The experiential element of field marketing continues to expand: this year's table shows face-to-face activity increasing by 5% and roadshows by 4%. The concept has been well established by specialists such as RPM and iD, as well as leading agencies Momentum, CPM, Headcount and others.
But is it now becoming so important to the marketing mix that sampling agencies are piling onto the bandwagon, reinventing themselves as providers of 'brand experience'.
This may not always go very deep: one managing director jokingly defined the change by saying, 'The things we're handing out, we're now handing out from furry bags,' conceding that in his case there is still a way to go.
But some believe that the creativity unleashed by experiential marketing has helped raise sampling specialists to the status of sales promotion agencies, more often in the past charged with creating 'experiences'.
'This brings a breath of fresh air to the industry and is good for both brands and consumers,' says Scott Desborough, client services director at First People.
But the competition is a concern to those first into the field such as RPM. The agency is looking to differentiate itself, by working exclusively with clients rather than agencies, and by ensuring that its campaigns provide genuine engagement.
'Just calling itself a brand experience specialist doesn't mean a company actually applies the disciplines of experiential marketing, whereas we do wherever possible,' says managing director Ross Urquhart. Earlier this year RPM moved to boost the dramatic appeal of its roadshows by appointing Richard King, a professional director, performer and playwright, as its theatre project manager.
As an example of a truly experiential event Urquhart cites the agency's work for Adidas, which, lacking the budgetary muscle of Nike, turned to street theatre to achieve cut-through in a highly competitive environment.
During the World Cup, the brand took over the Selfridges window in London's Oxford Street, for a theatrical rendition of themes from its TV ads. One actor performed football tricks and exercises, while another took on the role of a professor trying to learn his secrets. RPM created a similar window event for Marks & Spencer for women's lingerie.
Getting marketers excited about experiential marketing is still an important part of winning business, and the agency is now offering workshops to educate clients. First Drinks Brands put several of its brand managers through the course, which led to a number of briefs. 'It is an excellent opportunity to show them what the discipline can offer,' Urquhart says.
While sampling agencies have been adding a bit of theatre to their activities, iD is going in the opposite direction by combining experiential techniques with traditional sampling. 'We found we couldn't compete in the pure field marketing arena, which is very price competitive,' says joint managing director Paul Soanes. 'But we felt our expertise could be made to work putting together sales teams offering real brand experience.'
For a major new FMCG client iD plans to put together a team of 12, who will be dressed in the brand's livery and use laptop computers to add more interest to the selling process. The agency will adopt a similar approach for a high-profile internet company. 'This really brings the brand out, rather than just selling on price and personality,' Soanes says.
FMCG brands have typically relied on taste sampling, but even here demand for an experiential element is growing. For Uncle Ben's, i2i Face to Face Marketing produced a bright orange plane, 45-foot long, which offered consumers an interactive and sensory 'round-the-world' trip before trying out a recipe. …