Cracking the moral code: Rich Adams on how to keep experiential marketers in line

Over the years it’s evolved under many different names, from field marketing, brand experience and even experimental marketing. But experiential marketing is finally beginning to establish itself as both a name and a discipline in its own right in New Zealand marketing circles. And this is giving rise to the trend for guerilla marketing techniques, live stunts and a variety of other non-permission based campaigns. As these become more commonplace, we’ll see these activities get closer and closer to the mark of what is and isn’t acceptable. So is self-regulation the right answer?  

Many years ago ‘live marketing’ was used to describe anything where you were a little more creative with what your staff were wearing or distributing. Today creative techniques are common place. In fact one of the reasons behind experiential’s rise is that it allows brands to be more innovative than ever before imagined.

As well, the entry of brand agencies with their bigger budgets into experiential marketing has seen an increase in creativity. Consumers themselves have also evolved. We’re constantly subjected to a variety of media channels and marketing methods so that even the most disinterested have become more marketing savvy than ever before. It’s almost at the point where we’ve become immune to all but the most cutting edge campaigns. As a result boundaries are being pushed further and further in the race to devise the most off the wall and elaborate experiences that will create the most cut through.

The question is where do we draw that line? More importantly, once the line is crossed who will regulate it? Will it simply be overlooked and put in the ‘too hard to deal with’ box, will the agencies themselves recognise the negative impact and learn to govern internally, setting their own best practices, or is there a need for a governing body?

Our methods have changed dramatically in the past ten years and who knows what techniques we’ll be using in ten years time. Back then, in the UK, we were giving out free cigarettes to sample in bars and swapping half empty packets of cigarettes with nice full ones. Imagine trying to do that now; so it’s impossible to know where we’ll end up in the future.

What I do know is that to keep the industry fresh and creative we need to be ever mindful of what we propose and how we communicate to consumers. I would hate to see the level of regulations that harness advertising and sales promotions filter down to experiential marketing. However, as it stands it is currently just the experiential agencies’ own levels of morality that keeps us in check.

Until we are as firmly established a discipline as advertising, experiential agencies will and should be concerned about the quality of work being undertaken. It takes time and effort to deliver great work and it’s a worry when small, one man bands pop up with no quality control, inferior ideas and poor implementation. It’s worse when they buy share by dramatically undercutting everyone else and hoodwink unsavvy clients focused on budget not quality.

Unfortunately this practice is nothing but harmful to the industry. Not only does it devalue experiential marketing itself but it also causes real concerns for clients who fear that poorly delivered experiences will either harm their brand or worse, cause a major PR issue. This could ultimately lead to clients’ playing safe and stifling creative communication. A result no one would welcome.

Of course, there are those that say the industry doesn’t need regulation. The implementation of any activity should be governed by health and safety laws while brand ambassadors themselves are covered by employment law. This is a fair comment, to a point. When it comes to kids, families or alcohol we still need to be very careful that ambassadors follow strict guidelines and ensure they convey the correct message in the correct manner.

The rise of the Experiential Marketing Association of New Zealand (EMANZ) will help agencies and clients alike develop their own set of moral codes, and should provide solace to clients willing to engage in experiential. I hope EMANZ has the strength, support and commitment to continue the good work they have started in defining the Experiential Code of Practice.

Ultimately it will be the agencies themselves that determine whether the association is a success. Having seen the rise and then fall of the LBEA (Live Brand Experience Association) in the UK in the mid 2000’s through lack of support and confused objectives, it will take strong leadership and a willingness from new players to join to cement the organisation’s position as a credible association. I would recommend everyone, large and small, involved in Experiential Marketing join EMANZ to ensure its success and enable us to self-regulate our own industry.

For now, those of us on the CAANZ MLG (Marcomms Leadership Group) and the members of EMANZ will continue to fight to become an established and self-regulated marcomms branch.

Meanwhile I’m excited about the rise of experiential marketing in New Zealand and only see campaigns such as Frucor’s ‘Mountain Dew Pinball Skatepark’ as leading the way in showing brand managers just what can be achieved with a little imagination and perhaps just a little bit more balls.


About Author

Comments are closed.