What is happening on the ground no longer stays just on the ground. When it comes to below-the-line (BTL) advertising or on-ground activation, what was earlier a road side, or market, activation has now transformed itself into a multi-layered digital integrated or amplified BTL activation with support from social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others).
Before the digital era, BTL was about setting up kiosks, vans or door-to-door activities across cities, which had its limitations in reach and numbers. Digital has helped such activities burst across groups, towns, cities and countries.
Take the recent example of Kingfisher Beer, which created the world's first beer dispenser triggered by head banging at the 9th edition of the Kingfisher Great Indian Octoberfest (the annual music and beer festival organised by Kingfisher in Bangalore and inspired by Germany's Oktoberfest).
An on-ground activation for Kingfisher Premium, it required users to log in via their FB account, strap on a helmet that captured the head's movements and bang their heads in front of a beer vending machine. A mobile device attached to the helmet recorded the number of bangs generated, and the count was displayed on an LCD screen. With the use of motion-capture technology, the head banging caused beer cans to be dispensed from the machine. Though only a limited number of people who were a part of the fest came there and participated in the activation, thousands acknowledged it as it went wild on the internet.
Sumit Joshi, head, marketing, Philips Lighting India, says, "On-ground has its limitations in terms of reach, but if the idea is strong, and a similar magic on digital could be created, then it can be amplified manifold." Brands are now briefing their social media and on-ground agencies to work in tandem.
Then and now
A decade ago, there was no digital, so the brief would be something like this: We are opening a store in some area on this date and want to create hype around that, in the store and in the nearby areas, so we are looking at some ideas, tell us what can be done? The focus was on sampling not on creating a conversation. Now the brief has changed to create an eco-system around the campaign to provoke conversations, generate buzz and gather eyeballs.
"30 - 40 per cent of our clients give a more holistic brief now including, digital, on-ground and local media. They have social media agencies on board, and urge them to work hand-in-hand with us," says Atul S Nath, MD, Candid Marketing. In many cases, social media agencies not just advise but guide the entire activation.
Shamsuddin Jasani, managing director, Isobar India (the digital agency from Aegis Media) says, "Clients don't come with an idea to amplify. It is we the experts who tell them what's to be done."
What kind of activity lends itself to amplification and engagement? A simple answer is: good content. Marketers, social media and activation agencies point out that a good idea should be the starting point: all media then fits in seamlessly.
Aneil Deepak, head, Ideas, DDB MudraMax, says, "If people really like it, they will share it." Agencies believe that formats that have better chances to get amplified are new experiences, humour, candour or the 'wow' factor. They all need to have a human touch to it and should be able to generate some kind of emotion, be it anger, laughter or sorrow.
According to Ankur Kalra, MD and CEO, Vibgyor Brand Services, people will not share, like or tweet something unless and until "they are able to identify with it. In the latter case, they will make sure that they tell 100,000 people what a great experience they had with your brand."
Matthew de la Haye, vice president, communications, Africa, Middle East, India and Europe, Nissan Group, thinks that, online or off, the human touch is vital. "That physical interaction is a part of the larger campaign," he declares.
There are multiple on-ground activation formats such as flashmobs, meet-and-greet events, makeovers, cooking, acts, gaming events and others that can be digitally amplified.
On the ground, an agency can use augmented reality, interactive games and webcams to generate buzz. On the digital front, the social media agency escalates it using triggers such as repeated announcements of the hashtags, blogs, constant tweets, frequent updates of the FB status using RFID (radio frequency identification), live streaming and developing microsites. Agencies need to generate creative hashtags.
And the influencers get something in return too. Ford - in 2012 - invited 10 social media influencers to test drive the Ford Classic Titanium, explore their passions and integrate it with the car experience. Canon brought in bloggers for a photograph workshop conducted with Raghu Rai.
Rajiv Dingra, founder and CEO, WATConsult, says, "I think it's a perfect marriage through which a lot of real time engagement can happen." Jasani of Isobar adds that if an event is not live tweeted it has not happened. From a strategy perspective, it's important for a brand that its content should be consistent keeping in mind local relevance and cultural sensitivities. "I think one mistake that many companies are making is creating generic content that has no local relevance," explains Haye.
Many marketers say that they cannot think of an on-ground activation without a digital leg. No brand can have a 12-month-long ATL media plan and even if it has one, it cannot be present everywhere. Digital media solves this problem providing a great platform at low costs.
Let us take an example of a consumer visiting a mall on a given day and sampling a mobile handset at a kiosk. He may not purchase it, but what the brand can do is start a relationship by connecting with him via FB, Twitter or mail. Manish Seth, director, sales and marketing, Bacardi India, says, "We have seen success with the triad of experience, engagement and activation and shall continue to make this model more and more effective."
Good content gets you eyeballs. Philips' campaign lighting up monuments got the electronics brand nearly two million eyeballs. They routed the campaign in such a way that before it was launched a million people were talking about it. Says Philips' Joshi, "The idea for engagement is that the brand wants to leave the consumer with a good feeling about itself."
Digital creates a democratic platform that allows two-way conversation. In the past, customer helplines were the only medium for complaints (and not every brand had the facility) but on social media, the world reads what a consumer writes. This forces brands to respond quickly.
Spreading the word
Like, share, tweet are the new age weapons. They create opinions, and have the ability to topple. Mostly people between the ages of 15 and 34 are actively sharing content. But what brands need to consider is why someone shares.
People share because it's their statement of expression. If they share something funny, they want to show that they are funny, if its Greenpeace they share, they want to show they have a concern for the environment. "But," says Nath, "as a consumer, even if I like a brand page on FB, it is impractical that my friends will like it." This brings a question, so what is a like or a share worth?
He points out that most brands look at amplification via numbers ('FB likes karado', is the refrain). "The challenge is to spot the difference between short term and long term amplification and how to get the clients to see a slightly more strategic view to amplify any activation, rather than what is done today," he adds.
Be it the Cadbury Lift act or the Bournville Proposal, one has to ensure originality and connect with the consumer. The moment the consumer finds the content convoluted, he backs off from the share/tweet/like button. The idea is to evoke an emotion in him, be it curiosity, anger or joy.
Sindhuja Rai, vice president, media, Cadbury India, has a word of caution. "Some ideas might not be buzzworthy from a social point of view. It is important to strike the right balance." Another challenge, according to Salvi of Geometry Global, is that the creative talent "need to think about the medium first, understand what it can do and then craft an idea for the platform." Attracting the attention of the consumer - online and offline - is not easy as she is already distracted.
The concept works differently in rural India. The medium of access of content here is the mobile (mostly feature phones), while in the urban areas it is smart-phones, tablets and dekstops/laptops. Brands and agencies consider SMS the best way to reach out to the former.
Ekalavya Bhattacharya, director, digital media, MTV India, opines that in rural areas, brands should focus on ideas like augmented reality. "Something like the Kingfisher Headbanging activity in a rural city will make people go crazy," he adds. Venkatesh Srinivasan, director, RW Promotions has an example.
Zee TV wanted to reach out to these areas for driving voting traffic for an award show. The agency went with laptops to register people's responses, but it needed an authentic e-mail ID. In many cases, the agency had to make an ID for the people there.
Jasani points that in rural areas, the distractions are fewer. "People here are content hungry and they like it when it comes to them." But there are deterrents such as bandwidth issues and power cuts.
The measure of success
Different campaigns have different success parameters. A technology B2B activation does not depend on the numbers but on who the people tweeting for it are.
Jasani of Isobar points out that a mass campaign is successful if it earns 30-40 per cent non-paid likes or shares. This means that the brand gets extra coverage without a penny spent. With digital, the advantage is that every penny spent can be quantified in terms of results. Says Bhattacharya, "When digital is used in terms of technology in an on-ground activation, it helps you reach a more evolved user base who wouldn't care about traditional advertising."
Take the example of Yebhi.com's virtual shopping wall activation at Café Coffee Day across 30 stores in Delhi and Bengaluru. The online campaign drove walk-ins and got nearly two million impressions. The virtual wall had products displayed with a unique code - scanning it took one to Yebhi.com's product page.
Nikhil Rungta, chief business officer and head, marketing, Yebhi.com, points that in the old days, only 5,000-10,000 people would have known about it. "We issued a unique promotion code to each product and tracked how many people enquired about it on a real time basis. For ROI, you need to define your metric clearly - whether its cost per contact, cost per conversion or cost per sale. At the end we should have an idea that this is what we had set out to do and this is where we have reached."
Samar Singh Sheikhawat, senior vice president, marketing, UB Group, says, "ROI is about engagement, involvement and how people are sharing it." Joshi cites the example of the Philips campaign where it lit up the Gateway of India and targeted Mumbaikars living in the city and elsewhere. The campaign got around three million impressions, including tweets, YouTube views, Facebook likes and shares.
Joshi points that that these kind of ideas will generate a lot more relevance from the target segment and the engagement will be much more specific. "On digital, we have the freedom. I can target people from Mumbai and Mumbaikars living elsewhere in various ways."
The digital window offers opportunity to smaller brands to compete with larger brands. All they need is the right content.
Says Rungta, "I don't know whether it brings them at par with the larger brands but from an opportunity perspective a large number of smaller brands have the window to reach a larger audience at a marginal or no cost." That is what makes this a fantastic platform to go forth and multiply reach.
A Note From the Editor
I have had an old grudge against people in the brand activation business - and I mean not just the agencies but the clients whose business they serve. Every now and then I'd see a really intriguing piece of work at a mall or on the street - and before long, there would be a press release touting the brilliance of the creators and the client. If the work was so great, I'd ask myself, how come it has not been replicated in a hundred other places for a million people to see?
I figured that both marketer and agency were overcome by their cleverness. Their appetite was sated with a single activation. To be fair, the argument for not scaling up a successful innovation a decade ago was cost and the ability to replicate, in that order.
Digital has provided the perfect way out of the situation. In the past 12 months we have seen a number of brand activations which would have gone unnoticed hadn't it been for the ubiquity of the digital medium. Clients are delighted because from just a hundred people who witnessed the actual activity, the number could go to a thousand online - or, if they are lucky, even a million.
The great thing about the coming of digital is that it is giving brands a vast variety of scripts to play with. The stories are getting more engaging because they truly are stories - with a beginning and an end - which are being captured for video.
This begs the obvious question: is this activation at all - or is it just an ad film that is being shot on location? Some of the 'activations' are so posed that it is hard to believe that the characters are not paid actors. If the purpose of activation is to bring a brand alive, is that objective being served at all if it is seen on video?
Where will all this lead? My guess is that there will be a spurt in activations, both real and make-believe, that will be captured and magnified on video. This will become the sexy end of the business which will give activation a good name. The bulk of the rest will carry on as before: hardworking activation that will be measured in strictly performance terms.