Why are brands obsessed with activating at high footfall locations, asks Liz Richardson?
It’s 8am. You’re sprinting through Waterloo station in a desperate attempt to make up the time that the late train has robbed from you. The station is swarming with grumpy people in a similar predicament, all on a mission to get where they need to be without further delay. Then, in the distance, you see a well-known sweet brand handing out free samples. On the other side, a food brand is offering you a chance to sample its wonderful products through a free cooking lesson. Do you stop at either? Of course you don’t. It’s 8am at a crowded location. You don’t have time to engage in a spontaneous cooking lesson without warning, and the last thing that’s going to help you when you’re late in the morning is a packet of sugar rush. As a regular Waterloo commuter, I see misjudged activations like this all the time. The fundamental idea behind the campaigns might be good, but the execution is poor. Whenever I see them, and as someone who develops experiences for a living, I can’t help from asking myself; ‘why are so many brands obsessed with activating at high footfall locations?’
The false promise of the high footfall locations
The answer, of course, is obvious. Experiential marketing (e.g. sampling campaigns and experiences curated by brands) is an incredibly effective method of driving brand and product reappraisal; however, it is infamously difficult to measure. At a time of tightening budgets and Brexit uncertainty, brands are more cautious with their marketing spend than ever. As a result they activate in a way they believe ensures a guaranteed return on investment. They can be misguidedly lured by high-footfall times and locations, because they think the more people their brand can come into contact with, the more value the activation will deliver. And the result is brands heading en masse for rush hour at Waterloo, or Piccadilly at Christmas. Yes, you may reach more people, and this may help brands massage their reach stats for the case study. But, how many people are actually paying attention? Moreover, how many meaningful interactions are you building with consumers?
Own the space, don’t get lost in the noise
A brand should always seek to own a space. It’s about understanding who exactly you want to target and pin-pointing where you are likely to find those individuals, at a moment in their day when they have time to stop and listen. Smaller, and in some cases, more niche locations and events, can be a better option. For instance, earlier this year, Swedish oat drink company Oatly activated a straight-talking ‘ditch milk’ campaign at the London Coffee festival. The brand owned the (relatively niche) event by investing £250k in a targeted OOH spend. On the other side of the coin, we recently worked with Oreo to transform the mundane experience of commuting with giant, magical slides at commuter locations – something which sped up commuters’ journeys, but in a way that fired up their childhood sense of wonder. It’s an example of the sort of activation you need to deliver, if you want to stand out and offer value in high-footfall locations. Activations like these show how targeted experiential can deliver the highest rewards. Through our work for brands throughout the FMCG space, we’ve seen first-hand how experiential activations like these also generate far more of a buzz through social channels – ensuring your activation will not live and die on the day it’s delivered. Ultimately, unless your brand has the presence, or the budget, to stand out in crowded spaces, it may be better to avoid them. Because, if your experience doesn’t change a person’s behaviour and inspire them to revisit your brand, there’s no point doing it in the first place.
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Liz is Managing Partner at behavioural communications agency HeyHuman. She’s spent two decades working at some of London’s top integrated agencies. For more information, visit: https://heyhuman.com