StopPress Podcast #8: Cassie Roma on misconceptions in experiential marketing

It’s a question on all marketer’s minds; where should those advertising dollars be invested? Should they go to a platform like TV that reaches a mass audience, or should they go to niche audiences through one of digital’s ever growing number of doors to a specific demographic?

What about investing in an experiential activation? While it may seem like a platform that reaches a smaller number of people, NZME’s general manager of content marketing and experiential, Cassie Roma, says it has the potential to reach big audiences while still creating meaningful connections.

In today’s episode, we chat to Roma about the misconceptions about experiential marketing, where New Zealand marketers could improve and what they’re getting right.

StopPress: Hi Cassie, how are you?

Cassie Roma: I’m good, thank you very much.

Before I jump into the questions, do you just want to give me a run-down of your experience in experiential marketing?

Sure. I mean, although experiential is kind of a newcomer to the market these days, it’s kind of where all marketing started, right? Just getting out and talking to people and making sure that brands were telling their stories, sampling their products, et cetera. So, for the last ten years, I’ve worked mostly in digital and social media in New Zealand and mostly client side as well.

But from an experiential perspective, I’ve been more of somebody who’s grown as it’s matured. So, from … take my last job, for example, at Air New Zealand, we did a lot of experiential but it was always just, kind of, part and parcel to how we told the story. Which is why here at NZME it’s been really exciting to work alongside heaps and heaps of brands that are doing the same. So, my actual experience in it is that it’s always, kind of, just been a part of what we’ve done. Now, it’s just got a traditional name to it.

So, you’ve seen it now from client side and from the perspective of a media company. Are there any differences in how each one approaches experiential marketing?

I don’t think so. I think because what we’re doing, at NZME specifically, since I’ve been here, is taking exactly what the client is looking for and really delving into their objectives and their brand’s story and their persona and their aura, which is what we did when we sat within the brands themselves. So, we look at each different brief or brand objective and, kind of, answer the question creatively, the same way we would if we were we sitting in there. So, we quite often like to take off our quote unquote “marking hat” here and put on our normal human hat and approach it from the ways, ‘how would somebody experiencing this feel about the brand?’ We like to call it ‘The happy tickle,’ or ‘That dopamine rush’ about brands so that that kind of brand resonance and that’s what we’re trying to drive when we’re approaching any experiential project.

So, compared to other forms of more traditional marketing that certainly have a mass reach like TV, experiential campaigns might not reach as many people so why would a company invest in experiential?

Right. So, I think that’s kind of a misnomer and maybe one of those misunderstandings out in the market was that just because an experiential activation or campaign might not touch two million people, it might instead touch 20, that it doesn’t reach those two million. So, I think, experiential in its most beautiful form is to create brand resonance and consideration and to drive, you know, whether it’s the sampling of a product or something else, but the whole point about that in my thing that I love about it from a storyteller’s perspective is that you’re creating content off the back of it.

We know that when people go to an experiential activation, 50 percent of them—so one in two people—are going to be creating video content off the back of that.

And then sharing that out and that’s just part of it that you cannot buy, but what you can buy afterwards, once somebody cuts a good story or creates a piece of content that the brand really likes, is you can amplify and distribute that depending on who your target market is. So, you can reach the main audiences, you can reach a quote unquote “T.V. size audience” by only, kind of, touching 20 people.

Are you seeing brands do anything themselves to push the activations out or is it a case of using user-generated content to get the message out?

I think both and it’s really neat to watch it in the New Zealand marketplace because it is, kind of, this really highly engaged consumer that we’re dealing with and it’s interesting to see how brands, kind of, go forward with that and we’ve moved away, which I love, from going ‘let’s make this go viral’ because that used to be my death buzz word. And I go: ‘Oh, you can’t really make something go viral.’ Bt what brands are doing really, really well is integrating the strength of people sharing and a lot of the time getting, you know, really smartly lining influencers or talent alongside it.

So, that people are already watching and then will want to take part or want to watch or want to share organically and off the back of that, the real smart brands, from the story telling perspective again, are then putting some money behind the amplification distribution just to, kind of, turn the engine and then let it start running on its own.

Other than what you’ve touched on, what other benefits do you see to experiential campaigns?

So some of the other benefits that I see to the experiential campaigns are not only the one-on-one time that you just cannot literally buy in a programmatic buy.

I think the brand is getting out there and actually showing that they care about their customers and that they’re doing something that’s usually highly targeted to an area and to a certain type of person. It’s almost like giving back. It’s, you know, the entertainment or education, inspiration, all of those pieces, people are able to do in a very, very finite personal way and that shows, a lot of the time, that brands care and they’re investing back into their customers. And then again, can share it more widely from a content distribution point of view.

And, again, you’ve already touched on the misconception that experiential campaigns might not reach as many people, are there any other misconceptions that you see out there?

I think a lot of the time, there’s just confusion around what experiential is. I know, even internally here, at NZME, we had some big discussions around what’s the difference between a radio engagement and activation brand piece versus experiential and a lot of the time, the experiential pieces is quite white label and the brand is the centre point and the person who is interacting with the brand is the centre point. And then we become the helper and the distribution channel instead of interacting and acting in a partnership with brands so, I think a lot of the time, it’s just explaining to people too, that it doesn’t have to be expensive. So, when we go out to market, people go: “We don’t need a 40-foot container and 15 people out activating and all of these things, we don’t have $50,000.’ We go: ‘Well, actually, if you just back it right back up and look at some of the really cool international examples, there’s some people rolling out with some clever, almost commonsensical, ways of selling a product or doing some PR around a product that cost virtually nothing but give back to the brand a huge return in virality and content promotion.’

So, you just mentioned the international examples, do you have any of your, maybe, top picks of international examples that you’ve seen?

Sure. If we start more, I guess, recently, my favourite one so far this year has been Hulu and their press push out to South by Southwest for their new show The Handmaid’s Tale and instead of going, ‘we are going to spend lots of money on digital advertising and big out of home displays and everything’, they dressed up, I think it was about 12 women, as the characters on the show and had them walking around in a very, almost ghost-like, zombie-like, methodical straight-line way at South by Southwest.

And they started to, kind of, tweet out from their account and ask them a certain question about going down by the river to see what they do? Do they turn left? Do they turn right? And it was just strategically placing these, almost creepy looking figures, within the South by Southwest environment that caused the absolute biggest, coolest, kind of, social media uproar I thought of South by Southwest this year and I imagine the spend behind what Hulu did was very, very small in comparison to say, a Coke Zero who on the other side of the coin did an amazing job with their drinkable ads last year.


And across experiential so they made, they partnered with Shazam and to drive more, I think it was to drive more men, to trial Coke Zero in the States, they had drinkable ads across TV, radio, out of home and experiential in the event, and that would have cost the moon, but it was amazing as well. There’s a dichotomy between the two in cost but in the experience itself what they did is they put the person who was experiencing it first, which made it really successful.

So now, coming back to local, have you seen any great examples here?

Some really cool examples, of course, definitely want to give props to the team at NZME who rolled out some great stuff last year, before I got here.

One of the best ones I’ve seen since being here was a PlayStation iteration that we did out at Sylvia Park and it was completely white label. There was a 20-foot container completely skinned around PlayStation and the point was that we wanted to drive uptake of the new VR goggles for the new PlayStation games. Over the course of, I think it was two or three days, 350 people came through and at seven minutes a pop, one-on-one engagement, we sold out the local shops of the VR headsets and had over 40 hours of brand time, one-on-one with people who were their customers and then were able to help tell those stories a lot wider so that was really cool. Again, back to here in New Zealand, because it’s one of my most recent memories. We used to do lots of really neat, fun activations and experiential pieces. Last year, one of the best ones that I thought we did that was quite clever, was a bus to Hawaii. Did you see that one?


We convinced people to get on a bus that was unbranded and said we were taking them to Hawaii and they ended up in a place that was labelled Hawaii in Mount Eden, obviously with a twist. And again, getting those people on and sharing their stories wider allowed the brand to talk more widely about product offerings but, again—back to ‘the happy tickle’ and ‘dopamine rush’—created a lot of that as well for the brand.

I’m seeing a lot of positives that people are doing, but are there some things that marketers should be careful or aware of when going to create an experiential campaign?

Sure. I think first and foremost, and this is what I tell my team here as well, and everybody else and I know it’s probably preaching to the choir but it’s ‘be commonsensical’. I think sometimes as marketers and creators, we try to get too clever, and over-egg things when we can just, again, take that marketing hat off for a few minutes and go: ‘How would this help not only the brand hit its objectives but ensure the people who are experiencing it really want to share it?’ So five percent of people are going to share an experience, how do we get 75 percent or 100 percent to get on board with that?

And that’s just about being really smart and tactical about how things are rolled out. Nothing has to be super expensive, but I think being clever is key. Clever and commonsensical is key.

So you just talked there about 50 percent of people wanting to share it. Are there any issues or concerns about people not wanting to engage with an activation or are Kiwis, you know, quite going to get on board when they see stuff?

I think the best thing that I’ve always loved about Kiwis, about 15 years on in New Zealand, is that they’re always willing to give something a go.

And as long as the experience, whether it goes from product sampling all the way through to a VR experience, like a PlayStation experiential piece, Kiwis, for the most part, will try it and you really don’t need mass to create a cool buzz around something. You could have ten people really highly engaged in something, or a thousand, and you could still grab similar brand success and measure it off the back of that depending on the story you tell. So, again, who are we talking to? How are we selling it? And then, how do we share it?

Do you see any other areas that New Zealand marketers could improve in the space?

I think, again, New Zealand marketers are quite clever.

Good to know.

I’ve travelled abroad a bit in the last, probably five years, just going to conferences, trying to educate myself, watching the trends, really just digging into what people are doing and how they are doing it.

We’ve got some real, real clever marketers and I think, one of the best things that I see here is that people just don’t jump onto a trend because it’s a trend. Kiwis are as a whole, quite measured in what they do and are still willing to try new things but test and optimise and learn. So I can’t say a bad word about Kiwi marketers to be fair.

I guess my final question, looking into the future, at the moment there’s certainly a big debate going on about reaching mass or, you know, targeted valuable moments with people. So, where do you see this debate going in the future and where do you see experiential fitting into that?

I see the debate continuing because, I think, there’s room for both of those. I think there’s definitely times when brands need to reach a mass audience, I think there are times when it makes sense to have a real strong proposition in the market and a real strong push to out of home to digital. I think that’s the bread and butter to the longevity of big brand messages and it has to have that longevity, that long tail, but on the same side, as that goes, there also has to be hyper-targeting on the other end.

So, you know, we need a sweet fix and we also need long burn and I don’t think that will ever change. I think experiential fits into that the same way that tactical digital marketing fits into it and the same way that branded content and telling stories alongside, say perhaps a media owner goes as well it’s all part and parcel to dependent on where the brand is, what their objectives are for a specific campaign or quarter, and then rolling with it there. But I think the debate will live on and it’s a good, healthy one to have.

Awesome. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

No. Thank you for having me.

No, thank you.

I’ve enjoyed it and if you guys haven’t tried experiential marketing, come in and have a chat or just give it a go. Again, it doesn’t have to be big and bad and bold and expensive, it can be clever and, you know, concentrated and still give you a lot of return, whether you’re a big brand or a small SME.

Cool, thanks. Great to have you Cassie.

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