Whether your brand is releasing a new line that could use some extra hype, needs a little TLC to get some more recognition, or is just starting out, a brand activation campaign is a great way to get the ball rolling in the right direction. Because each brand has a unique audience and is shooting for individualized goals, personalize your brand activation to reach yours in a creative way.
What is a Brand Activation?
Words like brand activation, guerilla marketing, and experiential marketing get thrown around a lot when a brand uses original and exciting techniques to get its product out into the hands of future super fans, but there's rarely any kind of distinction between these terms. Having words that mean almost the same thing, depending on their context, can be unnecessarily confusing -- especially for brands trying to create a new campaign in one (or all) of those categories.
When it boils down to it, the term brand activation can mean two different things, depending on the perspective of the marketer. Traditionally, brand activation is necessary to get the word out to consumers when a new product is released or to increase awareness surrounding an entire brand. In this way, the brand is being physically activated as attention is brought to the campaign in a setting where the product is immediately relevant. This type of brand activation puts products in the hands of consumers in an interactive way that, ideally, creates a lasting impression and positive feeling toward the brand overall.
In a less traditional sense, some marketers take brand activations to focus more on the activation of the consumer themselves. For example, if a consumer is physically engaging with a brand in any way, they are engaging in brand activation. Although both of these interpretations are widely cited, in this article we focus on the first (and more traditional) definition.
Although many of the examples discussed below are also good examples of experiential and/or guerilla marketing, not all experiential marketing initiatives are forms of brand activation, because not all experiential marketing campaigns push customers to directly interact with the product.
Top 10 Brand Activation Best Practices:
We studied 24 of the most effective brand activation campaigns and summed up the most important pointers in this list.
- Use your brand activation to boost sales by linking the event directly to a new release or featured item
- Build long-term support for your brand through the activation by connecting with your customers on a deeper level than you would be able to in a traditional setting
- Invoke an emotional response with your campaign to ensure that people walk away having felt something
- Use data to get the most out of your campaign -- when paired with observational data gathered by your reps when they visit your stores during the activation, sales data can help you to see the direct impact your activation has on consumers’ purchasing habits
- Enact your brand activation in a setting that makes sense for the product you’re trying to promote
- Shake people from the monotonous nature of a working class lifestyle in an original way so that they form a lastinging connection with your campaign and brand
- Use what you already have to your advantage -- if you already have a popular slogan, try twisting it into something new and experiential; if you have existing competitors, try using your rivalry to gain some positive coverage
- Think of an excuse your consumers might use to assure you they don’t need your product (and break it down)
- Leverage different types of media to reach unique audiences and tell your story from a variety of angles
- Bring your brand up to speed by aligning your campaign with current consumer interests
24 All-Star Brand Activation Examples From Our Favorite Brands
We combed through the web to find records of recent brand activations that are making waves and previous campaigns that continue to make a lasting impact. In the list below, we’ve compiled a huge range of brands -- everything from Adidas to Bobo’s Oat Bars -- and sorted them into two categories based on size (established brands and emerging brands).
Brand Activations From Your Favorite Household Names: Established Brands
1. Starbucks: Sparkle Shop
Partnering with YouTuber LaurDIY, Starbucks Canada opened a pop up “Sparkle Shop” in a Toronto cafe to promote their new Teavana Sparkling Tea Juices in a unique partnership. By aligning their unique new release with a niche influencer, Starbucks was able to create a unique environment to introduce fans to their newest product.
in my natural habitat ✌🏻️ soooo I collabed with @starbuckscanada on an epic new #sunDIY vid and it's officially live!!!! so excited for you guys to try the new teavana sparkling tea juices that just launched! link in my bio 😘 #StarbucksXLaurDIY #addsparkle
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2. Lipton Iced Tea: Commuter Slip & Slide
A water slide is just about the last thing commuters expect to see at 7:45 on a Friday morning. When they set up their enormous yellow slide in the middle of London, Lipton channeled this shock factor to create a venue for their team to hand out free samples, promote their #BeADaybreaker campaign, and associate their brand with a lot of Friday morning smiles.
3. Marmite: Lovers v.s. Haters Pop Up
Social media users don’t always stick to posting encouraging and optimistic content, but Marmite used this brand activation to reward users that had an overall positive online presence. Marmite opened “the first ever sentiment-powered cafe” where upon arriving at the cafe, customer’s could be classified by the Love-O-Meter as either a lover or a hater according to their social media posts. Lovers were rewarded with free summer snacks. This campaign was designed to draw attention to the existing Marmite slogan, “you either love it or you hate it” in reference to their famous spread.
4. GoGo SqueeZ: Goodness Machine
GoGo SqueeZ channeled the magic of childhood imagination for their brand activations in four urban areas around the US involving a larger-than-life version of their unique squeezable applesauce that, when activated, launched a smaller version of the product directly into the hands of their pint-size consumers. Kids felt like winners no matter what, but some applesauces came with a year long supply of GoGo SqueeZ.
5. Zappos: Pay With A Cupcake
Sometimes different companies can work together to produce a killer brand activation. Zappos, the ecommerce site with a special focus in shoes and clothing, took the momentum from a Google brand activation and ran with it. In exchange for posting a photo online with the hashtag #PayWithAPhoto, Google was handing cupcakes out at a food truck in Texas. In an attempt to upstage this activation, Zappos rolled up a short way down the sidewalk in a large cardboard box with a sign that read “#PayWithACupcake. Customers were rewarded with Zappos products when they handed over the cupcake they had received just moments before.
6. IKEA: Private Dining Club
IKEA doesn’t want to be just another store. By incorporating interactive elements into their enormous showrooms, IKEA attempts to help shoppers feel at home in order to encourage a deeper bond overall. One of these interaction initiatives, The Dining Club, allowed customers to bring their cooking skills to light and to connect with friends and family with IKEA’s help.
7. HP: Zero Gravity Printer
In a high publicity brand activation dreamt up by HP to promote the release of their anti-gravity photo printer to be used by astronauts in space, HP sent a plane full of influencers, reporters, and members of the HP corporate board on a ride with minimal gravity. Even though this activation doesn’t have the participants directly interacting with the product, a professional photographer was hired to take photos of the guests and send the photos out after the event. Due to the nature of the product being released, a photo printer, this type of take-home was the next best thing.
8. Adidas: D Rose Jump Store
Adidas’ campaign to promote their new brand of basketball shoe encouraged consumers to “earn it” -- the shoes were placed on a shelf 10 feet in the air (the same height as a regulation basketball hoop) and participants were given a total of 24 seconds to jump. This pop up connected the Adidas shoes with a popular Chicago Bulls player and connected feelings of success with owning a pair of the shoes.
9. Sonic: #SquareShakes
Sonic used Coachella, a popular music and arts festival in California, as the basis for their celebrity-chef-backed brand activation. Festival-goers were able to view, order, and post about their square milkshakes all on Instagram, and the shakes were delivered free of charge on the grounds that there was a #squareshakes post made upon delivery.
10. DirecTV: Football Kickoff
DirecTV channeled the classic “it’s a Sunday afternoon during football season” excitement for this brand activation that brought the game time hype outside for a football season kickoff event featuring large screen TVs broadcasting DirecTV’s coverage of the event. Ideally, this activation would ensure that the DirecTV brand is associated, in the minds of consumers, with the joy of watching NFL games.
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11. Mike's Hard Lemonade
In an attempt to get fans to think on the #BrightSide, Mike’s hosted an indoor brand activation event that included a hard lemonade conveyor belt, ball pit, and car karaoke. With bright yellow everywhere and fun activities galore, Mike’s Hard Lemonade aligns its brand with positive vibes -- a great association for a consumer to have with a product.
12. Revolve: #RevolveAroundTheWorld
Revolve has a history of going all out on their brand activation publicity campaigns. By inviting influencers on elaborate trips and getaways, Revolve has received attention via social media from the exact audience they hope to attract to their brand. In their latest campaign, Revolve sent influencers on a trip, beginning with an elaborate “carnival” in L.A., literally around the world to promote their products and build a following online.
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Brand Activations From the Up and Coming: Emerging Brands
1. Veuve Cliquot: Pop Up Champagne Bar Adidas: D Rose Jump Store
Veuve Clicquot, a brightly packaged luxury champagne from France, partnered with renowned chef-created hors d’oeuvres to create a buzz-worthy mobile champagne bar in Zagreb. This brand activation aligned the brand with their target audience and solidified its identity in the minds of consumers as a hip luxury brand.
2. BOS Ice Tea: Giraffes in The Urban Jungle
This South Africa-based specialty drink has an affinity for making an impression in everything from bright can designs, to unique flavor combinations, to eye catching “projects,” a.k.a brand activations. In one particularly unusual brand activation, members of the BOS team bicycled around an urban area and distributed cans of tea -- while dressed in large giraffe heads.
3. Perrier: Event Greenhouse
On a mission to promote their new green apple flavor at a music festival, Perrier Carbonated Mineral Water opened a greenhouse filled to the brim with activities, green accent colors, and sparkling water samples.
4. Ella's Kitchen: The BIG Wean
Babies are adorable, but 150 babies in one room has the potential to be a messy disaster. This risky undertaking did not deter the Ella’s Kitchen team, however, and the single largest weaning event (and baby food taste-test) took place under their watchful eye as an ambitious brand activation in 2015.
5. Bastiste: Dry Shampoo
Usually, dry shampoo is reserved for days when you don’t have enough time to shower in the morning but still need to look somewhat presentable. By using professional stylists in pop up dry shampoo salons in this brand activation, Batiste attempted to change the “negative stigma” surrounding the everyday beauty product.
6. Bobo's Oat Bars: Vote and Oat
Bobo’s, a whole grain snack bar company built on a homemade aesthetic, used an important cause -- voter registration -- to inspire their latest brand activation at a memorial day music festival where they celebrated the right to take advantage of the right to vote while handing out their oat bars throughout the event.
It’s @SummerCampFest Day 3!— Rebecca Wood (@woodra) May 26, 2018
Looking forward to all the voters that will registered w/ @HeadCountOrg, @EatBobos that will be devoured, and @moeperiod that will be danced to.
It’s going to be a beautiful day! #SCampFood #DontJudgeMe #VoterRegistrationVacation pic.twitter.com/V3LrcEsWPo
7. Deakon University: Pixel's Escape
Even though universities aren’t typical brands, there’s certainly a large economy built around drawing students in and creating positive experiences for those that decide to enroll. Australia's Deakon University used a virtual reality escape game taking place within a virtual Deakon University campus as a brand activation during its “Open Day” to develop the universities brand.
8. Ready Player One: Film Brought to Life
Virtual reality is becoming increasingly popular as a brand activation, because it can integrate a company into the lives of viewers without being physically present in the same place. Creators of the film Ready Player One chose to take this route when promoting the film, and they had a VR portal created to be built into a treasure hunt reality app -- this design exposes viewers to the brand within an element they are already enjoying, hopefully transferring some of the positive associations into the new film.
⚡️Our brand activation for #ReadyPlayerOne is featured by @VRFocus - it’s an AR Portal into the Oasis that lucky players of the @SnatchHQ app will discover. Step inside! https://t.co/KG1Wy3beEk 📱🎮🕹️ #Snatch #AugmentedReality #AR #RPO #ARKit pic.twitter.com/jYT4dSxpc4— Draw & Code (@DrawAndCode) April 11, 2018
9. Lacozade Sport: Wait Training
Members of the working class are famous for griping about not having enough time to do everything they wish they could. This brand activation tackles this complaint, and uses the element of surprise to get people on board. Members of the Lacozade Sport Drink team created interactive bus stop billboards featuring a live workout coach on a mission to engage bored adults waiting to embark on their daily commute before dispensing bottles of the sports drink at the completion of the workout.
10. Grillo's Pickles: Pickle Fair
Sometimes a brand activation is as simple as being active and spreading your products in a space where you know you can find new fans. Grillo’s Pickles, a brand founded in the Boston Common, has a thing for handling crowds of pickle lovers, and they have a natural opportunity for some organic brand activation at the annual Boston Pickle Fair. This year they’re gearing up for an awesome collab with Down the Road Brewing Co.
11. Contours: Stroller Test Drive
Running with the idea that babies aren’t able to give feedback on the products their guardians purchase for them, the creators of the stroller company, Contours, created adult-size baby strollers designed to give adults with the ability to state their own opinions of the product the chance to give it a “test drive.”
12. Movil Print: Show on The Road
This Peruvian screen printing company uses an interactive model in every aspect of their business model by allowing customers to aid in creating their purchases, but they regularly engage in brand activations in which they take their operations on the road to spread the joy of creating art to new people in unique (often outdoor) locations.
Just because your brand has been around for awhile doesn’t mean that it’s getting the attention it needs to keep growing and gaining new fans. Brand activations help to build this kind of additional support in a big way, and they can take an infinite number of shapes depending on the type of feeling you’re trying to generate within the campaign.
Because a brand activation can appear in the form of anything from cyclists with giraffe masks to virtual reality video games, as long as your campaign deals directly with the product and helps you to spread message of your brand in a unique way, the potential for growth is limitless.
Sara is a Content Marketing Journalist at Repsly and is excited to help brands grow. Sara is studying Public Relations and Environmental Analysis and Policy at Boston University, which basically just means she could talk about climate change and plant-based recipes all day long. She is passionate about lions, the clarinet, and her Mickey Mouse slow cooker.