Between the Olympics, Euro 2012 and the Diamond Jubilee, this is a year of major celebrations. However, many brands might be wise to look past the big events for opportunities.
The UK will host two of its biggest events in decades over the coming months: the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. The marketing industry has come a long way since the latter was last staged in Britain, in 1948, against a backdrop of austerity caused by World War II.
This year's Games will be the first 'social-media Olympics' and a flurry of online activity will mark the celebrations. Will the Games be anything more than 17 days of distraction for a nation emerging from a recession, however?
Marketers still asking 'what should we do about the Olympics' might ponder whether it is too late for non-sponsors to make their mark. At this stage, they may consider focusing activity on opportunities and festivals outside the Olympics marketing gold rush instead.
Many sports industry leaders privately report that some brands have fallen into 'analysis paralysis' as the Olympics approach; they are so worried about appearing to make a mistake that they are afraid to try something different.
Sponsorship specialists note that many brands remain unsure of how they can capitalise on the Olympics. Tim Crow, chief executive of sponsorship consultancy Synergy, says the big question brands need to address is whether it is 'mission critical' for them to tap into the influx of consumers to London. If it is not, they must carefully assess what the role of the activity will be. 'There are some pretty major brands that have taken the decision to take a step back and start marketing again after the Olympics have finished,' he adds.
The decision by organisers of the Big Chill not to go ahead with the music festival this year has received a lot of attention, but there are still plenty of festivals and experiential opportunities available to brands. Indeed, experiential agencies claim that despite the Olympics excitement, the abundance of options makes it a 'buyer's market' this year. According to Matt Jagger, director of entertainment marketing agency Upfront, more than 200 festivals will take place in the UK this year. 'If brands are clever and creative with their activity, and add value to consumers' experiences, they will get cut-through, despite the competition,' he says.
For brands seeking to capitalise on the influx of people to London, there are experiential options beyond the Olympics exclusion zone. For example, Westfield's Stratford City, Europe's biggest urban shopping mall, is outside the zone, despite being right next to the Olympic stadium, as is Skipmilo, a festival of live arts, entertainment and sport on Hackney Marshes from 27 July to 12 August.
Louisa Moger, marketing director at the Skipmilo festival, says: 'The question is, 'are smaller brands able to get into the Olympic Park and compete with multimillion-pound brands and sponsors?' Probably not, but in an environment that is local and inclusive, the opportunity is there.'
Dave Roberts, head of entertainment at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, says that the cosmopolitan audience visiting London will create an opportunity for a range of brands. 'The key is to tap into this audience and provide them with relevant experiences, but the window to connect with consumers through experiential does not end with the closing ceremony of the Games,' he adds. Roberts also points to the rise of family-friendly and niche events such as Wilderness Festival, an arts and outdoor event in Oxfordshire, as evidence that there are plenty of options for brands.
Several smaller brands have opted to focus their experiential activity on festivals that take place outside the duration of the Olympics. For example, Clare Allman, UK marketing manager for cleaning products brand Ecover, says that it is concentrating its experiential and sampling activity on Camp Bestival.
'The Olympics is a one-off event and as a brand you have to be careful,' she adds. 'People in London will face big journeys and they won't have time to engage with us; we aren't a Cadbury or an official sponsor, and its important to realise it is not an opportunity for everyone.'
Allman argues that the key for any brand is to focus on what mood consumers will be in when they interact with your brand at an event. 'If you are a consumer giving yourself two hours to get to a venue, you simply aren't going to be in the frame of mind to receive a washing-up liquid sample.'
However, despite the hype surrounding the Olympics and ongoing concerns among marketers that their activity will get lost in the clutter, many brands are carving out a clear message. One example is Procter & Gamble, which has fashioned some space in the market through its 'Proud sponsor of mums' work. Elsewhere, Cadbury has activated its 'Spots v stripes' campaign with an experiential drive, including competition and gaming zones at Westfield shopping centres.
Coca-Cola, an official Olympic sponsor, is one of several brands embracing the fusion of sports and music to drive its experiential marketing. Its marketing strategy calls for 70% of spend to be focused on traditional channels, 20% on emerging technology and 10% on 'risk and innovation', and is designed to prevent its sponsorship from stagnating.
The rest of the year remains something of an unknown quantity for marketers, but the pace of technological innovation cannot be ignored.
Crow contends that this will be the year when a clear difference emerges between brands that activate in a traditional way and those that embrace new positioning and platforms. 'We live in risk-averse times, but this is the year we should try new things,' he says.
EXPERT VIEW: HOW BRANDS CAN CUT THROUGH THE CLUTTER
Dom Robertson, managing director, RPM
Credibility and relevance
Brands must ensure their activation has a credible and relevant connection to the festival and its audience that will gain cut-through. It is all too easy for brands to choose a festival for its cool reputation, and not for the kind of crowd it attracts. Brands must aim for a good fit, otherwise the experience simply will not draw in consumers.
Brand activation at festivals is at its most competitive, and to create stand-out, brands must embrace creativity and capture the public's imagination, ensuring that their activity complements and enhances the festival experience without competing against it. Rather than creating a solely transactional relationship with festival-goers, brands should offer a path to participation, and a value exchange that offers to boost their festival experience.
To create an engaging and interactive experience that, one hopes, leaves a legacy, brands must begin their dialogue with consumers pre-festival and continue it during and after the event.
Using social-media platforms to build and communicate with brand communities is a brilliant way to secure advocates and grow anticipation around your activation. These platforms can then be used post-festival to host content such as photos, videos and feedback, and encourage users to share the experience with friends easily.
Mind the regulators
Brands must be aware of regulations at festivals that could affect their activity. For example, residents that live near Hyde Park have requested that festivals reduce their noise and size levels, which has an impact on artists and brands associated with them.
If your brand has, say, chosen to sponsor the main stage at a festival, yet the sound is poor, people will associate this negative experience with your brand rather than the production company.
Three key trends for experiential in 2012
In the face of a tsunami of technology, marketers are becoming overwhelmed. However, consumers are intent on finding and sharing the good things in life, which means that optimising experiential activity across social-media channels should be top of the agenda. Technology such as RIFD (radio-frequency identification) wristbands that enable brands to track consumers' festival experiences, and to share them on social networks, are providing huge opportunities.
Sustainability and responsibility
Brands need to ensure they strike the right balance between art, sport, music and commerce. The need to be transparent and behave responsibly and ethically is vital. The rest of 2012 will be crucial to the evolution of sponsorship for social good.
The fusion of sport and music
From Coca-Cola's tie-up with Mark Ronson to grass-roots festivals such as Rugby Rocks, the fusion of sport and music is providing a rich territory for brands to connect with consumers.
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