Incorporating Experiential Advertising Into Your Digital Paid Strategy

The big questions in advertising have always been, “how do we break through the noise?” “How do we stand out against our competitors?” In the days of traditional advertising, it wasn’t as hard to cut through the noise because there just wasn’t as much noise out there. Advertising avenues were limited and costly, eliminating potential smaller advertisers from participating. Since the creation of computers, smart phones, podcasts & streaming media, as well as just the internet in general, the advertising landscape is long, winding & more complex than ever. Couple that with the amount of advertising available and the vast differences in pricing opening up the possibility of marketing and advertising to a diverse array of businesses and we are looking at one crowded and noisy marketing landscape. 

It is not my intention to sound disheartening. Where the landscape is more crowded and complex than ever, the tools we have on hand as marketers are smarter and more helpful than ever. 70 years ago a small, regionally-specific focus group could inform a million dollar media buy. The opinions of the few dictated major marketing decisions limiting campaigns to a lot of educated guesses, not to mention eliminating much needed diversity. If the advertising campaigns were well-received then products sold. Simple as that. 

The introduction of social media & the internet quickly swept advertising into a new realm of possible creativity and growing diversity of ideas and expression. Rather than a small focus group informing a campaign, there were real-time audiences of viewers sharing their feedback. Less-expensive creative ideas passed through due to pure popularity. I’m sure we all remember the dancing baby of the 90s? This small concept originating from a collection of experimental testing data and files eventually found itself into mainstream media as a recognizable symbol, with its popularity then wielded by a myriad of advertisers. It was a concept that likely would have never left the cutting-room floor had it been introduced in any other time period. It is almost as if there was a dead period in advertising where messages were forced down the throat of the consumers. A period where a small amount of people decided what was “good” for the large majority. By putting the power into the hands of the people, advertisers began to be able to create campaigns more connected to the public, and the diversity in messaging opened up the world to a more diverse array of advertisers and business offerings. Advertisers used to tell people what they needed to have to make their lives better, now people tell the advertisers their needs and wait for them to be fulfilled. Anyone who has straddled the fjord of traditional and digital advertising can see the power in both situations, which leads me to the utility of experiential marketing. 

Experiential marketing is just what it seems to be…it is an experience. Where the assumption is that in order to be “experiential marketing,” it must be an in-person experience, we have found that is not necessarily the case. In fact, to ignore the other potential utilizations of experiential marketing is to ignore one of the most useful tools on your toolbelt. 

Let’s dive in a bit further. The most vastly-understood form of experiential marketing is commonly events. That being said, an event is not required in order to classify a campaign as “experiential.” The true definition lies in interaction with a brand, whether this be an event, a conversation on social media, or an interaction with an ad in real time, these are all powerful experiential marketing possibilities. So, what’s the point? Why get customers to interact with us in real time when we could just, like the “old days,” tell them what they needed to make their lives better? This is where we see the power of experiential marketing truly displayed. 

Advertisers used to spend hours pontificating the needs of their potential consumers. I, myself, remember pouring over Nielsen & Rentrak media reports trying to surmise the needs and habits of my consumers. Do more cat owners watch ‘Jeopardy’ and more dog owners watch Wheel of Fortune? Beer commercials are perfect for NFL games, but is there an audience that might be more partial to a wine ad? It was a never-ending series of questions with a never ending series of tools allowing for educational guesses. Experiential marketing, when done correctly, has the potential to remove the guesswork and infuse campaigns with informed decisions. 

Over the years, advertisers have begun to experiment with real-time consumer interactions. The introduction of hashtags into advertising allowed consumers to start a real-time conversation about the ads they just saw. No longer reduced to a small dinner party’s “word-of-mouth,” conversations could extend outside of small, physical neighborhoods into the vast public of the internet. Are there still restrictions in diversity? Of course. The landscape is by no means all-inclusive. Participation is limited to those who have this technology available to them. However, I am not here to argue socio-economic points, I’m here only to show the opportunity for advertisers  as this landscape continues to grow and evolve. 

Hashtags were an early utilization of this new interaction between potential consumers and brands. Brands were able to put their message out into the world and then sit as flies on the wall, and watch the reaction of the public. This expedited the process of informed advertising. The so-called “focus group” just expanded, diversified, and provided feedback in real-time rather than months down the road when the quarterly reports came in.  

Around the same time we started seeing advertisers have the option of allowing viewers “choose their own adventure.” Have you ever been streaming something online and had the preroll ask you which advertising experience you prefer? This seemingly-innocuous question is an absolutely brilliant advertising strategy. The hours I spent pouring over Nielsen and Rentrak reports, making educated guesses on the needs of the consumers, could have been fixed with one single experiential ad. Let me give you an example: Purina recently introduced a campaign delivered through HULU where the viewer is able to “choose your advertising experience.” The two options available to them are one for a cat and one for a dog. 


Not only are they able to develop and deliver the most-effective ad for their audience, they are also able to gather information on the percentage of viewers of that program that are cat owners vs. dog owners. It removes the questioning and provides informed information for future campaigns. Additionally, it engages the user. Working in television and radio, I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve had clients ask me how I know that the viewer sat through the commercial break, or didn’t change the channel. Did they get up and make popcorn? Make a quick phone call to discuss the pivotal moment they just experienced in their favorite show? The fact of the matter is, we didn’t know. We couldn’t know. Asking a viewer to “choose their experience” automatically engages them with the content, allows them to be active in the decision of what they consume, and provides invaluable information to the advertiser in question. 

These benefits continue to extend to both the consumer and the advertiser over time thanks to cookies, user behavior tracking, and interest/behavior targeting. By choosing either “cat” or “dog,” the consumer was able to gain more control of their advertising experience in the moment, but they also provided information that can help inform the advertising they are exposed to in the future. There is now an update to their ad targeting letting advertisers and advertising platforms know that one is more relevant and interesting to this consumer than the other. Slowly this crowded ad space is able to cut through the noise a little better by increasing the relevancy of the ads for the individual.

Another benefit of asking for an interaction with the ad is the fact that interactions, though measured at different importance levels, can help inform the advertising platform of the ad “quality.” Ads that receive more positive interaction are seen to be higher-quality and better for the consumer. Ads that are higher quality tend to see a decrease in delivery cost, and increase in overall delivery.  Additionally, more interactions help to get ads out of the pesky “learning phase” far quicker helping to expedite results and boost the overall health of any campaign.

Where these tactics are a far cry from what most know as “experiential marketing,” seeing the overlap rather than distinctly delineating “experiential marketing” and “interactive marketing” will open up more opportunities for your team to get truly creative and innovative with their marketing tactics. Innovation lies in creativity and creativity is paramount in the ability to create campaigns that cut through the noise of other advertising and truly connect with consumers while starting conversations.  

These tactics can be utilized on smaller levels to enhance even the most limited budgets. Any good advertiser knows that they should be A/B testing their campaigns as much as possible. Platforms like Facebook make it extremely easy and affordable to run such tests. At the heart of every test is really interaction and the advertisers who know this are the ones successfully running tests with long-lasting impact. For instance, you can run two different ads simultaneously to the same audience for as little as $1 per day, per ad. Most advertisers will run this test, allow Facebook to tell them which was interacted with most, and therefore which was “most effective.” This is a top-level conclusion. In most cases, general interaction is deemed as a KPI for success of an ad. The type of interaction is given some sort of quality score, but even that is top level. For instance, a comment could be considered a high-level, positive interaction. But, what if that comment was negative or destructive and now your ad is being delivered at a great rate because this interaction was deemed as “quality,” but everyone seeing the ad had that blaring negative comment staring at them? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen something like this happen, derailing an entire campaign.

Instead of looking at “interaction” as the end-all-and-be-all of success, we should be diving deeper into that reaching for meaningful interaction that both informs our campaigns as well as helps the consumer to provide the most accurate, applicable data to the the platforms so that their experience is more fine-tuned to their needs and preferences.  Where an ad on Facebook doesn’t allow for such control as the “choose your own adventure” ads we see on many streaming services, it can be utilized in a similar fashion. With Facebook, you can create a gallery ad, and choose the option to show the “top performing card” first. After even just one week running at a budget of 1-$5 a day, you will have a much better idea of what your audience is looking for. Let’s go back to the example of the cats vs. dogs. Have one image be that of an adorable cat, and one of an adorable dog. Within one week you will be able to determine which animal is preferred within that audience. From there you will be able to understand that one will produce more honest, meaningful and applicable interactions.You can then take this information to improve the experience for your audience as well as increase the quality of this experience. This doesn’t just apply to your own advertising, it is also an excellent technique to understand your organic following as well. I garners good feelings for your brand, puts power into the hands of the consumers, but also gives you invaluable insight into their wants and needs.

Advertisers have always held tremendous power over consumers, but where they failed in the past was telling people what they wanted, rather than listening to their needs. Listening opens up doors to realize needs that may not be met yet which opens up opportunities for more business offerings. It helps to improve the experience consumers have with advertising and can help optimize your audience to the cream of the crop people who do truly need your products and services, and will positively be affected by their presence in their lives. The best way to do this is to stop thinking of your advertising as a message you have to force down the throats of the consumer and rather as a positive experience that will enhance their lives.