These are the best of times for brands looking to interface directly with consumers through experiential activity. The array of tools and technologies at the service of brands is mind-blowing and ever expanding.
This year’s Cannes was a real showcase of creative technology. British company What3Words.com picked up the innovation Grand Prix for its address system that can pinpoint anywhere on the planet in three words. The Hammerhead bike navigation system brought usable sat nav to bikes, while Fox Sports’ Alert Shirt literally allowed fans to feel the excitement and the hits experienced by Aussie Rules footballers.
In today’s hacker culture, it’s hard not to get excited by the possibilities of technology, but it needs to be used carefully. At present, too many brands use creative technology that is not ownable, incongruent with the brand and ultimately ends up a fad that does little more than provide 15 minutes of fame. Does this really fit with their brand ambition?
Clients and agencies are becoming lazy by defaulting to technology in lieu of an actual killer creative idea, particularly in the experiential space.
Let’s be clear that this is not an anti-technology rant. How could it be when technology is increasingly at the heart of many of the ideas and experiences that resonate with consumers?
Technology tail wagging the creative dog
The problem lies with the technology tail wagging the creative dog. A brand and its purpose should sit at the heart of any campaign idea, but when technology becomes involved, it can be too easy to lose sight of the central brand message. By delivering tech-centric activity, brands risk confusing the consumer and what they take out of an interaction.
You can see it – in glorious 3D – in the rush to explore virtual reality by brands, such as Center Parcs, which used Oculus Rift to promote its newly opened Woburn Forest site. The experience of the consumer is no doubt novel and engaging, as it often is with any new experience, but did the consumer come away from the experience with a better understanding of what the Center Parcs brand stands for, and even more pertinently, a better disposition to it?
Shoehorning in tech
Shoehorning your brand story into a cool tech idea risks leaving the core messages on the sidelines. There’s no denying that Lexus teaming up with Will.i.am to get its cars to play a giant laser harp, was ‘fresh’ as the cultural gadfly put it, but the link back to the brand promise was a tenuous one. Also, it could be owned by any other car brand.
Successfully fusing insight, ideas and innovation can only happen when technology is used to support a killer campaign idea, not when it is mistaken for the lead idea. By putting creative technologists at the heart of the creative process, you can guard against one leading the other, and concoct a collaboration throughout the creative journey. This ensures ideas are innovative and practical, but most of all true to the brand.
When the idea is not the slave to technology the results can be wonderful. EDF’s Energy of the Nation lit up London 2012 with an idea that excited the consumer about an everyday need. In a world first, it used the social energy around the London Games to produce a visual representation of how positive Britons were feeling, projected on to the EDF Energy London Eye. It was on-brand, participatory and reached 147 million people, making EDF Energy the most recognised domestic sponsor.
New and exciting
Vodafone’s 1984G Street, as part of its #30YearsVodafone campaign, put the boot on the other foot by highlighting how technology had changed our lives by demonstrating its absence. The company recreated a street in 1984 to demonstrate how life had changed in the 30 years since the first mobile phone call. A lovingly recreated Eighties environment showed how everything from news, games, music and sharing photos had been achieved in the analogue world. The main campaign message, the power of the 4G network, was then rammed home with the live streaming of 360-degree Run DMC performance to YouTube alongside a specially created app.
It’s understandable that agencies recommend new technology because it’s new and exciting. Part of their remit is to remain on top of new developments, and there is a frisson when you discover a great innovation. However sometimes we should check ourselves and save the real excitement for great campaign ideas – they’re much rarer.
True to the brand DNA
Regardless of the technology in question, clients and agencies need to stay true to a brand’s DNA and challenge themselves on whether the technology in question fits with their ambition.
There will always be another technological innovation, and sacrificing being the first to use a particular gimmick, can allow a brand to focus on the bigger picture of delivering genuinely creative communications.
The author, Simon Couch, is business strategy director at Wasserman Experience
(This article first appeared on Marketingmagazine.co.uk)