'Experiential' marketing on rise

Megan Clark
Megan Clark

Throwing beach parties and creating viral music videos sounds like a lot of fun, but it’s also been good business for Megan Clark.

Her Auckland marketing agency Copper Brand Experiences has carved itself a niche in experiential marketing, a new field focused on engaging consumers through live activities.

With clients such as Vodafone, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Bell Tea, Copper Brand Experiences has seen 15 per cent annual revenue growth for the past three years as experiential marketing – or brand activation, as it is sometimes called – gains traction in New Zealand.

Copper Brand Experiences partnered with True advertising agency to reunite a mother with her son for Mother's Day.
Copper Brand Experiences partnered with True advertising agency to reunite a mother with her son for Mother's Day.

‘‘Brand activation is the hot new kid on the communications block,’’ Clark said. ‘‘It’s being talked about as ‘the new digital’ because you are able to talk to consumers on a whole different level.’’

Creating an emotional reaction to a brand is one of the key goals of experiential marketing, Clark said. For example, one of Copper Brand Experience’s campaigns for Vodafone on Mother’s Day had many Warriors fans in tears as the company reunited a mother with her son during a half-time event.

 ‘‘The mother started crying when she saw her son, and it was just the most beautiful powerful moment,’’ Clark said.

 ‘‘As well as having a full stadium of people connecting to that experience, it went crazy on YouTube and Facebook.’’

 The company has come a long way since 2004 when Clark founded it on her kitchen table ‘‘squashed between the fridge and the sofa’’, using $15,000 of savings she had set aside for a house deposit.

Although brand activation was a burgeoning industry in Australia and Europe in the early 2000s, at its launch Copper Brand Experiences was the only agency in New Zealand working in the category.

Clark, who has a marketing degree and a background in events and advertising agency work, had trouble explaining the concept to the New Zealand industry.

Her foundation client was Coca-Cola which asked her to provide an event around its sponsorship of New Zealand Fashion Week. Clark created the Diet Coke Cocktail Lounge, paying barmen to dress like scientists to make cocktails in test tubes for New Zealand’s fashion elite.

 ‘‘I did the concept on the smell of an oily rag,’’ she said.

‘‘I made no money, I didn’t pay myself and I worked about 16-hour days. But after that I had a case study and I had something to go out to the market and say, ‘This is what a brand experience is.’

Spreading the message has been an ongoing challenge. But as competitors entered the brand activation market, Clark turned this to her advantage by creating the industry bodies the Experimental Marketing Association of New Zealand (EMANZ), CAANZ and PREScom, to help raise awareness.

Despite now having competitors, Copper Brand Experiences has maintained consistent growth by partnering with advertising agencies such as Ogilvy and Saatchi & Saatchi.

The company has also teamed up with Australian agencies wanting to add a New Zealand flavour to their marketing

‘‘A lot of brands are trans-Tasman and are driven out of Australia, but unfortunately some of them can’t afford to do separate New Zealand advertising. But they can connect with the audience here in very New Zealand ways through live experiences,’’ Clark said.

Currently Australian based agencies are 5 per cent of the company’s revenue but this is expected to grow to 10 per cent by 2015.

Within the next year Clark plans to increase her staff from 11 to 15 and open an Australian office.

‘‘There are agencies based in Sydney and Melbourne who are desperately in need of a quality partner they can trust in New Zealand so there are some interesting discussions happening right now.’’

In June, Clark served on the Jury at the Cannes Lions ad and creativity awards in France judging the Promo and activation category. Although the awards are like the ‘‘Oscars for the ad industry’’ the event was a lot of hard work and ‘‘far less glamorous than it sounds’’, she said.

Holed up in dark room for several hours, she and her fellow jurors awarded Honda’s Sound of Honda campaign the gold award in its category.

Clark was impressed with the ingenuity of the promotion, which recreated the late Brazilian Formula One driver Aytron Senna’s record-breaking 1989 race live on a Grand Prix circuit using lights and recorded sound.

‘‘It was about how compelling and emotional the content was. It was a very important event for family of Ayrton and it was trending on Twitter at the time.’’