Interactive Marketing... Offline

Something interesting hit the wires this week and got me thinking again about my favorite theme regarding the future of marketing: flow experience.

The notion that the traditional means of marketing is no longer adequate has not only garnered cache, but is fast becoming cliché. All the nobles of the marketing world are bandying the buzzwords and phrases, like 'consumer control,' 'accountability,' and 'engagement' like they were their very own.

This week Scott Donaton's editorial in AdAge spoke to the ever-increasing notice that major brand advertisers have been giving to the changing role that consumers have in the consumption of their chosen media.

Larry Light, global chief marketing officer at McDonald's, gave a speech at the ANA conference that harkened back to one he gave at AdWatch: Outlook 2004 in June, from which he was quoted as saying that "[m]ass marketing today is a mass mistake." In June he was quoted as declaring "the end of brand positioning as we know it."



Among the kinds of tactics that fall under the auspices of "new" marketing is experiential marketing. The talk about experiential marketing has been fairly sporadic over the last year, with most examples gaining the greatest notice being branded stores, a la the Hershey's or NBA or Nike stores.

More sublime (or arresting) examples do seem to be popping up frequently, however. The latest is the Crown Royal Barber Shop. According to the press release, "the Crown Royal Barbershop is a custom-tailored experience designed to bring the American barbershop to life through the eyes of the brand."

For the next month, it will be open seven days a week and feature local barbers cutting hair at three chairs. The retail space is decorated in purple and gold, the colors of Crown Royal. This branded environment is open to consumers 21 years and older on a first come, first serve basis.

Michael Fernandez, the senior multicultural brand manager for Crown Royal called the whole thing an "interactive billboard."

This kind of marketing does seem to be a popular trend in New York City, anyway. Because real estate comes at such a premium here, there is always an empty space once occupied by a now-out-of-business retail establishment. Advertisers with an interest in experiential marketing can take advantage of a landlord desperate to get some income on the empty space, which is typically found in an area too pricey for many retailers to make work, but no more expensive than a significant piece of outdoor.

Does anyone know if there is evidence as to the effectiveness of this sort of execution? At the ANA conference - according to reports - accountability was finally given a seat at the adult's table and this kind of marketing activity should be... well, kind of easy to determine accountability if there is product in the place and a cash register to ring in sales.

This may come as a surprise to the landed gentry of the marketing universe, but interactive and branded environments that also provide accountability have been around for a few years now. They are called Web sites. Sure, it isn't really the tactile experience that one could have sitting at a table covered with Campbell's Soup logos, eating Campbell's Soup, in front of a kiosk shaped like a Campbell's Soup can, but it does offer the same spirit of engagement branding that these three-dimensional advertisements do.

The engagement is kinetic. When I am using the Internet medium, not only is my attention active, but so is my body. The old phrase "lean forward" is a literal one. In sponsored environments, people are invited, either sublimely or overtly, to get involved with the environment. They are required to interact, if for no other reason than it is a natural thing to do with one's environment. This is something other media can't do.

Secondly, they can be part of the flow experience of a person's daily life. As a medium, the Internet already has embodies this by virtue of its utility. These days, I don't think about the Internet, I just "turn it on" and drive. These branded environments are part of the flow experience because they exist in a socially natural milieu, namely, a neighborhood retail setting.

It is natural and part of our flow experience to happen across a storefront. It is not reliant upon being interruptive to attract attention; it is just part of the background of everyday life. This is something that other media currently are not willing to be. They are still stuck in the old model of being shrill and arresting to garner attention.

Marketing comes closer and closer to replicating the "flow experience" - being a part of what people do in their lives rather than arresting a person's experience in order to sell them a product. More and more, marketers need to find a way to be a smooth part of an individual's life rather than an abrasion to it.

If both these forms of media can avoid their own pitfalls (for example, the terrestrial branded environment has been referred to by some as a "pop-up"), they stand to be the emblems of what is to become de rigueur in the world of marketing.

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