The Meaning in Activation


A clever brand activation strategy can make all the difference when it comes to connecting to consumers, writes Dan Henson.

The activation side of a brand’s communication has traditionally worked off the back of big ideas rather than leading them. A creative platform was largely influenced by traditional advertising outputs demanding the lion’s share of a budget. The limited activation response required little alternative but to take the shape of a promotional mechanic, sponsorship, sampling activity or product demonstration. It did the job of meeting the consumer face-to-face in the real world, but it rarely formed any real emotional connection.

Breaking away from the traditional approach is largely about having the confidence to move your budget to the most engaging aspect of the idea, pinpointing the most relevant stage of a consumer’s journey to create a meaningful engagement. This can mean reinterpreting the campaign execution with an activation idea as a lead role rather than a supporting one.

Evolving socially shared activation.

Activation is about the consumer’s interaction with a brand rather than just its product. The two aspects of this activity are Digital (online) and Live (physical). Connecting these two activities amplifies comparatively small localised events to a much broader audience.

Starting in the days of the Subservient Chicken, a single live brand ‘stunt’ shared on YouTube did little more for the brand other than identifying the public’s appetite for novelty/inane content. The significance of the Ice Bucket Challenge emphasised how prepared people are to engage in a shared localised activation event if there is a purpose.

Now, through people’s ability to filter content and an increasing trend in the awareness of empathy, there is a sweet spot emerging in advertising. Brands are beginning to understand the potential of realising their social responsibilities and the value this places on them in the public eye. Many brands are now innovating for purpose. When a consumer insight reveals a problem (physical or sociological), brands are moving to solve them, not necessarily with product but as an extension of their core values. This is not just PR this is the realisation of actual initiatives like Volvo Lifepaint – a paint applied so that cyclists are more visible to motorists. Also Samsung Safety Truck allowing cars to see the road in front so they can overtake supertrucks due to the Samsung display housed at its rear to reduce car collisions.

The live experience is an increasingly powerful part of advertising. It serves at the point where a brand has face-to-face interaction with its consumers. Through innovating for purpose, a brand has a chance to make a tangible difference, rather than just a promise. Sharing this engagement through social media and PR channels can extend this experience, but living proof is where the story becomes real. How does a bottle of carbonated vegetable juice actually inspire ‘Happiness’? Where is the ‘Joy’ in a cocoa based confectionery product?

The projects we develop at Boys and Girls look deeply at the significance of a brand in the marketplace. We work to involve an integrated idea at the heart of each campaign. They are not always innovative through technology or for a ‘worthy’ purpose but they attempt to exchange a level of experiential interaction.

With Bully Bug in a collaboration with the Solas schools project We developed a discrete hand-held device, which can be activated by a pupil who is being bullied, alerting their teacher directly.

Hunger Sauce — for World Food Day 2015 we created the world’s first gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, fat-free, ingredient-free sauce. It contained no added additives or preservatives – in fact it contained nothing at all, the exact same thing that over 795 million people have to eat every single day.

In our 2014 Christmas campaign for Three Ireland, we told the story of one girl’s perfect surprise. But some students in Athenry weren’t happy, and we were inundated with letters of complaint. It seemed some of the students thought it was implausible to receive such a surprise for Christmas. So this Christmas we surprised the schoolchildren with a winter wonderland especially for them with real snow in their schoolyard!

With Campo Viejo — (now in its seventh year), we have developed a Tapas Trail in Dublin, Galway and Cork where consumers pay to tour each city’s tapas restarants, while sampling Campo Viejo. The promotion is sold out every summer.

And more recently, An actual Leprechaun Graveyard deep in the Wicklow mountains marks the last resting place of all the Leprechauns that died due to their fatal love for Mic’s Chilli Sauce (lethal to Leprechauns).

Having an agile creative process where creative thinking is shared with digital and live activation specialists at early stages means that their insight can contribute to a broader creative thought, it can also stress-test and prototype executional outputs much quicker, and fail faster if required, so robust and engaging creative ideas can emerge.

First appeared in the June 2016 Issue of IMJ