The web’s leading parenting website, www.babycenter.com, is frequented by over seven million people in a day. Interestingly, the website that discusses the length and breadth of parenting is a Johnson & Johnson (J & J) creation. While babycenter is a parenting network with a presence in over 18 markets, it communicates with subtlety the core strength of J & J, of striking the right chord with new parents. While using the website one does not get the feeling that J & J is making an effort to push its products to users. A classic example of everything that a below the line (BTL) marketing strategy should be. “Any kind of brand communication activity that helps a brand activate its consumers to take action is brand activation or BTL marketing,” explains Atul Nath, managing director, Candid Marketing, a brand activation company. Typically, advertising through mass media will help a consumer form opinions about a brand, but, seldom make you act on that communication. Activation could mean sampling a brand, demonstrating a particular product or activating the consumer into purchasing a product.
Activation creates action which could be sale, generating a lead or sampling a product. “One size fits all does not work with activation,” explains Nath. Unlike advertising where reach of television or radio can be compared, in activation reach is not an objective. “If you are doing a retail level activation for a soap brand, the objective for that campaign maybe to help consumers wash their hands on the spot with a particular soap and get 10,000 people to do that in 10 days. That could be the return on investment (ROI) for that campaign and could result in a sale at the end. For a telecom brand, where you are trying to create hype, reach could be a part of the objective so the ROI calculated there could be different,” clarifies Nath.
“Google is pretty much ubiquitous with Internet search. People who already use the Internet, use Google. The objective was to reach out to the others who did not use the Internet and teach them about its value.”
But, the definition of the objective defines the ROI. “There used to be a misconception that activation doesn’t deliver results. On the contrary, it measures results and not milestones when compared to advertising,” feels Nath. The key benefit is that you can influence behavior and that can be done on the spot to see the result. “In advertising, behavioural change can only be gauged post facto and people cannot be influenced on an interactive basis. If someone has a question, advertising cannot answer it,” adds Nath.
Big players in the act
Activation builds visibility for a product or service category. Candid Marketing helped technology giant Google develop their Internet Bus initiative, a bus that tours various Indian villages to teach the socially backward how to use the Internet and reap its benefits. “Google is pretty much ubiquitous with Internet search. People who already use the Internet, use Google. The objective was to reach out to the others who did not use the Internet and teach them about its value,” says Nath. What made the activity more dynamic in nature was the simulation of an Internet experience within the confines of the bus. The logistics proved to be difficult as the bus was taken to smaller towns and villages where there was no exposure to the Internet and activation was a steeper challenge. In such cases, it is difficult to measure behavioural change but in terms of kindling curiosity, the activity made its mark.
Some Activation initiatives give you immediate results like an exhibition or a fair where a display of products leads to immediate purchase while there are others that create a top of the mind recall for the brand. Chain Rxn is a wing of TI Cycles, which according to Rajesh Mani, head, marketing, BSA Motors, “helps selling cycling and not cycles.” This initiative has a group page on social networking platform Facebook which is actively urging people to consider cycling while organising meets to promote cycling in Chennai and Bangalore. Interested cyclists meet at a common point and cycle 20 odd kilometers to reach their final destination. This group has no advertising or publicity apart from the Facebook page where discussions happen. This is an example of how digital media plays its part in consumer activation of a different kind. TI cycles hopes that once people start recognizing the merits of cycling, there would be a long term gain in transferring this impression to a sale. Other initiatives include Fun, Fitness & Freedom cyclathons and BSA’s tour of the Nilgiris which had 70 people cycling 700 kilometers.
Almost 70 per cent of Nike India’s marketing budget has been dedicated to conducting Activation activities and aiding experiential marketing. Nike launched its Run Clubs in a few cities to make running a fun activity. Apart from helping running enthusiasts develop the right technique, they also offer advice on the appropriate footwear for the exercise. These workshops are held for free, thus, building their brand loyalty through direct interaction with consumers.
Innovation holds the key to success when it comes to a Activation activity. Although some brands resort to the now common methods of surveys and samplers, there are some who go out of the way to gain visibility. Coca Cola India, unveiled an exclusively designed car for the launch of its premium energy drink ‘Burn’. The car designed by ace automobile designer, Dilip Chhabria displays a design inspired by the brand and rolled out on the streets of various cities during the promotional event. According to a company spokesperson, the launch of the Burn Cars is part of a 360 degree integrated marketing communication involving on-ground consumer activations which also include experiential sampling and community marketing initiatives.
Get the right mix
Activation works really well for FMCG brands because price of purchase is small and it is easier to communicate and influence consumer purchase. But for any marketing mix to be successful, there needs to exist a fine balance between the use of traditional mass media or above the line (ATL) and BTL or Activation activities. While the use of mass media propagates widespread awareness, Activation engages a consumer. “There was a time when most brands would lead with ATL and follow it up with activation. 99 per cent of brands now are planning campaigns where ATL and BTL work in tandem,” says Nath. And therein lies the proof of efficacy for Brand Activation.