Experiential Essays: Ear to the Ground - Where the action is

The unbeatable live experience can now reach a wider consumer audience when brands capture the event and distribute it via traditional media or social networking.

From an epic tune at a packed warehouse party to a winning goal in the last minute of extra time, the overwhelming power of live experience is intoxicating. It's all about being there. For the past decade, I've run an agency creating events that connect those unique, intense, exciting moments with dynamic brands. Three years ago, however, I realised we weren't actually creating experiential events. We were making 'live ads'.

The ad men of Soho and Shoreditch still define most experiential work. Concepts are created for global TV campaigns, then agencies such as Ear to the Ground come up with ways of bringing them to life in the real world.

Be it in a festival field, city centre or football stadium, the aim is to intensify the experience for every target consumer, adding an extra engine to push the campaign forward.

Ultimately, we are creating a more immersive and sensory experience that generates buckets of loving advocacy along the way, while also reflecting, developing or re-creating the ad creative for a live audience.

Originally, experiential was about sense marketing, but now the obsession is 'amplification'. Today, live activations are designed to have digital touchpoints so that consumers can use their own personal digital broadcast or 'Channel Me' to personalise and spread that message.

The aim is to provide real-time, neatly packaged chunks of branded content that they can show in between information, or 'programming', about their lives. That sounds a bit like an ad to me.

Over the past three years, Ear to the Ground has spent more and more time focusing on distilling a live event into one perfectly captured moment, which can then be communicated beyond the people who are present at the time, to a much wider audience. The cameras had to be in the right spot, the lighting and audio needed to be perfect, and the emotional intensity of the 'right' consumer had to be planned and captured.

There are no second takes with a live event, so everything needed to be meticulously scheduled to ensure that we didn't miss the perfect moment for those who weren't there.

The best example of this is when we produced an event in Paris for a UK sports apparel brand, featuring one of England's leading bands. We needed to capture the idea of cross-Channel rivalry in the build-up to the World Cup. We needed a negative audience reaction and we got it. As planned, 3,000 French people spontaneously booed and I knew we had created an event where the live experience was positive and exciting only to an audience in the UK, who weren't even present.

Since that night, Ear to the Ground has continued to design live events, but we think of it more as creating and shooting 'live ads' using real people and their authentic experiences. The communication of real moments experienced by audiences, in real time, creates a sense of unpredictability and energy that makes brands feel alive and exciting. Rather than bolting on opportunities to amplify the moment, communication becomes the central focus of all thinking.

Live experience is still the most powerful form of communication. The ability to change patterns of consumer behaviour by intensely connecting with them in a live environment will never be beaten.

However, the real opportunity for brands is in the successful bottling and distribution of these experiences, and ensuring they reach a much bigger audience. Whether this is through billboards, TV spots or social networking, 'live' is moving to the centre stage.

Yes, Ear to the Ground creates events, but really, we see ourselves as the creators of live ads.

The best part of all this is that we can be measured: the better the ads, the more Channel Mes that will run them.

As a result, I now find myself helping brands and their ad agencies to navigate the frontier world of live, making sure they get what they need without a director shouting 'Action!' The action is everywhere.

Steve Smith is managing director of Ear to the Ground.

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