Don't Sacrifice Your Brand for Entertainment's Sake

Four Ways to Make Sure an Interactive Experience Tells Your Brand's Story

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Brands placed big bets at Coachella, Bonnaroo and other music festivals this year, paying up to seven-figure sponsorship fees and multiples of that number to build brand experiences to please the crowds. Post-festival, the brands that provided free hairstyling and build-your-own light shows hope they'll be remembered. Those activities are fun, but did they make enough of an emotional connection with consumers -- one that will last long after the stages are broken down? The way to do that is to make sure the brand identity is baked directly into the experience.

To get there, ensure that before, during and after a brand experience, consumers receive positive reinforcement.

First, understand whom you are trying to talk to. Then, connect with your target in a different, interesting way. For example, during NBA All-Star Week, Kumho Tire (a Pearl Media client) got subway riders in Times Square to stop and shoot hoops with NBA star Carmelo Anthony at a subway stop (digitally, anyway). The interactive game, "Pop-A-Shot", wove the brand into the experience by using digital Kumho tires instead of basketballs that bounced off the backboard the way a tire would. The subtle integration of playing with the product reinforced the brand within the fun part of the experience.

How do you know when you strike the right balance?

Use brand collateral strategically. A winning combination of fun + brand experience makes the experience work for both consumer and brand. Whether it is waiting in line to play a giant arcade game, showing off your dance moves to a digital crowd, or playing a game of hoops with a basketball star -- albeit a virtual one -- the activation must be fun. But even more importantly, live experiences with brands can be memorable by building ways to connect with consumers post-event, through social media and email sign-ups.

How can interactivity help reach the sweet spot?

Make it smart. Interactivity can be the spark that turns on the consumer's brain. When custom experiences are built to go beyond habitual behavior, they require the consumer to think and reach a level of recall that stimulates the brain. For example, long/tall portrait screens mimic the look and feel of iPads, iPhones, etc., and consumers are comfortable interacting with them.

Coca-Cola is a brand that consistently delivers on these factors. Just take a look at "Roll Out Happiness" -- a Coca-Cola truck creates a park (in the shape of a coke bottle) on a gray, cement city square and supplies recreational accoutrements including kites, balls, Frisbees, bubbles and a vending machine that dispenses free bottles of Coke when consumers remove their shoes. This memorable event tells the brand's essential story -- Coke is associated with joy and happiness.

Here are four ways to make sure that an interactive experience reflects your brand story:

1. Think experience first. Designing a great user experience is what creates positive brand reinforcement. Think about the value your experience provides the consumer and let that drive the thinking and strategy.

2. Don't overwhelm with your brand. Fight the initial reaction to cover the experience footprint with your logo. There are more strategic ways to represent the brand. Color schemes, product assets and tone of voice can deliver the brand's soul without turning off your audience.

3. Let users "feel" the brand. Incorporate key brand assets into the experience itself in an authentic and unique way. To promote the prequel to "Bates Motel," A&E Networks built a free-standing hotel at SXSW, complete with three real, bookable hotel rooms -- a benefit during the festival, which has a shortage of real hotel rooms.

4. Create incentives to opt-in. Connecting interactive experiences to social media and email is important, but is often met with resistance. Instead of forcing opt-ins, create incentives. Prompt communication with positive reinforcement, like rewards or extra content to boost participation.

Designing brand experiences is like conducting a piece of symphonic music. While you build to a crescendo, you still want your consumer to remember and feel the benefit of the full brand experience -- not just the final note.

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