We've all scurried past them, the pretty girls in baseball caps handing out leaflets at the supermarket. But today's consumer expects something altogether more engaging from a brand. And a new breed of field marketing agency claims to deliver just that.
The preferred term for the new wave of agency activity is "experiential marketing". It promises a more memorable exchange than the traditional leaflet or luke-warm soda sample.
Clients want more than a report on the number of samples handed out, they expect agencies to demonstrate awareness changes, in-store presence and impact on sales. Good field marketing is no longer a bolt-on - it's an effective way of amplifying your media spend.
"Good agencies don't accept norms - you should always be moving forward," Bruce Burnett, the managing director of i2i, says. He demands just as much from the agency he founded as he did from the agencies he appointed when he was a client.
His years at some of the UK's top FMCG companies - including Nestle and Cadbury Schweppes - taught Burnett that field marketing was "underdeveloped and stuck in a rut".
So in 2000, he launched i2i (a subsidiary of the marketing services group Geoff Howe Holdings) whose clients include Masterfoods, Birds EyeWalls, Weetabix, Glaxo SmithKline and Revlon. It has a core staff of 15, topped up by teams of people in the field - some of whom were recently recruited from the audition queue for Pop Stars: The Rivals.
For Uncle Ben's sauces, i2i's brief was to show that the brand "brings the taste of the world to you". The agency created a half-size Jumbo Jet staffed by "flight attendants" in Uncle Ben's branded uniforms.
As well as tastings, visitors were treated to experiences from the relevant countries, including a huge dragon and fireworks from China.
Burnett adds: "We have invested in research and analysis to create our own models, including the 'experiential index', which measures the drama and excitement of a campaign."
With a background in furniture and product design, Ben Pincus is not your conventional field marketer. After a spell in sports marketing, he founded The Works in 1997, with a mission to help brands create long-term positive associations through one-to-one contact with consumers.
Last summer, this meant building an oversized Fanta bottle-shaped bucking bronco for the launch of Fanta Fruit Twist. Teamed with a giant inflatable Fanta fun park, the whole "twisted" experience was taken on a tour of major theme parks around the UK.
"It delivered a great free experience on the way into the park and, with a free drink on the way out, put the product at the heart of that experience," Pincus says.
For Dr Pepper, The Works co-operated with Mother to create a "What's the worst that can happen?" experience, with a team of Dr Pepper Response Units manned by "medics" who, in a guerilla-style ambush campaign, delivered product samples and viral sticker coupons at cinemas and festivals nationwide.
The Works, which is independently financed and has 28 full-time staff, has also created campaigns for Schweppes, Canon and Sun Microsystems.
An Australian office was opened in 2002 and a US shop is planned for this year.
"Field marketing has seen a shift in emphasis from a functional to a communications role," Nick Adams, Lime's managing director, says. "Our briefs now resemble advertising briefs - we are expected to reinforce product attributes and shift brand perceptions."
Lime - which stands for Live Interactive Marketing Experience - is part of the Publicis-owned Triangle Group. It was set up in 2001 and employs nine full-time staff. Client credits include Transport for London, Kellogg, Safeway and Britvic.
Adams, who joined Triangle straight from university in 1995, adds: "We saw an opportunity to approach face-to-face marketing from a strategic and creative point of view rather than an operational one." Lime controls everything from the initial concepts to the nuts and bolts of roadshow construction. "It is reassuring for clients that we look after the physical elements of a campaign too," Adams says. "It boosts creativity and control."
One of Lime's toughest current briefs is to tell Londoners about congestion charging for TfL. In December it took roadshows to community centres, libraries and shopping malls in eight London boroughs. This month, Lime is targeting MPs at the House of Commons.
Technology is more than just a convenience for Promostaffuk.com - it is the driving force behind the company's very existence, and is used for everything from client liaison to staff recruitment drives.
Since it was set up by the ex-adman Barnett Fletcher in November 2000, Promostaffuk.com has invested heavily in bespoke new technology and operates almost entirely online, with 27 core staff.
Clients - including Sainsbury's, Vodafone and Gillette - each have their own dedicated website for every campaign. They can log in at any time to see results delivered as they happen.
During the launch of Nectar last year, staff texted results back during the day, which were downloaded immediately on to the client site. The problems caused by Nectar's over-popularity could be addressed by sending out text messages to staff in the field telling them how to explain the situation to customers.
Linda Denne, the company's managing director, says: "Mobile phones used to be a big no-no out in the field, but we are using technology to keep everything young and fresh. Using the web is efficient and cost-effective for clients."