Live experiences can be compelling and memorable, and they have the power to stimulate strong emotional connections. The implications for brands and licensed properties are huge because today’s consumers want to do more than purchase products and services. They want to have rich brand experiences that are transcendent rather than transactional; experiences that satisfy a hunger for deeper meaning.
Marketers get it, and they’re working to deliver. The question is: How to create experiences that are aligned with their brands while being meaningful to consumers at the same time? Many brand experiences, including live events, have yielded mixed results. Yet, according to a 2013 global study by Momentum Worldwide, creating the right kinds of live experiences pays huge dividends for brands. The study, dubbed “The Brand Experience Effect” compared 23 types of brand experiences. It revealed that compelling live experiences drive 65 percent of consumers to recommend a brand and 59 percent to buy it at retail afterward—more than any other kind of brand experience. Not only that, 93 percent of the study’s respondents said that they talk to others about live brand experiences; 63 percent of them talk to more than five people.¹ This is a marketer’s dream.
The power of live branded experiences is undeniable, but the pressure is on to create compelling content that merges real life with the virtual using consumers’ preferred digital platforms to excite their senses and form connections—and that begins with impactful visuals. When that is accomplished, the next challenge is to develop consumer products and packaging that will evoke and extend those live experiences in a meaningful manner.
Disney perfected the fusion of entertainment, interactivity and collectability over decades. The brand seamlessly leverages the “magic” of its major entertainment properties within its theme parks, movies, television, digital media and its retail stores with visually compelling content and rich experiences that captivate kids and adults alike. Its branded consumer products are well-conceived and beautifully packaged, making them irresistible to the fans of its many blockbuster properties. Entertainment brands such as Nickelodeon, Marvel Entertainment, DC Comics, Hasbro and LEGO—to name a few—have taken a page from Disney, working to make their brands come alive for their fans via traditional and digital media as well as licensed consumer packaged products. But as consumers become increasingly restless and demand more, the race is on to find new ways in which to engage them and turn them into lifelong fans.
Licensed product packaging can bring brands to life
Augmented reality (AR) has made a big splash lately thanks to Pokemon Go, yet some brand managers have been dabbling with this interactive technology to create compelling live experiences for a while now, giving us exciting glimpses into the future.
General Mills’ nutritional cereal, Wheaties, has been famous for decades for turning its packaging into billboards that honor celebrated athletes from Muhammed Ali to Stephen Curry. But General Mills harnessed AR technology in a terrific manner in 2013 to not only showcase the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, but to make the NFL superstar running back leap from the package. When consumers downloaded the Blippar app onto their phones and scanned the box, Peterson popped up on their screens. They then had two choices: to play a mobile football game in which they could assist Peterson by taking out defenders as he runs down the field to score a touchdown, or they could take their picture with him. The picture could then be shared via social media, email or saved on the fan’s phone. Many of Peterson’s fans played football with him or avidly shared their “selfies” with their friends.
Johnson & Johnson’s Band-Aid brand leveraged AR to soothe children whose cuts and scrapes had to be bandaged with a little help from the Muppets and other favorite friends. Thanks to the Band-Aid Magic Vision app, kids scanning the bandage with any mobile device get a delightful surprise. Muppet Kermit the Frog, for example, bursts out of the bandage to sing his famous “Rainbow Connection” to make any child forget about the pain and nastiness of the moment. Favorite characters are one thing, but bringing them to life using AR is brilliant.
Since the debut of this packaging in 2012, Band-Aid has upped the ante on interactivity. Recent packaging features Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who appear in stunning detail with any mobile device thanks to Johnson & Johnson’s app. Not only do they pop into view, but a variety of activities including Connect The Dots, Target Practice, Tile Flip Puzzles and Spin ‘N Say Boards appear as well. And there’s an “Extras” section on the app where users can scan individual bandages to unlock exclusive content. How cool and interactive is that for kids?
The pokemon go phenomenon
Pokemon successfully leveraged a trading card game into multimedia entertainment platforms and merchandising some time ago. It already had an international following, but with the emergence of the free Pokemon Go game app, a whole new level of engagement with an entertainment property has been reached. Fans are stepping into a Pokemon-created world with an incredible amount of enthusiasm and dedication to the game—happily chasing the elusive Pikachu and his pals all over town.
Pokemon Go has created a cultural phenomenon—demonstrating the power of live branded experiences. Until now, augmented reality has rarely been leveraged this effectively. So why is Pokemon Go different? People of all ages can play. The live experiences that it creates are highly personal because players search for PokeStops in their own towns and neighborhoods which appear on their own mobile devices. Lastly, the brand story and its fans’ storylines are becoming entwined and shared. Does this concept of personalized live experiences point to the future of gaming? Does Pokemon Go merge the physical world with the digital one in an exciting, seamless manner? Are these experiences easy to share via social media? I think that the answer is “yes” to all of these questions.
Pokemon Go fans are fanning out across communities all over the globe, which promises to bring them into retail stores searching for branded merchandise. But retailers shouldn’t passively wait for consumers to come to them. John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, the company that developed the game, told the New York Times that they will be adding sponsored locations very soon.² Retailers ought to leap at the opportunity to be “put on the map” to pull in foot traffic. If retailers and hot licensed consumer products can be seamlessly integrated into a game of this nature, rather than pop-up advertising which players view as disruptive, the concept has the power to transform marketing.
Retailers need to become more proactive and start thinking about how they too can promote interactivity. How can they cleverly merchandise Pokemon Go and other hot brands of consumer products and encourage fans to find them? And how can they reward the fans who purchase branded merchandise? There are opportunities for forward-thinking marketers who can quickly take advantage of not only the Pokemon Go craze but the technology that’s driving it.
Unsurprisingly, Pokemon Go has created a rush to purchase branded consumer products on the market, and according to USA Today,³ there is a plethora of new licensed products in development. It’s tantalizing to think about the manner in which AR might be added to packaging for these products to advance new storylines or aspects of the game. How can they leverage the social aspects of consumers or their hunger for live experiences as Wheaties and Johnson & Johnson have done? The key is to think of packaging as another form of media—to transform and elevate the manner in which brands connect with consumers.
Packaging as a form of media
Annheuser-Busch boldly shows us what “packaging as media” looks like with its unique Oculto beer brand. Oculto is described as “A bold lager blended with beer aged on Mexican tequila barrel staves. Infused with blue agave and lime to offer a fusion beer that is strong and bold, but also smooth.” The brand packaging is as unusual as the product, which is aimed at a young, social media savvy audience.
In a recent interview, senior Oculto brand manager Mallika Monteiro stated: “With the original Oculto packaging, we focused on creating a truly innovative bottle with a host of discoverable elements—everything from hidden messages on the back of the label to eyes that mysteriously appear when the bottle gets cold.”
Then the stakes were raised with limited edition packaging for a live event, dubbed “The Garden of Hedon,” in Miami in November 2015 and for select live events during 2016. Smart-label technology was developed in the form of LEDs powered by paper batteries to illuminate the bottle—a first for Annheuser-Busch—and a direct reference to the mystique of the brand. “Oculto’s unique positioning and social nature inspired both the illuminated bottle and the ‘Relics of the Night’ digital activation to further highlight the personality and social nature of the beer,” Monteiro says.
“Relics of the Night” is a geo-targeted web application, used in conjunction with live events by harnessing IoT (Internet of Things) technology via bottle scan. Participants can scan the Oculto mask on their bottle and upload their image to www.oculto.com/scan. Once uploaded, consumers are given a chance to spin the bottle and win prizes.
Imagine harnessing technologies like this on consumer product packaging in a manner that directly correlates to the unique attributes of specific brands and licensed properties—and the impact that will have on their fans.
The questions for brand owners going forward are: How can we fully bring fan-favorite properties to life using branded consumer product packaging as a form of media? And how can we create new ways in which to engage and delight consumers with live events and “live” packaging? We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities thanks to technology, but some daring brands and licensed properties have developed new concepts for us to follow—and to build upon using our own creativity. The possibilities are endless and only limited by how far our imaginations stretch.