Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Lost on the activation highway

Published May 09, 2018 06:41pm
Social media has provided activation a new lease of life. So why are activation agencies not taking advantage?
Earlier this year, Dawlance, through their activation agency, Bulls Eye DDB, organised an event in Lahore to promote their multi-purpose stoves and ovens. Founded by Shoaib Qureshy, Bulls Eye DDB was Pakistan’s first specialist activation agency. Since activation events create more opportunities for personalised interactions and engagement with their target audience, an increasing number of brands have upped their marketing budgets for activation. According to the <em>Aurora Fact File, in the FY 2016-17</em>, ad spend on activation increased by 25%. (photo: Syed Murtaza Ali/ Dawn White Star)
Earlier this year, Dawlance, through their activation agency, Bulls Eye DDB, organised an event in Lahore to promote their multi-purpose stoves and ovens. Founded by Shoaib Qureshy, Bulls Eye DDB was Pakistan’s first specialist activation agency. Since activation events create more opportunities for personalised interactions and engagement with their target audience, an increasing number of brands have upped their marketing budgets for activation. According to the Aurora Fact File, in the FY 2016-17, ad spend on activation increased by 25%. (photo: Syed Murtaza Ali/ Dawn White Star)

Somewhere along the line, activation practitioners in Pakistan have lost their way. After the gloss of this ‘new and exciting’ marketing medium wore off, brands realised that they had to justify their spend on activation compared to their spend on ATL. This realisation brought into question the infamous ‘cost per contact’ metric that drives the activation landscape today.

Agencies responded by designing marketing activities, optimised to deliver the biggest bang for their buck in terms of cost per contacts. In all this hoopla, we collectively managed to critically wound, if not kill, the ‘experience’ part of experiential marketing. Walk into any decent grocery store today and you will see this in action. In every aisle, there is a brand ambassador waiting to tell you about this and sell you that. In-store sales promotion is the official term of such activations, although ‘physical person-to-person spam’ would be more appropriate. The crème de la crème of activation channels, the mall, also saw a sharp decline in the engagement factor and potential ‘contacts’ had to be lured in with prizes and other incentives.


A powerful example of this was recently executed by Olper’s. Rallying around their campaign concept that memories are made around the dinner table, they surprised couples dining in a restaurant by footing their bill.


Most consumers, including myself, started avoiding activation campaigns like the plague. At the same time, social media took off and by 2014, most brands had become increasingly confident with the medium. They had gathered a sizable number of likes on their pages and needed content. This paved the way for a new addition to the activation brief; the social media angle. Today, almost all clients want a social media element to their activation.

The evolution social+activation campaign

The social and experiential relationship has grown over the years in a number of ways. The first was simple captive integration. The idea is to create an activity that allows people to connect to their social media accounts and post stuff (ideally branded) about the activity and their part in it. The problem with this approach is that it is restrictive, even with the help of customised software that can make the posting process smoother. In simple terms, participation is low because no matter how engaging the content is, it is a chore to post from a system you are not familiar with. For privacy nuts, it is an even bigger source of concern to enter sensitive login details from an untrustworthy location.


With a massive 140 million mobile phone userbase and a strong data liberation movement from our telecommunication operators, conditions are perfect for brands and agencies to move towards better integrated experiential campaigns.


The second phase came with the advent of 3G and 4G technology. Now, people could do more than just check-in from their phones. This independence of social posting became a huge opportunity for the activation industry. The formula for most activations was accordingly adjusted; custodians realised that if the activations were engaging, people would post about them, enabling a ‘multiplier effect’ online. The cost per contact was now being addressed by an online footprint as well, thereby unshackling it from strict activation targets. This helped brands refocus on creating a richer experience, even if it came at a higher cost and paved the way for visually engaging activations that encouraged people to whip out their phones, take a picture and post it.

The third stage came in the form of social-maximised campaigns. This is where an activity is executed on-ground with the sole purpose of acquiring word-of-mouth on social platforms. The idea is a limited experiential marketing campaign that targets only a handful of people on-ground, but is then fed online and spread from influencer to influencer. This sort of experiential marketing is the rage internationally, but has only been exhibited a few times in Pakistan so far. A powerful example of this was recently executed by Olper’s. Rallying around their campaign concept that memories are made around the dinner table, they surprised couples dining in a restaurant by footing their bill.

Video content was created around their surprised expressions of joy, showcasing a range of emotions and even tiny interviews. The video was released on their social media properties. Although the number of contacts for the activity was minimal, the seeding of this on-ground campaign, along with its feel-good factor helped it spread fast and wide online.


"The trust deficit between agencies working on different aspects of the campaign needs to be addressed and multiple partners need to work in tandem, not in silos."


A future with better experiences

As SoLoMo (Social Local Mobile) gains traction throughout the world, Pakistan is still playing catch-up. With a massive 140 million mobile phone userbase and a strong data liberation movement from our telecommunication operators, conditions are perfect for brands and agencies to move towards better integrated experiential campaigns that seamlessly harness the power of social.

An obstacle standing in the way is institutionalised thinking and a strong affection for the status quo. We need to take greater risks and encourage social to be a frontrunner instead of an add-on. The other big hurdle is disconnected campaign planning. The trust deficit between agencies working on different aspects of the campaign needs to be addressed and multiple partners need to work in tandem, not in silos.

The experiential marketing industry must quickly shape up and provide a pivotal and supportive role in this transformation. If we stay silent and limited to doing just ‘our bit’, we will become the ‘necessary nuisance’ that ATL has become and be chucked out in favour of a better online experience. 

Article excerpted from ‘Activation agencies need to come up to speed or be left behind’, published in the July-August 2015 edition of Aurora.

Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari. umair@ishtehari.com

First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.