Human beings are social creatures. We crave interaction, connection and relationships, and this is why brands work in a way that a product alone cannot. A brand has a voice; a brand has a personality. It gives us something to associate ourselves with. We can ask and expect things of a brand or a company identity that we obviously cannot of something inanimate.
Extrapolating from this, we can assume that the factors that drive us to form positive relationships with other human beings are the very same that cause us to form them with a brand. If we understand psychological bonding, we’ll understand brand loyalty. So what is the key to all this? Well in my opinion, experiences are everything. I imagine there was a time when traditional advertising was an experience in itself. When it wasn’t quite so hackneyed or clichéd and when people felt the words of slogans actually spoke to them. The heyday of early marketing, when something you heard on the radio or saw when passing a poster was enough to form a connection. I imagine there was such a time, but I reckon it was a long while ago.
Now, products and adverts are everywhere and we’ve evolved to filter them out. Seth Godin famously wrote about this, suggesting that successful businesses are those that create a ‘purple cow’ product, one that stands out in the field against the abundance of normal cows. To him, the point of the story was to emphasize inventiveness of product over the noise of creative advertising. What I’m saying is that this concept need not exclude marketing. And that’s where experiences come in. Experiences are “purple” adverts. They stand out, and above and beyond that, they stay with you.
To me, perhaps the best example of experience advertising comes courtesy of Kleenex in 2007. They set up a blue sofa in various locations, with a person sat by encouraging people to “let it out” and talk about their problems. There was, of course, a box of Kleenex tissues at hand for when they did. They then made footage into an advert, and here’s a link incase you don’t know what I’m talking about, but my guess is that you do.
I remember the first time I saw it, immediately thinking how brilliant it was. Even just watching was an experience. It was real, it was touching and it made people feel a human relationship with the brand. It was iconic, it was memorable, and it was all of these things to such an extent that it came through strongly enough in the secondary representation to make me feel the experience myself. The fact that I can still recall it now is perhaps the strongest testament to its efficacy. I even remember the song (if you’re curious it was Let It Out by Starrfadu) and everytime I hear it, I think of Kleenex.
Some more recent examples come from Coca Cola, who seem to create a new experience advert for their YouTube viewers every other week. I’ve included links to three examples of their work, all of which make great use of our human propensity to interact.
Finally, I wanted to share a video I came across a while ago of an experience created by the guys at SoulPancake. This isn’t actually marketing a product or brand, but it is creating interaction, prompting strangers to connect with one another, to make friends, and to “talk about life’s big questions” in a fun and innovative way. And again, it’s something that made a lasting impact on me.
So why is experience advertising so effective? Why has something I saw 6 years ago stayed with me so vividly? To answer this I return to my example of human bonding and relationships. If someone tries to forge a connection with you, the predisposition to reciprocate is part of human nature. You don’t take note of all the strangers that pass you in the street, but if one stopped to wave, chances are you’d wave back. And as with the Coca Cola example, if they smile and brighten your day with a gift, not only will you notice, you’ll also remember. Creating experiences between brands and people builds a relationship that’s memorable, and this is something that far outreaches the ephemerality of a traditional advert. Experiences are “purple”. Experiences are everything.