State of the experiential nation

  • Opinion
  • June 15, 2012
  • Megan Clark
State of the experiential nation

I was lucky enough to recently attend the largest Event & Experiential Marketing summit in the world in Chicago. I immersed myself in three days of learning with over 500 others from around the world and came away feeling a whole bunch of things: inspired (absolutely), brain whipped (definitely), and connected (in a myriad of ways). But mostly I feel charged up about the future of the industry in New Zealand.

When I told people in Chicago that there are only a handful of full service experiential agencies in New Zealand the reaction was one of shock. Then when I explained that there are only around 4.5 million people in our country the shock quickly turned into a lot of hooting and thigh slapping, which I tried to not take personally.

The industry in the US is nearly twenty years old versus our eight years and the potential for growth here is massive. Clearly the answer to achieving this growth is not just that we need to quadruple the population of New Zealand (although that would be useful). No, the answer is in fact mostly about further education of our advertising, media and communications industry.

Both myself and a handful of pioneering experiential colleagues have dedicated many hours to building a strong foundation for the experiential and event marketing industry over the past few years. We are now getting traction with award-winning and hugely successful campaigns. Along with this, our work at the Marcomms Leadership Group (MLG) at CAANZ has included enthusiastically received initiatives such as the 2011 MLG International Speakers Forum on Experiential Marketing. Awareness and increased credibility is making the wider comms world now look up and take notice.

However, I am conscious there is much to do and more clarity needed around the benefit of experiential and event marketing, and in particular around measures of success. This area is one that is needed for both clients and broader comms agencies to genuinely engage with us as an industry.

On the Wednesday night at the Chicago Summit I met and chatted over a drink with a woman called Molly O’Donnell. Molly was an engaging, fun, straight-talking New Yorker. She also happened to head up some of the biggest experiential programmes for Microsoft globally.

Her insights into the value and importance of experiential and event marketing programmes for Microsoft were phenomenal and humbling.



Microsoft won the Grand Ex Award this year (check the other winners here) for their mind-blowing campaign for ‘Call of Duty’. The campaign, ‘There’s a Soldier in All of Us’, involved a 16 acre site, 10,000 gamers and a $1 million prize booty for the top gamer, the King of the Hill.

The site brought seven parts of the Xbox Call of Duty into the real world with the experiences ripped straight from the game. Think hardcore races on army jeeps around an extreme course complete with explosions and zip lines between zones. And then there were of course the multiple gaming zones for competition, all so beautifully crafted and with the most stunning lighting design it made me want to weep.

You could say Molly and Microsoft ‘get’ experiential.

But the results weren’t only based on 10,000 people having an experience they will never forget. Nope. The results were based on 2.4 billion PR impressions (that’s with a ‘b’, people), 175 million Facebook impressions, 21.5 million media impressions and 10 million Twitter impressions.

And did it translate to sales? Well you could say US$1 billion in sales in six days was, in Microsoft’s own eyes, a pretty welcome measure of success.

And my second favourite measure of success? The launch rates on Facebook as one of the Top Ten global topics of all time—the only entertainment topic in that list. And intriguingly, it is the #2 live stream event of all time. That means it beat Obama’s inauguration. The only live stream event that had more watchers was Will and Kate’s royal wedding.

This campaign wasn’t just about 10,000 attendees, it was about the key influencers that attended the event feeling compelled to share the experience.

Unfortunately we don’t all have the budget of Microsoft. In most cases that’s beyond most brands’ reach. However what is within reach is the ability for social media and digital programmes to launch compelling, shareable live concepts to influencers who will then propagate positive brand messages out to a massive, eagerly waiting bunch of their fans.

So after those three full days of inspiration, ideas and connections what does that mean for me? For my agency? For the NZ industry?

My belief is that right now we are doing a good job of creating engaging experiential and event marketing programmes, some of these world class. But the rest of the world is already well immersed in the magic of the experience. New Zealand is well on its way but in order to deliver results for our brands and achieve growth in our industry we need to broaden our thinking and our strategic approach to include brilliant ideas with very clear measures of success.  Only then will we go from good to great. And great is the place where we will really experience growth.

  • Megan Clark is managing director of Copper Brand Experiences and chair  & founding member of the Marcomms Leadership Group, CAANZ.

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  • Amber Coulter
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