How to Launch an Effective Brand Activation Campaign (+6 Examples)
Posted by Ernest Bogore on November 11, 2021
Have you ever wondered how to introduce your brand to the market in a way that nestles you firmly in the mind of potential consumers forever? Or maybe you've been trying to figure out how to generate some extra hype to grow your brand? Either way, what you need to achieve either of these outcomes is a good brand activation.
But for many companies launching a good brand activation campaign does not come as easy. Especially given the avalanche of advertisements that flood the internet on a daily basis, it's becoming harder and harder to get noticed in the ruckus. This is why you need an effective brand activation strategy that's proven successful.
A quick sneak peek: The strategies presented below have been proven successful even with big brands like Nike, Pepsi, and Heineken.
By the end of this article, you'll learn what effective brand activation is and, more importantly, you'll know what the different elements of brand activation are and be able to run your own successful campaign.
Now, let’s get started.
Table of contents
What is brand activation?
If after you read the phrase "brand activation" you thought it was simply yet another superficial buzzword created by marketers to confuse people, then you're not alone. When I first came across the phrase, I thought so too.
But, in a practical way, what is brand activation?
Picture this. You have a company that sells products for teenagers and you've just launched your product in New York, but no teenagers in the city know about your company.
This means that your brand is 'inactive' and needs to be activated. Unsurprisingly, this is where brand activation comes in.
Keep in mind however that brand activation isn't just for new brands but is also something established brands should, and do, take advantage of as a method of engaging with their target audience in a way that builds a lasting connection between the two parties and elevates the brand as a whole. According to HubSpot, brand activations are typically singular events or campaigns that shouldn't be confused with your ongoing brand strategy.
Types of brand activations
Although brand activation seems complex, it should not be difficult to implement. In fact, marketers have a wide variety of options available to them.
Here are some brand activation types that you can choose from.
For decades, experiential marketing–also known as either engagement marketing or participation marketing–has been the black sheep of the marketing world and has only received recognition recently with the advent of the “Age of the Customer.”
Experiential marketing is one of the activation tactics brands use to create an authentic and immersive experience for their audience. Unlike other types of marketing, experiential marketing does not exclusively highlight a brand’s product but instead highlights the experience it wants customers to have.
To give you a tangible definition, experiential marketing is what makes you choose to go to a live concert even though you can listen to it or watch it from home. It’s what drives you to watch a sports game in the stadium instead of streaming it.
Experiential marketing is bound to these three dynamics:
- Know your customer: This principle allows you to be aware of what your target audience craves. More importantly, it gives a heads-up on which campaigns will work and which will not.
- Know your brand: Figuring out your brand’s core values and philosophy helps you avoid deadly mistakes such as getting the messaging wrong or targeting the wrong audience. It is what helps brands such as Apple and Nike rock their marketing campaigns.
- Bridge a mutually beneficial point of contact: This is where you take actions that benefit your customers and your brand. It is the crossroads where neither your brand nor your customers are compromised.
While implementing experiential marketing might seem daunting, it’s necessary for any brand willing to have an everlasting good impression on people–which is a great advantage in an era when the average attention span is only eight seconds.
It’s always better to learn from stories, so here goes one.
In 2008, Fabriko, an eco-friendly clothing brand, wanted to expand its products to more retailers. At the time, terms such as “sustainability” and “green” weren’t as mainstream as they’re today–making it hard for Fabriko to make a name for itself.
Their marketing team then decided to target only sustainability-minded people who are less likely to purchase products with too much disposable packaging because that would be a source of litter and waste. Fabriko also offered retailers the possibility of shipping their products in a tote bag likely to be turned into a lightweight bag for everyday use.
Consumers and retailers acknowledged this strategy as Fabriko’s creativity and commitment to sustainability. As a result, Fabriko received more than 30 requests from retailers.
In marketing jargon, the strategy Fabriko has used is called promotional marketing.
Promotional marketing is a brand activation technique designed to spread knowledge about a brand’s products or services with the goal of raising awareness, building a customer base, and ultimately, increasing sales and brand loyalty. It is an integral part of the “marketing mix,” which is a set of tactics companies use to market a product.
As such, all marketing activities that imply interacting with prospects and customers to communicate your product’s benefits or features are promotional marketing.
Some types of promotional marketing involve advertising, direct marketing, video marketing, personal selling, public relations, and sales promotions.
At a time when brands have no choice but to run their activation campaigns online, digital marketing is a strategy any company that is serious about marketing should not overlook.
Digital marketing allows brands to rock their activation campaigns by interacting with audiences beyond the physical world.
Proof of digital marketing’s effectiveness is that consumers strongly lean on digital means to research and purchase products. For instance, a Google study found that 48 percent of consumers begin their inquiries on search engines, while only 33 percent prefer to visit brand websites according to the same study.
A great example of a brand that employs digital marketing to foster its activation campaign is Lego. It’s no secret that their product makes it easy for them to create jaw-dropping campaigns. Consider their “Rebuild the World” campaign in 2019, their first global brand campaign in 30 years.
In that new campaign, Lego wanted to address issues that were bigger than the toy industry, saying they “have proven themselves in the toy industry and now it’s about more than toys.” The Rebuild the World campaign featured the topic of climate change and aimed to inspire the future generation to take a closer look at critical social issues.
Today, the video has amassed a staggering 11 million views on YouTube, helped shape their brand’s story, and provided people with something to remember.
Sampling campaigns are unarguably one of the most effective and tried forms of brand activation. This type of brand activation appeals to the experiential side of marketing to make people test a product for free, expecting that they’d like it and ultimately want to spend money on it.
In fact, offering free samples of your new product can be an excellent way to get people to notice your brand. But it has to be done in a timely yet creative manner for it to be effective. What’s more, to foster the best results possible, you have to choose the environment (AKA where you’re making people try your product) wisely.
Think of all the times you've tried to shake off an overenthusiastic salesperson trying to force a free energy drink or snack on you. Almost everyone would agree that this is not a pleasant experience, and it prompts you to blacklist the brand in question.
So rather than approaching strangers who are unlikely to be interested in your products, try to define your ideal customer profile and approach them in the proper settings, choosing your environment wisely.
While sample marketing can be overwhelming when done offline, the internet makes it easier to set an online campaign and make it successful. For instance, you can map out a list of customer addresses and ship a surprise sample of your product right to their doorstep.
Then include a message asking them to share a picture of the free sample and their overall experience on social media. Now, if your brand only sells intangible products such as software, you can send your list an email offering a free trial of your product.
Unarguably, the term “guerrilla,” in itself, sounds very strong and intense–instilling an image of resistance and conflict. Now, put it next to “marketing,” and it makes a bunch of people go, “Huh?”
In fact, guerrilla marketing is an unconventional marketing tactic that companies focus on to trigger maximum results. Unlike traditional marketing tactics, it relies on low-cost fees, personal interaction, and doubles down on smaller segments of promoters whose job is to spread the word out in a specific location.
Here are the types of guerrilla marketing:
- Indoor guerrilla marketing: This adds something to pre-existing urban infrastructures, such as placing a removable object on indoor locations or placing temporary art on shops, university campus buildings, and train stations.
- Outdoor guerrilla marketing: Quite similar to indoor guerrilla marketing, but it is only applied to outdoor urban environments such as sidewalks, statues, and streets.
- Event ambush guerrilla marketing: This type of marketing leverages the audience of an ongoing event to market a product in a noticeable manner–sometimes without the authorization of the event sponsors.
How to create a strong brand activation campaign?
Now that you are immersed in the types of brand activations, you will want to run a brand activation campaign. Here are the steps to a successful campaign.
Set a clear goal
To have more clarity on your campaign, it is essential to set some goals.
Ask yourself, what is it you want to achieve in the next four weeks? Do you want to increase your sales by 12%? Do you want your new product to be widely known? How will you measure success?
Whatever you are trying to accomplish with the activation campaign, you need to list it as a goal. When setting these goals, make sure you make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely). It allows you to track your progress and adjust where you have fallen short.
Define a budget
Basically, you don't need a huge budget to create a killer brand activation campaign. You just need money to (assign staff to) analyze and measure the effectiveness of the campaign. But still, you need to allocate a budget for this type of program in your marketing budget. That way, you don't run the campaign with little to no money. And in case you’re outsourcing your marketing, your vendors wouldn’t have to wait when they send you an online invoice.
Understand and appeal to your audience
As seen above, every activation campaign revolves around the customer and a given target audience. It goes without saying that any brand activation campaign that does not have a clearly defined target audience is doomed to failure.
For a successful campaign, you need to define a target audience and factor in their likes and dislikes in order to get their attention. If your brand is represented in several locations, keep in mind that campaigns can differ from one geographical point to another. For example, a campaign in Asia will differ from one in Latin America because the cultures and environments are different.
Create CTAs that will help you reach your goal
To achieve your goals, you need CTAs that call your audience to take a particular action. After all, your activation campaign will be useless if you don't ask the audience to do XYZ or ABC. Even if you are a trendy brand, don't assume that people know everything about you: guide them through the call to action.
By taking a look at your goals, you'll have an idea of how to direct your CTAs into alignment.
Use channels to deliver your marketing message
The last thing you need to do to tick all the boxes in the checklist is to promote your activation campaign so that it goes viral.
Basically, if you invest in 'shareable content,' just like IKEA or Lego, you will benefit a lot from word of mouth. But it is recommended to make posts on social networks and create special hashtags that facilitate sharing in our current omnichannel environment.
Do’s and don’ts of a strong brand activation campaign
Here are some tips to get the most out of your campaign as well as some pitfalls to avoid.
The global pandemic has pretty much changed the way marketing is done: physical events became complicated to host, consumers’ behaviors changed, etc. Hence, the number one thing you should do to make your activation campaigns successful is to rely on digital.
As such, you need a mix of the following: budget, market insight, consumer interest and desire, solid adaptable concepts, support materials, and eye-popping creatives. The success of a campaign depends on the right mix of elements. If you miss a single element, for example, if the creative is not captivating, if the audience is not the right one, if the campaign is not supported, or if the promotion does not get enough time in the market, your campaign risks falling short.
There really is a way to get brand activation right, and here are some tips for doing so:
- Create your brand activation campaign with your audience in mind. Remember, the campaign is geared toward them, not you.
- Make your branding stand out at events. Make it clear that your brand is the one putting the campaign on.
- Get people talking about your brand. Incentivize them to speak about share-worthy experiences they’ve had with your brand on social media.
- Be serious about distribution. Share the stories and results that your campaign has spurred so far.
Here are the mistakes that could have a bad impact on your campaign activation. Try not to make them.
- Don’t run the same campaign for long. Almost like everything else, marketing campaigns do have a shelf-life. Most successful campaigns are a flash in the pan, and it’s important to stop running them before your audience gets tired of it.
- Don’t assume people know your brand. Plug your branding into every campaign, almost as if you’re starting.
Don’t overlook your market research. Aligning your market research with your brand activation campaigns makes it possible to appeal to the emotions of your most loyal customers.
- Don’t forget to keep track of your campaign results.
6 brand activation examples to take inspiration from
1. Nike: #PlayInside
As the coronavirus hit the world, people found themselves condemned to stay indoors. Nike, always on a mission to help people stay fit, wanted their customers to be able to maintain their morale and fitness. As such, the apparel giant made subscriptions free for its club training–leaving fans with access to a bunch of premium training, fitness, and health content.
Nike has gone further in the campaign by keeping their brand messaging–which is “stay healthy during the pandemic”–the same across all the different platforms they’re present in. As a result of this broad strategy, Nike kept benefiting from its customers’ loyalty and was able to break through the dwindling sales caused by the virus.
Takeaway: Make your brand messaging clear and straight to the point, regardless of the channels you’re using. That makes it easier for your audience to relate to your brand. It also increases brand loyalty as you reiterate your mission through clear messaging.
2. Mountain Dew: #ClaimTheOutdoors
Even as the coronavirus pandemic forced them to stay indoors, more than 43 percent of Americans will increase participation in outdoor activities. In a parallel study, Pepsi discovered that its core audience wanted to practice outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, motorsports, and biking. That influenced Pepsi-owned carbonated drink brand Mountain Dew to run a UGC campaign to encourage people to reclaim the outdoors. The challenge was simple; send in photos and clips of yourself depicting how you’re claiming the outdoors.
To keep track of everything, Mountain Dew asked consumers to complete a form at DewClaimTheOutdoors.com and then use the #ClaimtheOutdoors hashtag while posting content on social media.
The campaign went viral, mainly because Pepsi incentivized their audience to participate–offering a brand new 2021 Ford Bronco, tickets to a private race against pro driver Chase Elliott, an exclusive Grand Canyon hiking experience for two, and a fishing excursion alongside professional bass angler Gerald Swindle.
“By creating incredible incentives based on our consumer behaviors, we're touching right to their passion points to celebrate a fun, exciting, and safe way to return to the outdoor experiences we value most,” said Chauncey Hamlett, who is VP of Marketing for PepsiCo Beverages North America.
This Mountain Dew brand activation campaign also worked because the brand always aligns its activation efforts with its core product: energy drinks. What could be better than an energy drink brand that pushes consumers to practice high-energy action sports?
Takeaway: Mind your audience in every marketing action you take. Identify evolving trends and behaviors of your core audience and entertain them with content that goes with it.
3. Stella Artois: "You're Never Too Far From the Life Artois"
Famous beer brand Stella Artois has a history of doubling down on human connections in its marketing efforts. This campaign is no different. "You're Never Too Far From the Life Artois" is a theme that inspires consumers to stay positive and daydream their way into a happy state of being while enjoying their homebound pandemic lives.
To encourage consumers to enjoy “The Life Artois,” the beer brand teamed up with Tripadvisor to reimagine and transform coronavirus-forced canceled vacations into breath-taking staycations. To enter the challenge, consumers were asked to log in to Tripadvisor and share their stories in the "Stella Staycation Swap."
Then Stella Artois together with Tripadvisor paired two travelers who had planned to take a trip to each other’s states to swap itineraries–offering them an all-paid staycation in their partner’s town to explore local restaurants and rooftops. On top of that, the Anheuser-Busch beer brand offered a stay at the exclusive Hotel Artois.
The campaign, which launched with a daydream music video theme featuring Eva Longoria, Liev Schreiber, and Blake Griffin, was a huge success, and the hashtag #HotelHartois gained popularity on Twitter thanks to mini-influencers.
Takeaway: Tap into your customers’ emotions by offering them what they want. Use humor, music, or even pop culture to appeal to their human side. Also, count on influencers–whether micro or macro–to boost your campaigns’ reach.
4. Heineken: The Kick-Off
Heineken, the official partner of the UEFA Champions League for almost 30 years, in partnership with globally known music institution, Defected Records, wanted to give soccer fans a bit of fun before the internationally-renowned sport event resumed. As such, the beverage brand hosted a virtual concert called “The Kick-Off.”
The live stream event was meant to bring soccer fans around the world together through an 8-hour concert featuring 8 well-known DJs across 8 different locations. The all-star line-up made up of Bob Sinclar, Idris Elba, Low Steppa, Aline Rocha, etc., made the event second to none.
Couple that with the flash appearances of football legends Thierry Henry and Andrea Pirlo and imagine football fans’ excitement.
The virtual event counted millions of views, with Idris Elba’s sole performance accumulating a whopping 2+ million views–giving Defected Records access to a broader audience.
Takeaway: Brand partnership is an underrated marketing technique. Make sure you partner with brands that will open doors to a larger market.
5. Apple: “Behind the Mac” (International Women’s Day edition)
On a mission to encourage gender equality and creativity, Apple released on March 8, 2020, a new Behind the Mac video campaign featuring successful women using a MacBook. In the video, you can see the likes of Beyonce, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, and many more.
The campaign was amplified through local content and localized featuring more micro-influencers. Talking of the campaign, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said they wanted to teach girls they can be anything they want without being “too much” for men.
Throughout the campaign, Apple reinforced its position of wanting to help women change narratives by being more creative (i.e. using Apple's products.) This campaign could not have come at a better time, as consumers are taking the social justice debate very seriously.
In fact, 7 out of 10 Gen Z want brands they support to actively engage in conversations about social justice issues. Hence, a whopping 56 percent go further to dub companies that do not talk about social justice issues in their marketing as “out of touch.”
Takeaway: Use your influence and platform to stand for a good cause. It’s no longer OK to stay silent and indifferent. Make it clear to your audience what you stand for.
6. Gatorade: I Can Do Anything
Anything a man does, a woman can do; anything Usain Bolt does, Abby Wambach can do. That’s the theme of the Gatorade campaign that is a ‘remix’ of the legendary 1997 spot, 'Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,' originally featuring Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm. In the replay, you can see Usain Bolt and Abby Wambach challenge each other to perform the same activities.
As the revamped version of the song “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” plays, you can see Michael Jordan pop up on a golf course, challenging Mia Hamm to go for a putt, saying, “No, you can’t.” Hamm rebuts, saying, “Yes, I can.”
Talking of the campaign, Wambach told PEOPLE, " it was the first time I had ever seen in my life a woman being seen in the same vein as a man. And I think that for me, permitted to believe that I deserved the same thing as men deserved."
Two days after launching the campaign, the video had more than 160,000 views on YouTube alone.
Takeaway: Good activation campaigns remain unforgettable. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, just make a throwback campaign to appeal to the emotions of your most loyal customers.
That's it. If you've made it this far, you're definitely in a good place to start. Whether your brand is releasing a new product line or wants to increase its awareness, your ultimate goal should be to get your brand or product in the most relevant places and in front of the most relevant audience.
In order to bring your brand activation strategy to life as effectively as possible, chances are you're going to need content that can be displayed across multiple platforms and devices with a little overhead as possible, something headless cms like ButterCMS excels at regardless of your dev team's current tech stack.
So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and grow with your new brand activation campaign!
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Ernest is the founder of Nerdy Joe, an email and content marketing agency for SaaS businesses. He has worked with brands like Hunter.io, ButterCMS, Vidico, Appsumo, etc.