Advertisers See Gold Mine In Hands-On Marketing

Rather than merely sponsor an event and feature signage, Hewlett-Packard wants consumers to get in closer contact with its products. So as an extension of its $300 million “YOU + HP” campaign, HP earlier this month launched its “YOU + HP Experience” a mobile, interactive tour that allows consumers to photograph themselves with HP digital cameras, relax in a home theater with HP’s digital projector and test-drive a plasma TV at 45 events, including the Indianapolis 500 and NCAA and NFL football games.

HP is the latest in a long line of marketers diving into experiential marketing, the tactic of turning events into hands-on opportunities for interaction between consumers and products. It has plenty of company. Teens line up to play Xbox games at high-school dances. Concert attendees receive consulting on makeup application from L’Oréal. The ideas are as diverse as the companies sponsoring them.

Industry experts estimate experiential marketing already comprises $25 billion of the $100 billion-plus event-marketing category. A total of $800 million was spent last year alone on mobile marketing tours like HP’s, up 15 percent from the previous year, according to Chicago-based sponsorship consultancy IEG.

“Up until five years ago, most companies didn’t have any budget for activation,” said Lesa Ukman, president and co-founder of IEG. “Now, the average is 50 cents for every dollar spent on rights fees. There’s an understanding among sponsors that there’s no point in being there unless you interact with consumers in a relevant, robust way.”

Feeding the rise in the discipline are several ongoing concerns for marketers, including how to reach youth, fragmentation and clutter. “Marketers are concerned about attention and message-avoidance technologies like TiVo,” said Michael Kassan, a Los Angeles-based brand-entertainment consultant who last year put together Microsoft’s Xbox and Verizon Wireless’ Lollapalooza rock-concert sponsorships. “This is a place where people proactively seek what you’re selling.”

“Most of the marketing we’re doing … includes some type of activity where people can participate,” said Brenda Raney, a rep for Verizon Wireless, Bedminster, N.J. “For many of our products, it allows people to go beyond voice.”

Ukman cautioned that some experiential marketing tactics, no matter how popular, may not be as effective as others. She was skeptical of company mobile tours, for example, but lauded Lollapalooza promoter Perry Farrell for understanding how to make interaction relevant, “They use the technology of the sponsors to make the festival what it is,” she said.

To reach its young audience, Microsoft’s Xbox is sponsoring the Planet Gruv Tour, which brings DJs, lighting systems and video screens to high-school dances. As part of the tour, Xbox has game kiosks onsite and plays game trailers during the night. “It’s part of people’s social life,” said Bill Nielsen, director of U.S. subsidiary marketing for Xbox in Redmond, Wash. “We’re spicing up the dance and making it a little different.”

Vince Parrinello, president of experiential-marketing shop Legacy Marketing Partners in Chicago, said the field has become its own discipline, rather than a tactical component, adding that it is important to use advertising in conjunction with experiential marketing to lure people to events and reinforce positive feelings about the brands afterward. Legacy client L’Oréal—a sponsor of the Verizon Ladies First concert tour featuring Beyoncé Knowles, Missy Elliott and Alicia Keys—is leveraging its sponsorship by creating a lounge at the show where women can receive complimentary hair and makeup treatment, as well as product samples.

While there are no set metrics for measuring the success of an event such as the Verizon Ladies First tour, Parrinello said some tools include directing consumers to a Web site to participate in a sweepstakes, asking them to fill out data-capture cards and then mailing consumers coupons.

But most marketers said they do not expect to sell products at the events. “Our goal is brand recognition, brand visibility,” said Raney. “Our goal is for them to say, ‘That was very cool.’ “