Experiential Marketing: An Oscar-Winning Strategy where Digital Meets Physical

Experiential marketing is not just about showing up at an event with a handful of free samples. A few steps beyond basic interactivity, experiential marketing is a matter of using your brand to engage with your customers in a way that allows them to directly and fully experience what your company has to offer. It’s about engaging all their senses and triggering an emotional response to establish a connection with your product. Experiential marketing allows customers to determine just how your brand will – and must – fit into their lives, making them more likely to buy into your message.

Check out some of these Oscar-winning moments from brands that have taken advantage of experiential marketing strategies, especially in the online and mobile world.

Best Original Song: Western Union’s Singing Telegrams

Once upon a time, if you wanted to send a message to a faraway loved one, you’d be relying on a telegram. For decades, Western Union offered singing telegrams as a way to say “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations!”


While singing telegrams are certainly not the norm right now, Western Union brought back the format for a 2011 marketing campaign. Instead of sending a barbershop quartet to the recipient’s doorstep, however, the new telegrams were delivered via email. And instead of hiring someone to sing on the spot, the sender had the opportunity to sing the message (à la karaoke), using a template to combine his or her voice with the voices of contemporary professional performers like Snoop Dogg, K’Naan, and Timbaland.

The genius behind this campaign is that it was based around user experience. The sender had the opportunity to create a musical number, and the recipient would enjoy the excitement of receiving the updated version of an old-fashioned telegram. The telegrams themselves only cost as much as a song on iTunes, and by digitizing an outdated experience, Western Union was able to appeal to a wide age demographic.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: L’Oreal’s Underground Vending Machines

Decades ago, New York City Subway patrons could buy cigarettes, candy, and chewing gum from vending machines. In the last months of 2013, L’Oreal sponsored a project intended to give its consumers a blast from that particular past – with some updates. When users approached the mirrors in the new L’Oreal vending machines in the 42nd Street/Bryant Park station, cameras and sensors would recommend cosmetics (based on the user’s appearance), including nail polish, eye shadow, mascara, lipstick, and more, all bearing the L’Oreal brand name.


Essentially, the algorithm would reconstruct an image of the user’s silhouette on a screen, and the user would be able to answer questions about whether she wanted cosmetics that would “match” or “clash” with the colors she was wearing. The vending machines would offer products in response, which the user could then purchase. The idea, of course, was to place a brand in a real-world situation, giving L’Oreal a more tangible, accessible form beyond its usual home in retail. The campaign also took an online form: if the user decided she didn’t want to make a decision right away, she could enter her email address to have product suggestions sent to her inbox for later consideration.

Best Visual Effects: Behr’s Virtual Painting Tool

One excellent example of fully virtual experiential marketing is Behr’s virtual paint tool. Users considering interior paint jobs for their homes can sample hundreds of colors online, testing them out in versions of a living room, kitchen, master bedroom, and more. The tool also suggests colors that might complement the color you’ve chosen, so you can mix and match borders and accents in every room of the house.


Once you’ve created an interior masterpiece, Behr allows you to share it on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter, encouraging you to solicit feedback from friends. (I wouldn’t paint my house without asking around first, after all.)

Best Picture Nominees: Vanity Fair, Evite, and Banana Republic

What would I be doing going on and on about Academy award-winning marketing tactics without mentioning the actual ceremony? This Sunday, three brands are bringing experiential marketing to the Oscars.

  • Vanity Fair will have over 120 bloggers and online reporters using decked-out WeWork spaces along Hollywood Boulevard. Passersby can expect to see faux food trucks, Twitter-powered vending machines giving away merch, and a media wall.
  • Evite has partnered with ConnecTV, and together they are encouraging users to create their own Hollywood Parties. Marketing officer Jennifer Dominiquini is excited for consumers to host their own in-home virtual viewing parties, stating, “It’s the physical meets the digital, with everyone all joining together in one social moment.” Users can share recipes, videos, party tips, and photos of themselves in costume when they post Twitter comments.
  • Banana Republic, like Evite, is a little less formal than the Vanity Fair event. This brand is using its YouTube channel to showcase YouTube celebrity Justine live on the red carpet, wearing a customized Banana Republic dress. According to chief marketing officer Catherine Sadler, it’s a perfect integration of digital media into a pop culture event.

Taking Home the Oscar: Experiential Marketing for Small Businesses

The average small business isn’t going to make an appearance at the Oscars or set up a real-world blogging space on Hollywood Boulevard. Nevertheless, any brand can create an Oscar-winning experiential marketing campaign.


Know what you want to convey. Experiential marketing means you’ll be putting yourself way, way out there. Your brand won’t just be announcing your message; it’ll be asking consumers to experience your message. Figure out what you want consumers to get out of the experience and how you want them to receive the message. It can be as simple as “I need this lipstick to match the outfit I’m wearing right now,” or “Hey, this color combination would look amazing in my house!”

Integrate social media from the very beginning. What’s the one thing all of these campaigns have in common? The answer is their online presence. From email to social media sharing to real-life Twitter vending machines, experiential marketing in this day and age means catering to mobile and internet users. Throughout the process, integrating social media means that users will have the opportunity to share what they learned from your brand with their friends. Social media sharing isn’t shameless promotion; it’s a way to invite more people into the experience you have to offer.

It’s more than just event marketing. Experiential marketing is not only about brand ambassadors handing out samples – and it shouldn’t be. Companies are beginning to recognize that users want a physical and emotional experience that will allow them to place a personal investment in their brand. The result? More trust in – and loyalty to – your brand.

Who took home the Academy Award in experiential marketing? How might your brand fit this tactic into your overall marketing strategy?

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Tree is a somewhat nomadic graduate student pursuing an MFA in Poetry and Literary Translation from Drew University. A self-identified “diplobrat,” she spent over 16 years living as an expat in countries like Guatemala, Bolivia, and Tanzania. Tree graduated from Smith College in 2012 with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature, a minor in Studio Art, and a concentration in Landscape Studies. In between writing poetry for school and content for CEM, she dabbles in goat herding and freelancing. Other interests include reading, watercolor painting, gardening, and traveling.

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