activation to ensure it runs smoothly, looking for ways it can be improved.

Initiatives need to be in place to assess the success of the campaign, from measuring footfall to interactions to social media posts generated. This should be based on the goals of the campaign and designed to assess whether they’re being met. The activation can then be tweaked while it is live, if necessary.

6. Research and evaluation

The work doesn’t finish when the activation stops. Once the campaign is over, you’ll need to assess how successful it was by measuring experiential efforts.

The key metrics put in place during the campaign need to be analysed against the objectives to assess true impact. Depending on the type of campaign and its aims, you might need to contact consumers who took part to assess their recall of the activation, how the experience influenced their opinion of the brand, and whether it generated the right response.

It’s often said that experiential campaigns are difficult to measure, but if firm objectives and assessment criteria are set early on, it’s easier to accurately measure success and ROI. This is vital in developing ongoing relationships and provides key learnings and brand experience insights that can be taken forward to continually improve campaigns. Here are some tips on how to accurately measure your campaigns.

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How to measure your experiential marketing campaign ROI

Without clear goals, experiential marketing campaigns can be wonderfully immersive and interactive, but without any measurable impact. Most modern brands know that a strong real-world presence pays dividends, but gauging how activations perform can be a puzzle. To make matters worse, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for assessing.

To run a successful experiential marketing campaign, you need to set clear campaign objectives from the start.

Then you can accurately measure whether your experiential activation was a brand-boosting success or a bit of a marketing mess. Here are some tips on measuring your experiential marketing campaign ROI.

Define your objectives

What do you want to achieve from your experiential marketing activation? Improved sales, signups, or sentiment?

Setting well-defined objectives are critical to creating immersive, impactful brand activations and then being able to measure brand experience. It helps keep the strategy aligned across all areas of your marketing operations. In experiential marketing especially, this integrated and simple approach produces the most meaningful results.

Some activations are carried out without objectives, because brands don’t believe experiential can be measured effectively, or they just don’t know how.

To draw real post-campaign insight, inspiration should be drawn from wider objectives. These objectives will invariably be either:

  • Action-based
    Perhaps you want to boost sales, particularly in one demographic or region. Alternatively, you might be aiming for sign-ups or engagement. This could be measured by comparing like-for-like sales or repeat purchases.


  • Perception-based
    Your brand might be striving to change what people think and feel about it on a deeper and more personal level. This could be measured by comparing how many people agree with a certain sentiment about the brand before and after the campaign.

Strategic vs tactical

Are your marketing campaigns geared towards the long or short term?


A strategic campaign is designed to enhance a brand in a sustainable way. It shares the values and purpose of the company with consumers and is the perfect opportunity to show the world what it represents and what it wants to be.


These are geared towards achieving a quicker return on investment and often have a narrower remit. This may be to hit a particular sales target, elicit a desired response or engage new audiences (e.g. using the campaign to create a viral social media post).

Understanding which of these camps your campaign falls into is important because:

  • It helps you create a better experience

Just as matching your experiential objective to your overall marketing objective focuses your campaign, so does knowing the type of campaign you’re creating. Viewing it through either a strategic or tactical lens helps you to design its features more effectively and set relevant goals.

  • It means you can measure against the right criteria

Assessing as either strategic or tactical dictates how you measure its success and your experiential marketing campaign ROI. Your campaign may effectively communicate the best aspects of your brand to consumers, but if you measure it by its immediate sales impact, your results might look disappointing.

Shaping your goals

Once you’ve settled on your objectives and you understand the type of campaign you’re planning, you can set measurable goals. It may be easier to think of goals as performance measures that sit under your primary objective, and determine whether it’s been met. You can choose relevant performance measures by asking yourself the following questions:

1.What business challenge prompted the campaign?

What are your main marketing priorities and is there anything restricting your brand’s growth?

2.What will the campaign solve?

What’s the desired outcome of the activation? This should be your experiential objective; the thing that you expect to see an improvement in because of the campaign.

3.How can this be quantified?

This will be determined entirely by your objective and the kind of campaign you’re going to execute.

Some relevant performance indicators include:

  • Opinion change
  • Purchase rates
  • Return on investment
  • Education
  • Demographic shifts
  • Competitor comparison

For example, the skincare company Sanex noticed that their brand was viewed as cold and clinical. To challenge this perception, they designed an experiential marketing campaign to bring a sense of warmth and humanity to their brand. Their measurable goal was linked to the statement: “Sanex is a brand I feel close to.” The experience boosted agreement with the sentiment by 87%.

Experiential marketing campaign ROI summary

Clear goals are the first step to devising and delivering exceptional experiences. But a great experience shouldn’t be hard to measure.

That’s why we’ve put together REAL WORLD IMPACT, A Guide To Measuring Brand Experiences In The Real World. It gives you everything you need to know about experiential reporting to start measuring experiential marketing campaign ROI and guage impact.

Download it for free from The Futures Lab below.

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Experiential and event marketing rise in popularity in the US

On the back of the IPA’s Bellwether report for the fourth quarter of 2018 showing that experiential was the only discipline experiencing growth in investment by UK brands, two US study shows the discipline is also increasing in popularity across the pond.

Surveying more than 1,000 brand marketers in the US, the Event Marketing 2019: Benchmarks and Trends Report found that 41% saw experiential as their top marketing channel. This was up 32% ear-over-year and ahead of content marketing (27%), email marketing (14%) and social media (6%).

Some 62% of respondents also said that they plan to increase their budget for live events in 2019, by an average of 22%, a rise of 39%.  Meanwhile, 85% believe live events played a major role in their companies successfully meeting their business goals, and 77% believe live events will be increasingly important to the success of their brands in the coming years.

The report also found that 89% of overperforming businesses put a high value on live events, with 84% of them saying that they have strong support from leadership when it comes to experiential marketing.

A new report by also revealed how important experiential marketing is becoming in the business-to-business space. The 2019 State of Experiential Marketing report surveyed over 700 industry professionals across Fortune 500 companies, agencies and vendors.

It found that 92% of brand-side respondents believe integrating experiential marketing within the overall sales and marketing funnel is imperative to their success. What more, 67% of B2B brand-side marketers anticipate a growth in events/experiential budget in the next 18 months, a 17% rise from 2018.

Plus 75% of B2B brand-side respondents agree that experiential has proven to be the most successful tactic of their brand’s various marketing strategies, a 14 percent increase from 2018.

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Dear brands, here’s our 2019 wish list. Signed, agencies

In 2018, we saw a rise in the experience economy, and many issues coming to the forefront, specifically around gender and environmental impact. We have made a lot of progress, but in 2019, we have a few other “asks” for brands, including an increase in courage, honesty, diversity and sustainability. Can we get there by January 2020? Here’s a plan for how we might do it. Together.

More courage

This year, we want to see brands being braver and taking risks in the rightway by building a clear set of principles, which reflect their audience – and then standing by them.

Yes, there are risks. Two-thirds of consumers will buy or boycott a brand because of social or political position, Edelman revealed last year. But, having courage in your convictions will gain consumer respect and firmly put you on the radar of others who share your beliefs – or admire your courage. In an increasingly vanilla landscape, adding the right kind of flavour to your campaigns will help you cut through the clutter.

Bravery also drives creativity, as Burger King’s Whopper Detour campaign proved in promoting its app’s order-ahead function. Initially seeming to encourage people to go to McDonald’s, it used geo-tracking to offer those within 600 feet of one of its rival’s restaurantsa Whopper for a penny. The result? Top spot on the App Store.

Greater honesty

A demand for more brand authenticity last year meant those that made an impact in the real world reaped the rewards. Whether this was driven by purpose or simply involved giving something back to customers through a great creative experience, it helped brands build closer connections with their audiences. Inevitably, it resulted in some brands peddling faux authenticity, which consumers can usually spot a mile away. This year, brands should take authenticity to the next level and embrace its true foundation: honesty.

We’ve seen a rise in brands positioning themselves towards a societal trend. Under the guise of purpose, brands are getting involved in the same narrow range of conversations. These are noble gestures, but they don’t set brands apart. It’s time for brands to look at themselves in the mirror, and be honest about the role they play in people’s lives, then push the boundaries of creativity to become more valuable, either by improving their product or service, giving something back, or both. Solving a problem can produce exciting, successful marketing – it’s a strength to be different. As the old maxim goes: “When the world zigs…zag.”

Deeper diversity

Big strides were made in 2018 with inclusivity in marketing. Shutterstock found that 74% of marketers make use of more diverse imagery in their campaign material, a significant improvement from the 57% recorded in 2017.

A great example of brands adding to the conversation in a creative way last year was the “Highlighting the Remarkable” campaign by writing instrument company Stablio Boss, which literally ‘highlighted’ women appearing in its ads’ photography.  It featured women overlooked in history such as Edith Wilson —the former First Lady of the United States who ultimately assumed her husband’s presidential duties after his stroke

Brands also need to take direct action, following the trail blazed by Fenty Beauty, one of the first make up brands to outwardly promote their colour range, as well as make up for men, through its ‘Beauty for All’ message. Other good examples include EasyJet’s video campaign, which inspired more girls to become airline pilots, a move designed to combat gender stereotyping.

Smarter sustainability

Finally, it seems that sustainability has hit the mainstream, with the rise of influencers such as Zanna van Dijkand Healthy Chef, not to mention that this month has been designated “Veganuary” by some, while the rented clothing industry is also growing. Meanwhile, last year people really started to take plastic waste seriously with the help of David Attenborough’s now iconic Blue Planet series.

We need to act together as an industry. Let’s push our vendors and clients to be more sustainable. Let’s put the emphasis on recycling and using recycled material, reducing production and collateral and cutting sample wastage. Many of these acts will actually save agencies and their clients’ money!

Sarah Priestman is the president of Sense New York.

This article first appeared in Campaign USA.

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Sense launches guide to measuring the effectiveness of experiential marketing campaigns

Many brands and agencies still struggle to measure experiential. Sense’s new book Real World Impact outlines how experiential marketing CAN be successfully measured and it shares learnings and updated techniques from 10 years of applying the agency’s measurement technique, ‘EMR’ – Experiential Measurement and Research.

“Experiential measurement techniques are evolving, and since our first guide in 2008, measuring over 80 campaigns has developed our expertise and learnings, which has allowed us to refine our approach even further,” explained Sense MD Nick Adams.

Experiential marketing has been growing in popularity over recent years, both in the UK and globally. Second only to online marketing, investment by brands in experiential has increased year-on-year in the UK for several years in succession, according to the quarterly IPA Bellwether report. What’s more, a global study by Freeman in 2017 revealed that half of chief marketers plan to spend at least a fifth of their budget on experiential in the near future, compared to less than a third who did so when the research was undertaken.

Calls have been made to develop a standard experiential marketing measurement tool, but Adams, whose agency assesses the success of every one of its campaigns, believes this is the wrong approach. “If someone ever tells you they have a formula or ‘automated model’ figured out for measuring experiential, be sceptical. Scrutinise it closely, for while you can apply such things to other forms of marketing, brand experiences are much harder to pin down,” he said.

Real World Impact advocates measuring each campaign individually against a set of criteria relating to the original objectives of the activity. It sets out in detail the key steps that need to be taken, including understanding the campaign, establishing performance measures, and gathering and analysing key data. The process forms part of Sense’s proprietary EMR service, which has been developed and refined over the past decade.

“We’re lifting the lid on EMR for the first time because we think it’s important that marketers realise that experiential can be measured effectively if approached in the right way,” said Adams. “This is vital to the success of future campaigns as well as for the continuing development of the discipline.”

Real World Impact – A Guide to Measuring Brand Experiences in the Real World is free to download from the Sense website.

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Is it time for a brand to take an anti-technology stance?

Britain has an addiction epidemic. I’m not talking about drugs, alcohol, gambling or even caffeine. This addiction is far more common. Most people reading this article will be sufferers. 

We’re addicted to our phones. Countless articles have been written that have covered the subject flippantly, however, the problem is genuine. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is characterised by an inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioural control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviours and relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. How many people have an inability to consistently abstain from their phone; can’t recognise how much time they spend swiping and scrolling on their screen; or even crave various apps on a regular basis?

The statistics are damning. According to a study by Ofcom, 78% of people say they couldn’t live without their smartphone, with the average person checking their phone once every 12 minutes. What’s more worrying is the sentiment towards phones and technology. Two-thirds (67%) of 18- to 34-year-olds say they feel the need to take a break from technology however, this age group are also the least likely to be able to alter their behaviour. Young people want to change but they can’t. 

The frustration towards technology is beginning to become a tangible movement. Neo-luddism is the philosophy that opposes modern technology and has started to attract supporters. The anti-technology stance has seen a number of recent, successful innovations. You Had To Be There is a series of no-phone parties that have been a hit in the US. Yondr creates secure, neoprene pouches to help organisers keep people off their phones at their events, with the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Alicia Keys and Chris Rock requesting them at their shows. Bashful is an app that locks people out of their smartphone at allocated times, allowing them to focus on more productive, meaningful activities in the real world. It’s sad that it’s come to this, but it makes sense. People value the benefits of technology such as increased connectedness, but don’t want to be slaves to it. With technology companies genuinely designing their products to be addictive, the arms race that followed was inevitable.

With a large section of society frustrated by their own subservience to tech, the opportunity for brands is obvious. So many have followed the crowd, jumping on the bandwagon of creating an online presence without questioning whether they need to. In April, Wetherspoons shut down its social media accounts, directing its customers towards its website and pubs. The pub chain recognised it was wasting money on creating digital touchpoints for its customers. In the spirit of brand experience innovation, they realised it’s their product, that pubs, that are the only touchpoints that mattered. Brands that have a natural real-world frontline where customers interact with them would do better to invest more in improving this human experience than building artificial digital channels.

Brands can still promote the benefits of technology that customers value. “Bringing people together” is a concept a pasta sauce brand has as much right to talk about as a swanky tech start-up. It would be fantastic to see a brand going a step further: taking an anti-tech stance and being the organisation that pledges to free people from their tech addiction, something that many in society want but are unable to do. Investing in tangible, campaigns in the real world that bring people together while utilising innovations such as Yondr would be the obvious place to start.

Neo-luddism is here to stay. There’s no doubt that recent technological advancements have had an immeasurably positive impact on human progress, but they have come at a cost. The brand that backs the neo-luddites whilst promoting technology’s values of connectedness could have a major strategic advantage over the coming years.

Vaughan Edmonds is a Planner at global experiential marketing agency, Sense UK

This article first appeared in prestigious marketing channel WARC.

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Room for one more on the ‘good cause’ brandwagon?

Have you noticed how every brand is trying to prove a point at the moment? How every product you pick up in the supermarket now boldly states its protein content? Or, how the shampoo you bought the other day is suddenly ‘gluten free’?

Perhaps awareness of even a simple form of marketing is heightened for us marketers, but in a society where everything is under scrutiny, and where consumerism is at its peak, it feels like brands are more self-aware than ever before.

In 2008, Heineken brought us the ‘Walk-in Fridge’, racking up millions of views on YouTube. The ad highlights the different values of men and women, as stereotyped in society a decade ago, as a couple show their friends around their new home. The woman shows her walk-in wardrobe to her female friends, while the man reveals a walk-in fridge full of beer to his mates. Both result in enthusiastic screams from their same-sex friends. The advert played on traditional stereotypes in a humorous way – presumably to appeal to what it thought was an all-male audience.

As society has changed, brands have had to adapt to a more nuanced view, which we can see in Heineken’s 2017 #OpenYourWorld ad. Heineken brought together people from different cultures, backgrounds, and sexual orientations in a ‘social experiment’, exploring the benefits of finding common ground – Heineken beer and reasonable discussion. The message was raw, empathetic, and forward-thinking, which, in the current climate of thriving equality and liberalism, was well-received.

Of course, we expect brands to evolve with the times – they need to stay relevant to the changing attitudes of their audience. But the way in which brands manage that change is critical. Heineken achieved a 180-degree pivot; from clumsy sexist stereotypes to jumping on the equality bandwagon – without irritating the public. Because it was a proactive effort, even though the principle isn’t exactly original, it comes across as relevant and authentic. We’re all entitled to change our minds once in a while (even if it takes the best part of a decade).

What’s more concerning is when real-world issues are side-lined, only to later be exploited by brands looking for a hot-topic-of-the-moment. For example, despite scientists sounding the alarm for years over the impact of plastic on the environment, it seems like brands have only recently started to take action, capitalising on the opportunity to be seen in a positive light. Do they feel a genuine corporate social responsibility or is it just another tactic to make headlines? It’s particularly galling when the brands in question are category leaders – surely major powers on the world stage should be leading from the front, rather than playing cautious catch up, or only acting when they’re caught out?

Greenpeace has made a number of protests shaming Coca-Cola for its contributions to plastic waste, although coverage of this has been all too scarce. However, when Coca-Cola ‘heroically’ announced that it will recall and recycle 100% of its packaging to help clean up our oceans, it made the news. Shouldn’t we really be celebrating Greenpeace for acting when it mattered over a huge corporation that showed up late to the plastic party?

Where Heineken has made a positive shift and potentially contributed to changing people’s perceptions, other brands have been less proactive and instead demonstrated a lazy approach to jumping on the bandwagon. A prime example of this is when McDonalds turned the trademark ‘M’ upside down to show support for International Women’s Day. They’re hardly a brand who you would expect to be active on such an occasion, but perhaps like Coca-Cola they were only responding to external pressures.

Brands should be careful about how they portray acts of ‘good’ and must try to avoid looking exploitative. Instead, they should be proactive; earning respect by taking action, instead of just nodding in agreement like McDonalds. What Heineken have done is much more believable and empowering – instead of caring about how they look to consumers, they have focussed on getting the consumer to think about the bigger picture themselves, and hopefully make their own contributions to change.

It’s easy to say “better late than never Coke” or “at least you’re doing something McDonalds”, but the reality is that if these brand leaders were more proactive in the first place, they wouldn’t need to jump on the good cause marketing brandwagon. They’d be driving it – and making a real difference along the way.

Ciara Garratt is Account Manager at global brand experience agency Sense.

The article first appeared in Promotional Marketing magazine

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Why Gen Z offers brands a reason to be optimistic

It’s 10 April 2018 and a nervous Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, stands before the US Congress. It’s the turn of 84-year-old US senator and Republican high-tech task force chair Orrin Hatch to ask the questions. Facebook is at the centre of a scandal after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a British data firm hired by President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, improperly gathered detailed data on 87 million users using the platform. Zuckerberg has just told Congress that he always intends to offer a free version of Facebook to users.

“Well if so,” Hatch replies, “how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

Zuckerberg blinks and pauses for a moment.

“Senator, we run ads.”

The exchange, along with others involving various elderly Senators, has become symbolic of the technological knowledge gap that exists in Western society. A video titled “Mark Zuckerberg explains the internet to old people” went viral in the days following Zuckerberg’s visit to Congress as members of the Millennial and Gen Z demographics revelled in the ignorance of their elders.

The attitudes of Gen Z towards technology and advertising are particularly fascinating. Also known as the iGen, Gen Z is the generation born from the late 1990s onwards which has never known a world without the internet. Its oldest members have just turned 21 and have grown up alongside dominant tech companies like Facebook. They are used to a world where platforms are cheaper than ever before. Their favourite brands – Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat – offer their services for free. Where we used to buy a single CD for £9.99, they can now listen to any song ever recorded for nothing on Spotify. Only Netflix draws the line, offering an array of TV and film for as little as £7.49 a month. For the free services, Gen Z knows the price it has to pay: ads. Just as Mark Zuckerberg said.

What gets really interesting is the attitude of Gen Z towards advertising in general, with 61% agreeing that posters and billboards help them become aware of new products and services1. Gen Z is also 37% more likely to notice adverts on public transport2 and 15% more likely to stop and interact at a promotional stand or event3. It seems as if the recent wave of cynicism towards brands has not been driven by the young, but by the generations that preceded them.

What does this mean for brands? Only time will tell. It remains to be seen whether this more accepting attitude to advertising is driven by youth or by a genuinely different outlook. However, it appears highly likely that Gen Z will take two traits from its youth into adulthood which could be highly significant for brands:

Shortening Attention Spans

According to most research, the attention span of Gen Z is lower than any other generation in history. In our digital age this makes perfect sense. There is so much vying for our attention and, in terms of things to occupy us, we are spoilt for choice. For brands, this has important implications. Firstly, to attract Gen Z, your marketing has to be interesting. Better still, if you really want to get this generation’s attention, your marketing should be useful. Gen Z is bombarded by hundreds of promotional messages every day. If a brand can offer something that is genuinely valuable it is far more likely to give you a precious piece of its attention.

Increased Levels of Activism

Gen Z is serious. Its members are driven to succeed, being 71% more likely to be willing to sacrifice free time to get ahead in their future careers4. They are also serious about social change with 76% of them happy to volunteer their time for good causes5. Gen Z members are activists. They strive to improve their own lives and the lives of people around them.

The last few years has seen the rise of purpose as a marketing tool, the mechanic brands use to demonstrate that they also care about improving people’s lives. Given the attitudes of Gen Z, it seems it is here to stay. To succeed with brand purpose, and to win the hearts of Millennials and Gen Z alike, the key is action. Brands must not just talk about their purpose, they must demonstrate their purpose through action in the real world. If they can make their purpose tangible, they will be able to win the hearts of Gen Z.

The world has changed a great deal in the lifetime of 84-year-old Senator Orrin Hatch. When Mark Zuckerberg was born, Hatch was in his early 50s and by the time Facebook had its millionth user he was 70. However, for the members of Gen Z, the world has been slightly more stable. They are digital natives, born and raised in the age of the internet. They are used to brands keeping their favourite digital past times free at the cost of adverts. Gen Z is quick thinking and serious. It has a different outlook to those who came before them and as its members mature into adulthood, brands will have a fantastic opportunity to become meaningful parts of their lives.

Sources: 1,2,3,4,5 YouGov (29 April 2018)

Vaughan Edmonds is Planner at global brand experience agency Sense.

This article appeared in Promotional Marketing.

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Why brands should put Gen Z’s emotional wellbeing first

It seems that rarely a week goes by without a new statistic showing just how low consumer confidence has dropped thanks to Brexit. This isn’t great for brands, but this issue seems fleetingly short term compared to the almost equally prevalent statistics about the fragility of young people. The latest report from the annual UK Youth Index calls 16 to 25-year-olds the unhappiest generation for a decade, revealing that almost two-thirds (61%) regularly feel stressed, and more than a quarter (27%) “hopeless”, while around half (47%) have experienced a mental health problem – symptoms of depression and anxiety are way up among this generation, as are reports of self-harm.

Rather than panicking about how to boost post-Brexit sales among quite understandably thrifty consumers, it would seem to make more sense to come up with a strategy to support the next generation of customers who potentially face a much longer term crisis of confidence.

By addressing the stress and anxiety prevalent among young people in the right way, brands will make a valuable contribution to society (purpose box ticked!), while also gaining the trust of the next ‘power generation’. The two possible approaches involve launching a wellbeing product or service, or weaving wellbeing authentically into your brand.   

Dealing with the second point first, a survey by Edelman showed it would be very much in the interest of brands to address consumers’ wellbeing. Some 85% of respondents indicated they would be likely to buy products and services from brands that they felt supported their wellbeing, with 84% saying they’d also recommend those brands that did.

As for launching a wellbeing product, well this market is currently exploding. Growing consumer fears over health, coupled with increasing interest in nutrition and sustainability has resulted in the launch of a host of new FMCG categories, including low-GI, Paleo, high-protein, gluten-free and other ‘free-from’ foods, beauty and household products, according to a recent report by Nielsen. It has also driven new products like avocado oil, kale crisps, protein snacks and paraben-free skincare.

The key here, though, is how brands approach young people. To make a positive difference to any group, you need to engage with them. The aim should be to encourage people to re-evaluate their lives and achieve long-term change. Sport England has shown with its ‘This Girl Can’ campaign that using advertising and marketing to push the right emotional triggers can actually drive a change in behaviour. It identified that the fear of being judged was stopping women from doing exercise. It went on to liberate women by celebrating the barriers, such as sweating, jiggling and falling over, making heroines out of those prepared to really go for it.

Although the brand has lost its way a little recently, Dove did a similarly great job by building female body confidence, inspiring people to have positive relationships with their own appearance through thought leadership, research and the representation of diverse beauty.

For those FMCG brands striving to build new ‘long term change’ health categories, authentic frontline connections will be paramount. Understanding the mindset of young people and the barriers they envisage is therefore key. Growing up during the recession, closely followed by Trump in the White House and Brexit, Gen Z feel the world they inhabit is one of constant struggle, where inequality reigns. Only 6% trust corporations to do the right thing, so authenticity and transparency is key when marketing to this group. As a result, while green issues inspired Millennials, social equality is the driving force behind Gen Z. So brands need to recognise this and reflect it in their values and messaging.

The good news is that young people are open to relationships with brands, but through experiences they can control, that surprise and delight, according to Kantar Millward Brown’s AdReaction – Engaging Gen X,Y and Z study. Brands also need to inspire their confidence, be relevant, honest and real. After all, they have grown up on the unfiltered, reality of YouTube.

They respond to emotional narratives. They are also used to two-way communications thanks to the interactivity of social media, so they want to take part and be hands on. Consequently, brands need to allow for co-creation. They need to give young people an opportunity not just to try things, but re-create them. They need to be invited to participate in new, fresh experiences to earn trust. A lack of community lies at the heart of their unhappiness, so brands that help them make social connections, both online and especially face to face, will be rewarded with their loyalty. And it’s vital that any experiences are built on equality, inclusion and acceptance.

Gen Z is still drawn to labels and influenced by brand messages – in fact, just like Millennials, they too suffer from FOMO – the fear of missing out. They love bucket lists, secret cinema, immersive dining, making memories – experiences that linger. They are very in touch with reality, but it’s a harsh one, so helping them escape once in a while and creating a sense of adventure will also resonate. A brand that supports them emotionally in the right way will connect deeply – and welcome on board a new generation of advocates. 

Sally O’Brien is a Director at Sense.

This article appeared in Marcomms News.