4 Smart Ways to Stretch Your Experiential Marketing Dollars

At the Super Bowl and beyond

Free Fall: The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee’s ‘Future Flight’ ride

Over the next few weeks, football fans across the country will debate the nuances of this year’s Super Bowl ads, get tips on how to make the best nacho dip, weigh in on social media and relive game highlights from Super Bowls past. All of which can be done from the comfort of their homes and offices.

But a select (well, roughly a million) few are preparing for the experience of a lifetime. A nine-day extravaganza of sports, music, food and even fashion rolled into one. And while the power of a well-crafted Big Game Ad is undeniable, the Big Game Activation is on the rise. The Super Bowl has become the ultimate proving ground for unique brand experiences.

Ed Horne
Image by Alex Fine

Take, for example, (our client) Marriott International. Now in its sixth year as an NFL partner, the world’s largest hospitality company will transform The Grove in Houston into the “Texans House presented by Courtyard,” a uniquely Texan hospitality venue featuring local food, a musical performance by American Authors, NFL meet-and-greets, private member events and nightly entertainment. It’s also bringing back Courtyard’s “Super Bowl Sleepover Contest,” which will see two winners spend the night in a custom-built hotel room inside NRG Stadium. They’ll be at the game-with a view of the 50 yard-line-before anyone else shows up.

Then there’s TD Ameritrade. An NFL sponsor since 2014, the brand isn’t running any ads during the Big Game. Instead, it will host football fans in Houston at pop-up “green rooms” as part of a broader campaign to help them learn more about the company’s financial services.

Arguably the best evidence (so far) of the impulse to stage bigger, better, more dazzling experiences is the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee’s “Future Flight” ride—a 130-second trip to Mars combining virtual reality footage of the red planet with a 90-foot drop tower—created in partnership with NASA and aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Smart brands like these recognize the power of live experiences. They know the real opportunity lies in connecting consumers with what they love, across all forms of culture. They identify ways to add value to people’s lives that are also organic to their brands—surprising, captivating and delighting audiences that have endless options for entertainment. Most importantly, they know true ROI comes from creating a lasting impression. We’ll all discuss the ads we loved for a few days post-game, but we’ll share photos and videos of the incredible concert we attended the night before for years to come.

You are the company you keep. Use activations as opportunities to show potential and existing consumers who your friends are.

Here are a few simple ways to ensure your on-site investment is worthwhile, at the Super Bowl or otherwise.

Tell great stories

Free food and a killer band are a good start. Inviting consumers into the world you’ve created through great storytelling? Even better. Our brains are hardwired to remember stories, so look at your invitations, signage, staging, performers, staff, music and activities through this lens: What story are you trying to tell? Do all these elements support that narrative?

Collaboration is key

You are the company you keep. Use activations as opportunities to show potential and existing consumers who your friends are. Who inspires you. Who you trust. These partnerships up the ante for storytelling, add credibility and grant you access to new audiences. In some cases, you can share costs. Why settle for a small footprint past the main drag when partnering with a like-minded brand grants you prime real estate?

Don’t underestimate the impact of star power

At the same time, make sure your star power loves and believes in you, too—so they’ll go the extra mile. Don’t forget that stars come in many forms these days. Pick the ones who authentically resonate with your target audience. Last year, (our client) country music star Brad Paisley and Frontier Communications helped college students and alumni across the U.S. extend the pre-game celebration with live concerts before their football rivals rolled into town. Paisley promoted his new album and Frontier reached more than 90,000 people on site and countless others via earned media.

Help fans be there, even if they’re not

Make it easy for those actually on-site to share their experience with friends elsewhere. From Facebook and Snapchat Live to Instagram Live Stories, there are more ways than ever to bring live events to the masses, and for “viewers at home” to interact with what they’re seeing. With the increasing popularity of lenses and filters to mini-games and 360-degree mobile environments, it’s easy to extend your on-site investment far beyond a single moment in time.

More than anything, keep in mind that activations are your best shot at making memories. Do everything you can to make them last.

This story first appeared in the January 30, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.