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The Virtual Brandwagon: Prashant Kaul, MD, PMG - South Asia

Brands and agencies have moved to virtual-only after the push for social distancing in pandemic times and not out of their free will writes Prashant Kaul.

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The word, “Virtual” is the new buzz word in the Events and Experiential industry. Every agency is scrambling to add this prefix to their solution showcase. “Virtual Events”, “Virtual Meetings”, Virtual Trainings” etc. Every brand is jumping on to the virtual wagon!

It isn’t that virtual just happened to us during COVID-19. We’ve had the technology and tools for virtual events and experiences for years. However, both clients and agencies preferred the real world to the virtual world.

The virtual world is not new to PMG. More than 15 years ago, we saw the virtual world playing a significant part in our marketing lives. Hence, in 2004, we bought “real estate space” in a virtual world called Second Life where we hosted conferences and trainings for clients. We even provided virtual retail spaces to brands where consumers could purchase products with virtual currency called Linden Dollars. Millions of People created their own “Avatar” and lived a parallel life where they could be whatever they dreamt of being.

Even though virtual is now the most popular medium of communication, I don’t see it replacing the traditional medium. It is an alternate medium because of the unique situation we are in today and shall remain one.

Is the Future Virtual?

The debate about virtual replacing real events entirely in the future, reminds me of French philosopher Michel de Montaigne’s poignant observation, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”

Many believe that the event & experiential industry has changed forever. I certainly do not agree. Changed it has, but not forever.

Since the situation demands it, we are living the Virtual life. In my opinion, in the next few weeks, we will enter what I call the “Virtuality” phase. This is the phase which will be a mix of both the Virtual and the Real. However, in the not so distant future, we will return to the real and traditional way of managing experiential marketing. What we must do is incorporate the positive takeaways from the virtual world into the traditional world.

Let’s not forget, brands and agencies have moved to virtual only after the push for social distancing in pandemic times and not out of their free will. Nothing can replace the physical interaction between humans and brands. The word “Experiential Marketing” itself suggests a direct interaction between consumers and brands. This cannot be virtual!

The lockdown has given us an opportunity to attend a number of talks and discussions on various topics. In a number of forums that I have attended, I sense some confusion among a large number of people. Confusion between Digital and Virtual. There is a big difference between the two. And Yes, digital marketing is here to stay in the long run!

“I’ll Be Back”

The current trend towards virtual will stay for some time till the fear of infection from the virus remains with us. But we can’t keep living with this fear for a lifetime. Hence, we will either find a cure or will find a way of living normally with this fear. And as soon as one of these two things happen, the industry will be back to what it used to be.

The grandeur of that magnificent Stage, those Artistic Performances, the Larger than Life Installations, those Glorious Product Showcases, the Personalized Demo’s. These are valuable experiences which just cannot be replaced.

Fully Virtual Experiential Marketing can be likened to the Baseball game that happened in an empty stadium in Taiwan recently. They are temporary and will not endure.

A virtual experience cannot hold a candle to a physical experience and therefore I can hear the Traditional Event and Experiential Industry exclaim what Arnold Schwarzenegger said in The Terminator, “I’ll be Back”!



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