Meet the Experientialists: Vitro's Marc Wilson on Reverse-Engineers' Real World Problems

Has Overseen Experiential Efforts at MDC Partners' San Diego Shop for Past Six Years

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Marc Wilson
Marc Wilson

This is the second in a series of profiles on notable players in the world of experiential marketing. Read about Converse VP-General Manager Brand and Segments Geoff Cottrill here and tune in the rest of the week for stories on Chobani Director of Experiential Ted Sabarese and Adam Joseph, co-founder of experiential and multiplatform production studio Legs.

"I've always been a bit of a tinkerer -- perhaps I'm a frustrated engineer," said Marc Wilson. "What always drew me to experiential marketing was the ability to come up with a concept on paper then make it happen in the real world. You basically have to reverse-engineer a solution to a real world problem."

Forty-year-old Mr. Wilson, who for the last six years has overseen experiential efforts at MDC-owned San Diego shop Vitro, started his career in experiential marketing at events-management firm EMP more than a decade ago. At the time, "we were doing things like sampling, and the motto was 'touch, try and buy,'" he said. Today, after stops at PMK/HBH and Momentum Worldwide, he said that idea manifests in completely out-of-the box ways.

Take, for example, a roving treadmill the agency sent through the streets of New York last fall for Asics, an official sponsor of the New York Marathon. The machine let New Yorkers test their abilities against those of Olympian Ryan Hall -- its speed was set permanently to Mr. Hall's 4-minute, 46-second mile pace. The treadmill recently made its way to Los Angeles, where Asics is sponsoring the L.A. Marathon.

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Vitro also created the "Support Your Marathoner" experience, positioning giant LED boards along the New York route for Asics. When runners went by, their RFID tags triggered messages of support from family and friends. The agency even turned the mural at New York's Columbus Circle subway station into a thrilling experience: For the 2011 New York Marathon, Vitro projected a giant video of Mr. Hall performing a sprint, and a countdown invited passersby to run alongside him and beat his time.

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A restaurant client also proved an enthusiastic experiential patron. In an effort to increase traffic at PF Changs restaurants, Vitro held a game of "Skyscraper Golf." It set PF Changs-sponsored golf pro Briny Baird atop the Omni Hotel in downtown San Diego, where he hit balls at a target positioned at Petco Park. If he made it, both the Naval/Marine Relief fund and America scored. The former would get a $25,000 donation from the client, while the latter would get free lettuce wraps (one of the restaurant's most-popular items). The effort generated $3.2 million in media coverage, 40,000 new Facebook fans and more than 400,000 registrants into PF Chang's CRM program. Sales also hit $3 million via the program's coupon-redemption program.

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As adrenaline-pumping and PR-friendly as his initiatives may be, Mr. Wilson said it's crucial that experiential campaigns should not just be a "flash in time."

"These campaigns also need to engage consumers pre- and post-event," he said. "That can be socially or through any other channel. You want to try to drive anticipation in advance and connect with people afterward to get that glow to last as long as possible. You do yourself a disservice if you just try to hit them once -- you're more easily forgotten. You want to make that connection last."

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