Handing out samples is always a useful activity, but what really fixes a brand in a consumer's mind is an experience that touches a variety of sensors. Field marketers have been pushing out the creative boundaries to engage consumers' emotions, in a way that links directly to bottom-line results.
When MHP ran a roadshow for McCain's new Rosti Potato Rings it took care to involve consumers on several different levels. Supermarket shoppers encountered a colourful stand on their way into the store, and were able to try the product cooked in a number of ways. On the way out they could collect a sample and a recipe leaflet.
What made this event special was that the samples were being cooked by Rusti Lee, who many shoppers would remember from TV-am as one of the first television chefs. "Involving a celebrity captures people's imaginations - they will go home saying 'guess what happened to me at Asda today'," Lynette Baer, the MHP client services director, says.
The campaign, which ran between March and June last year, was extensive enough to achieve 6 per cent penetration of the grocery market. The effect showed in a sales uplift in stores on sampling days, which typically reached levels of up to 300 times the outlet's normal stock.
A similar multi-layer approach was adopted by RPM for its Pot Noodle "misbehaviour" campaign in the autumn. The roadshow aimed to provide 18- to 24-year-olds with a taste of the brand's new Bombay Bad Boy flavour, and ran in cities with large student populations on weekend evenings.
Field staff went into bars to play a "hot shot" game, offering drinkers shot glasses containing a hot sample, one of which would have extra hot sauce. Then on leaving the bar, drinkers were invited into the tour vehicle, a branded American truck, to "confess" their bad behaviour.
The confessions were recorded and the most entertaining ones, such as kidnapping a sheep and letting it run loose in a university hall of residence, were broadcast on a giant plasma screen outside, or posted on a website.
Meanwhile, hot samples were offered at a bar at the back of the trailer.
Such events can also generate useful local publicity, which in this case was anticipated with a tabloid photo campaign fronted by Caprice. "There were queues three deep at the sampling points, and consumers showed massive affection for the brand," Michelle Wilson, an RPM account manager, says.
Unilever says the campaign to launch Bombay Bad Boy played a vital part in driving its share of the pot snacking category, which according to Nielsen Media Research has grown 6 per cent to 78 per cent in the few months that the product has been on the market.
The element of sharing - in this case having one's misdemeanors broadcast to one's friends - is a device that marketers are increasingly looking to as a way to create an unforgettable experience.
Arc Field Marketing used it recently when it ran a brand-building campaign for MasterCard, offering the chance to win a trip to a private Caribbean island. Commuters at major train stations had their days enlivened with a tangible experience, with a rock pool, palm trees, sand, hammock and even a smell machine to create a scent of coconut.
But what would make this experience truly memorable was the offer for the winner to take along nine friends. That was a key element for promotional staff, who talked to commuters about who they would take if they won and how it wouldn't be paradise without them.
"We try to affect people's consciousness in a way that enables them to link into the proposition on a much deeper level," an Arc account director Michael Chester says. The campaign, which is still running, has up to 200 people a day signing up to the stand competition.
Brash, eye-grabbing campaigns are not always what is required. For an older, female audience, iD created a gentler approach aimed at providing an experience of the therapeutic value of Tetley herbal teas. The challenge here was to overcome any preconceptions consumers might have about the use of herbs, which in fact do not flavour the teas and are included for purely therapeutic purposes. "We wanted to show that it's a normal cup of tea and looks like one," Rebecca Bergs, the Tetley brand manager, says.
The launch campaign took place in supermarkets and shopping malls and was aimed at women over 45. Consumers were offered a choice of three teas with different characteristics, uplifting for those who felt tired, calming for those who were stressed, and balancing for those who had over-indulged. To create impact, the stand was designed to accommodate three separate drinking booths, and used striking images and colour coding to emphasise the branding.
Of those who sampled the teas, 83 per cent said they liked it, and 64 per cent said they would buy it in future. For every 100,000 people sampled, this would lead to extra sales of £325,000, representing a high return on investment on a comparatively straightforward campaign.
Results such as these make experiential campaigns increasingly attractive to marketers. While roadshows cannot compete with conventional advertising in terms of reach, the intensity of the experience they offer is more likely to lead to a payback and provide a much clearer link between creativity and sales.