Coming up with a great concept is vital to the effectiveness of an experiential campaign. Hayley James, Account Director at integrated agency Sense, sets out three key principles to follow.

How to judge an experiential idea


Coming up with a great concept is vital to the effectiveness of an experiential campaign. Hayley James, Account Director at integrated agency Sense, sets out three key principles to follow.

The same idea can be executed amazingly or poorly. It can seem authentic and original, or gauche and cheap. It can touch millions with clarity, or hundreds with confusion. Below are three key principles that mark out the very best experiential work. Each provides a gauge against which you can judge your creative ideas to assess their effectiveness.

Integrate with reality

Experiential is at its most effective when it interweaves with reality; when it solves a real problem, provides a real service, or similarly effects something else in the real world.

Often, however, experiential ideas restrict themselves to the four imaginary walls of a site space in much the same way a TV ad restricts itself to the four walls of a screen. They act out an idea superficially rather than really bringing it to life in a manner that matters.

So, when looking at an idea, always ask: “Is the concept communicated here really making an impact, or is it superficial and functional?”

We saw this being done successfully by Volkswagen’s Fun Theory campaign, which took the form of a far-reaching initiative aiming to get people to see the fun side of doing something responsible – like driving an electric car. Various experiments were devised to nudge people in a fun way to do “the right thing”. A notable example was The Speed Camera Lottery, which entered everyone who drove past a special speed camera under the limit, into a lottery to win a slice of the fines of those who didn’t.

Volkswagen realised its message would work beyond its key marketing aims, so found day-to-day issues where it could be applied. The brand could have simply provided a fictionalised demonstration of the same message, but this would have been neither as welcome or effective.

Don’t say, imply

Experiential actions can act much like body language for brands. We’re all familiar with the phrase “actions speak louder than words”, so we should be creating experiential ideas that speak volumes about brands without us having to labour the point.

This is the foundation of sustainable beliefs – beliefs that people have figured out for themselves, rather than been told.

Therefore, ask of your idea: “Would this work without us saying or writing anything and does the action automatically say what we want it to say?”

To make basketball star Derrick Rose an urban icon in London, Adidas promoted #jumpwithdrose through Hackney chicken shops and pirate radio stations in the lead up to opening a pop-up with a difference. Dozens of pairs of Rose’s signature shoes were laid out, free to take. The catch was they were on a shelf 10 feet off the ground, accessible only to the kids who’d shed the sweat to take the jump.

Adidas is a brand that thrives on authenticity, and from Rose to the chicken shop, this campaign was steeped in it, culminating in a powerful statement about the professional quality of the shoe by denying it to the people who couldn’t jump.

Use many types of reach

If your experiential action clearly ticks the amplification box, then that means it will work for people who just hear about it, as well as those who actually experience it.

This characteristic then gives you the potential to spread awareness of your idea through as many channels as you can, knowing that it will still be effective on that secondary audience.

By expanding reach this way, even small experiential ideas can compete with heavy-hitting above-the-line advertising.

A great test of this is: “Would this idea still be clear and impressive if I were to describe it in the space of a tweet?”

Soft drink brand Solo tackled its lack of awareness outside Norway by releasing a giant version of its bottle into the ocean and waiting for it to wash up somewhere in the world. Whoever found it would win a bottle of Solo for every nautical mile it travelled. In the meantime, you could follow the bottle on Twitter, and view shots beamed back by it three times a day. After 170 days at sea, it found its way to the island of Los Roques off Venezuela.

With the exception of a handful of Venezuelans, this experience was seen by, basically, no one. But its translation into social, video, PR, etc more than achieved Solo’s objectives. The action and the message were totally synonymous.

Hayley James is Account Director at award winning integrated agency Sense, which specialises in helping brands do exciting things in the real world to create authentic communications across the marketing spectrum. It manages campaigns from strategy to evaluation and has just published a new book on planning campaigns in the real world. The book, Real World Ideas: A Guide to Modern Experiential, can be downloaded for free from Sense’s website. 

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