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5 Great Ways to Activate Events in Digital


Heading into the new year, anticipation starts to build for the tentpole events of the season. This year, it’s hard to know what to expect. There’s been uncertainty whether the Superbowl will be held February 7th as planned and the Oscars have already been delayed to April 25th, normally held in February. 

Delays aside, what is certain is that fans will be watching. Events still provide a great opportunity for brands to win the hearts and minds of captive audiences. From sports to the award shows, marketers have already found great ways to activate these tentpole events in digital. Especially when television campaigns have been prohibitively expensive or require lead times that aren’t possible. This is not a new trend by any means, dating back before Oreo stole the Superbowl with a single tweet.

In 2021, a digital activation strategy for events makes more sense than ever. We’ve experienced the great acceleration which points to an acceleration of trends that existed before the crisis. Some of it out of necessity, some of it not. One thing’s clear, there’s a need for fluidity in marketing that digital can especially provide. Marketers will need to be agile and adapt to events in a state of flux.

With this in mind, here are five ways to help you win the internet during next year’s event season:

1. Plan for multiple outcomes.  Plan ahead so you can be nimble during the event itself. Whether it’s a win or a loss, have content ready. Map out different scenarios and create versions of video and social posts ahead of time that can be delivered as the action unfolds.

Also be ready for anything. While it’s true that no one could have predicted a blackout during the game in 2013, Oreo already had an always-on content strategy in place that made it possible for them to react quickly when the opportunity presented itself. That’s considered table stakes for activating an event in digital these days.

2. Build anticipation. The trend is now to pique curiosity with teasers on YouTube and social media well ahead of the campaigns. A high percent of people turn to YouTube for both sports and entertainment, whether it be for the ads they missed or for film trailers to watch. Take advantage of these moments with contextual ads and targeted placements. There’s data too — you can optimize and measure your campaign performance and effectiveness as the event approaches.

3. Think omni-channel. Amazon has used the Superbowl as a platform for its Alexa and Echo devices for several years with highly memorable celebrity-packed commercials. Their Not Everything Makes the Cut campaign featured notable stars such as Harrison Ford, Forest Whitaker and astronaut twins, Mark and Scott Kelly. But they didn’t stop there, they created a similar experience to their Beta Testing Program commercial in digital, featuring the voices of the twins. Using a voice-enabled ad, the audience could control an Alexa-enabled Space Station with their voice. You can check it out here.

But it’s the device itself that brought it all home, you could ask Alexa to predict who would win the Superbowl. The prediction? The Patriots of course, adding Tom Brady will need to use his other hand for that sixth Super Bowl ring.

In a similarly clever play in digital for the red carpet, Heinz created its own IMDB page listing all the films the ketchup had played a role. Not surprisingly, the page was taken down by the platform, so it was turned into a UGC effort, asking audiences to share any movies with a Heinz cameo so the condiment could finally receive its due film credit.

4. Create mobile engagement. Mobile is often considered a second screen during events. This means audiences will be on their mobile devices — surfing, texting or tweeting. About 70% of U.S. adults regularly use another digital device while watching TV, with most of that usage happening on a smartphone. Make sure your ads are designed and optimized for mobile consumption.

Last year, TikTok made a splash at the Superbowl, disrupting the mobile space itself, but also as a place for marketers to engage on mobile. One of the most notable campaigns was Chipotle’s Justin Bieber challenge which showed how marketers can effectively use mobile platforms to drive engagement or an action — such as a delivery order during events — without a television spot. From hashtag challenges, dances and UGC tactics, TikTok has provided an opportunity for something new and fresh in mobile content.

5. Join the conversation. In addition to mobile, avid watchers are splitting their attention between the event and the conversation about it on social media. A large part of viewing is interacting with others around shared experiences, especially now when it might not be possible to watch together. Make sure you’re engaging in the moment with real-time content that’s entertaining, relevant and adds to the story.

One example that stood out from last year, Pantone used a counterprogramming strategy on Twitter without advertising in the game with its #BigGameColorCommentary. They tweeted about game plays, facts and popular game day food — even calling out other brands — using color samples tied to the action as it happened.

In a similar play to activate the Oscars, NASA’s tweets cleverly stole the show with fun facts and beautiful imagery while rooting for The Theory of Everything and Interstellar who were up for awards that night.

Brands invest heavily in these tentpole events, so if you decide to join the Brand Bowl, it’s going to be competitive. But in digital, you don’t have to spend big to win big. A well played promotional strategy can go a long way. Gamification and interaction are always strong elements, but in general it comes down to joining in on the entertainment and making it fun — or memorable.


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