Transformative Brand Activations: Experiential Insights

Everything Experiential speaks to industry veterans about their views on how brand activations materialise and leave a lasting impression, how the designs of the brand activations are aligned with the brand values and more


Brand activations coming to life is the dynamic process of transforming a brand's essence into tangible and engaging experiences. Creating immersive events, campaigns, and interactions that captivate audiences on a personal level, these activations breathe life into a brand, fostering a connection between the product and the consumer. Whether through interactive installations, pop-up events, or digital experiences, brands are increasingly leveraging creativity and innovation to make their presence felt in the hearts and minds of consumers. This approach not only enhances brand visibility but also builds lasting emotional connections, leaving a memorable impact that extends far beyond the initial encounter. In a world saturated with information, brand activations coming to life serve as powerful tools for cutting through the noise and creating meaningful brand narratives.

Everything Experiential speaks to industry veterans about their views on how brand activations materialise and leave a lasting impression, how the designs of the brand activations are aligned with the brand values and more.

Bringing Impactful Brand Activations To Life

The essence of impactful brand activations lies in meticulous planning and a deep understanding of the audience and the client's message. “We recognise that each brand exists within its unique life cycle stage, and our approach adapts accordingly. Through strategic planning, creative execution, and meaningful engagement, we breathe life into our activations.

Central to our approach is strategic planning, where we carefully define objectives, understand our target audiences, and align the messaging with brand values and unique selling points. The aim remains simple - lasting brand impressions and memorable experiences for our audiences,” points out Sameer Tobaccowala, CEO, Shobiz Experiential Communications.

A perfect project example that comes to his mind is the recent OnePlus AI Festival in Bengaluru, where over 2000 audience members were brought together for an unparalleled music showcase. “This event epitomised immersive brand experiences driven by cutting-edge technology. We succeeded in breathing life into the brand experience through innovative AI engagements, ranging from personalized AI Avatars to bespoke AI-generated music. The outcome? Unforgettable memories etched in the minds of attendees, fostering a resoundingly positive brand recall.”

Tarun Singh Chauhan, Founder, TSC Consulting understands that most of the time, the problem with activations is that most brands treat it like event management. Event management is not activation. They are two very different things. Activation is basically where you bring your brand alive, through consumer engagement. The operating word here is consumer.

He says, “So, if I'm selling shampoos, I can't go to a market where there are people with no hair – it makes no sense for me to do an activation there. The trick is to first of all identify your audience. Identify what they're currently using.

Like for instance, we did an activation for Lifebuoy Handwash. 10-15 years back, I think it was one of India's biggest activation programs, where we wanted people to get used to hand wash. So we went to million people's homes and got them to experience what hand washes are. Once they get used to using a hand wash, then they will start buying it - because they were not understanding the concept.

We had done an activation program, but the critical thing is that we had the sales team with us. Activation has to be linked to sale. It can't be a time pass activity. That is the core of activation problem.” He cites examples of Red Bull and ThumsUp as those that built their brand on activation.

Ashwin Palkar, Executive Creative Director (ECD) & Head of Experience, BBH India believes that impactful brand activation and experiences come to life through a combination of audience understanding, a spark to create a new memory and friction-less execution. “The one thing that brand activations have to do whether it’s online or offline is to cultivate deeper, personal connection between the brand and its audiences.”

Vishnu Srivastav, Creative Head, 22feet Tribal Worldwide is of the opinion that activation is a great medium to communicate in unexpected ways. “But they need to be interesting enough to be impactful because unlike a boring TV commercial that can still convey information, an uninteresting activation will have zero impact.”

Aligning Brand Activations With Overall Brand Identity

Brand identity goes beyond mere visual representation; it encompasses the verbal, experiential, and interpersonal aspects of a brand. Tobaccowala reiterates, “From customer service interactions to social media engagement and employee conduct, every touchpoint contributes to shaping the brand's identity and reputation. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure that the design of brand activations reflects the key brand identity and values, requiring a deliberate and strategic approach to building brand equity in the market.

Elements such as brand values, design guidelines, the logo, and other brand elements collectively contribute to the brand's essence. Accordingly, the design of brand activations must harmonise with and incorporate these elements, fostering a seamless connection with the audience.”

Consider the case study of activation for HUL’s beauty brands at Nykaaland. Nykaaland being India’s first-ever beauty and lifestyle festival serves as a prime example of brand attentiveness. The goals were clear: through 11 captivating stalls, we aimed to educate, entertain, and impress our audiences. “We wanted them to experience transformation first hand, capturing moments that would evoke delight and encourage them to share their own experiences. Above all, we sought to instill a sense of appreciation and reciprocity, conveying that the brand genuinely cares about their interests and needs. Their smiles radiated the joy of experiencing something special, leaving them captivated by the setup, ambiance, and overall experience,” he said.

Chauhan comprehends that when you look at any good activation program, they have very good checks and balances. “In any activation program, you will first define the consumer. You will define what are they consuming currently. Then you will define what is the reason for the activation, which is shift in behaviour. And then you will come back and tell me whether he's changing or not. If he's not changing, then how do we get him to change?”

He also considers activation to be a very intense engagement program; currently it is reduced to event management. He thinks that Lakme India Fashion Week is Lakme's biggest activation.

Chauhan continues, “Most brands today at brand management level have created two groups. An activation group and an innovation group. The innovation group does advertising, and the activation group does activation. That's not good, because actually they're supposed to work in tandem with each other. But this doesn't happen in MNC companies. If you look at Unliever or a P&G, the innovation and activation groups work very closely.”

He also says in jest that in most Indian companies, the activation programs are done based on what the owner/founder wants. “They'll sponsor golf. I don't understand, why Hero Motorcycle should sponsor golf? Which golfer will ride a Hero Motorcycle?”

Chauhan also underlines that there's a lot of science to activation. Nike, Gillette, they do terrific activation programs worldwide, based on consumer research and insights.  Red Bull has this whole theory that people who hang out in the evenings with friends are the guys who consume Red Bull. “ you go to high catchment areas where youth hang out, you'll find a Red Bull van giving away free Red Bulls. They don't give you Red Bull in a building and all that. They give you only places where youth hang out, because the TG for Red Bull is the youth essentially.”

Palkar highlights that an impactful brand experience makes the brand’s promise more accessible by demonstrating it. “Sometimes by helping people with an utility or creating an experience. The question to ask is whether the idea germinates from the purpose and promise of the brand or not.”

Any impactful brand activation has a combination of two virtues: One, it affects people at a personal level and two, it makes them want to share that experience.

“The first step is to design your brand activation around emotional experiences. It is like the secret ingredient that elevates everything, setting up a platform for your audiences to associate with your brand with a tangible takeaway. It is your best shot to ensure that your activations authentically reflect what your brand stands for,” Palkar mentions.

“Activation needs to be based on the brand itself though. Like all communication activation needs to align to the brand’s values and tone. Activation can delight, surprise, provoke or assure, and that can change according to the nature of the brand,” Srivastav tells.

Leveraging Consumer Insights To Tailor Brand Activations For TG’s

Understanding consumer insights is paramount in today's market landscape. It entails delving into the desires and motivations behind consumer behaviour, unlocking the memories and emotions that shape their preferences. “Take, for instance, the nostalgic taste of butter on freshly baked bread, a flavour that evokes cherished memories and resonates deeply with consumers. Capturing this essence, this sensory journey down memory lane is what truly captures hearts and minds,” brings out Tobaccowala.

Crafting conversion strategies to ignite customer motivation requires leveraging these insights effectively. By harnessing consumer data, analysing trends, and understanding preferences, brands can tailor activations to resonate with specific target audiences.

Consider the case of promoting HUL’s Kwality Wall’s latest regional delicacy, the Nolen Gur Cup ice cream. “To generate excitement and anticipation, we orchestrated a ground-breaking storytelling-based drone show during Kolkata's revered Durga Puja festival. We aimed to seamlessly integrate Kwality Wall’s ice cream into the fabric of Pujo celebrations, offering a refreshing alternative to traditional sweets. The results were nothing short of extraordinary: over 1 million YouTube views within 48 hours, totaling 4.5 million views overall. With 500 drones illuminating the Kolkata sky for the first time, we created a spectacle that left a lasting impression on attendees, fostering a sense of awe and delight. This innovative approach translated into tangible success, with Kwality Wall’s experiencing a remarkable growth in sales,” specifies Tobaccowala.

At the core of effective storytelling lies the consumer, for ultimately, every product and service are designed for human consumption. Therefore, it's imperative not to shy away from tapping into the rich tapestry of human emotions. “At Shobiz, we embrace this philosophy wholeheartedly, recognizing that understanding and resonating with audiences on an emotional level is key to crafting compelling narratives. By translating deep audience/consumer insights into impactful activations, we strive to create meaningful connections that resonate long after the story ends,” he adds.

Palkar says, “Ask the question: do we have participation rights? Have clear internal brand filters. Think of them as your guiding light that help you stay true to your brand's voice and personality coupled with sprinkling on-brand messaging to layering in key visual elements ensures in crafting a seamless experience for your audience.”

He also states that in a world of brand activation/experiences, this statement - One size fits all - has no place. “We live in an era where our digital feed is personalised by an algorithm! People crave personalized experiences in everything from travel to weddings, and brand activations are no exception. This is where insights and consumer understanding gives you an edge allowing you to create sharper and tailor-made brand experiences. A great brand experience lives in an individual’s memory forever.”

Chauhan declares, “You take insights and do activation. Activation will give you patterns. It will give you behaviours. It will give you a lot of other things.”

Around The World

Our Publications