Welcome to experiential's golden age
A view from Jonathan Emmins

Welcome to experiential's golden age

Once dismissed as above-the-line marketing's poor relation, the industry appears to be finding a renewed respect for experiential and agencies have been falling over themselves to get a slice of the brand-experience pie, says Amplify's founder.

Earlier in September, Accenture Interactive took time out of its spending spree to put a stake in the ground, saying it wants to be the world’s biggest ‘experience agency of record’. This follows last month’s Exterion news, when the agency announced it will sell experiential space in the same way as ATL media. Publishers are getting in on the act, with Hearst UK investing in a 30% expansion of its events team after recognising that consumers want to get involved with brands, rather than being interrupted by advertising.

44% of 18- to 25-year-olds think happiness equals success

And, of course, there was a significant move made by this fine magazine itself. When Campaign decided to kick off the mass post-holiday return-to-work with the launch of a dedicated brand experience channel, it was yet another sure sign that experiential had finally been given its rightful seat at the marketing table.

But why the sudden zeal for all things experiential? Why has it taken this long for industry insiders to wake up and smell the coffee by recognising that brand experiences go way beyond low-rent Nescafé sampling campaigns at the local supermarket? Why are people now starting to appreciate the strategic and creative smarts that go into today’s new breed of more effective and grown-up experiential marketing?

The answer is relatively simple: it’s all thanks to the ‘experience economy’.

This is already a buzz term in marketing circles. But, as so often happens with the latest sound bite, its meaning can get lost in a fug of industry hype. So let’s break it down.

The experience economy heralds a new era; one that is driven by the first people to grow up alongside smartphones and social media. This was the generation that realised the bragging rights from experiences gave them more precious social-media currency than the materialistic ownership that defined their parents.

If you need proof, just look at this new research showing how the City millennials of the Square Mile – once a byword for materialism – will put the experience of raising a family before their jobs. And our study Young Blood highlights this explicitly, finding that 44% of 18- to 25-year-olds think happiness equals success.

The experience economy heralds a new era; one that is driven by the first people to grow up alongside smartphones and social media

Now that this generation has come of age and is gaining spending power, forward-thinking marketers are realising they need to meet the demand for more physical and tactile experiences. Why else would online retail behemoths like Amazon and eBay – arguably the symbols of the digital economy – contradict their founding ethos by coming out of the internet ether to create bricks-and-mortar stores?

We are, in fact, experiencing a broad kickback to the physical. The dominance of Spotify and other music-streaming services have unwittingly driven the resurrection of vinyl. As the ubiquity of smartphones devalues photos with endless libraries of digital imagery, disposable cameras are making a comeback in attempt to create ‘real’ pictures again. And because LinkedIn invitations can swiftly turn into unwanted spam, London’s tech elite are leading the rebirth of physical business cards.

This need for the physical is often keenly felt by intangible digital businesses, those that lack corporeal products, and perhaps explains why these brands turn to agencies such as Amplify for help in creating something concrete. Google, for example, now hosts about 650 events a year in Europe alone. And to put a timely spin on things, this November we are helping Spotify host its 10,000+ grime gig, #WhoWeBe, at London’s Alexandra Palace.

When translated into a marketing context, the experience-economy-powered hunger for something more palpable explains marketers’ resurgent interest in experiential. Brands are beginning to realise they need to consider physical experiences if they want a relationship with tomorrow’s consumers. And agencies are beginning to realise this field of marketing deserves the same TLC once exclusively afforded to ATL.

Put these factors together and you’ll see that experiential is on the brink of its golden age. Bring it on.


Jonathan Emmins is founder of Amplify