Brand experiences in the social era

The key thing for brands in the social era "is not to be 'on' social, but to 'be' social", advised Huib Van Bockel, former head of marketing at Red Bull at a recent breakfast talk organised by experiential agency ID.

Red Bull's Soapbox Races aimed to give participants the best experience of their lives
Red Bull's Soapbox Races aimed to give participants the best experience of their lives

During the session, which was held at the Electric Cinema in Shoreditch last Friday (9 October), Bockel warned that with the growth in mobile technology, the relegation of television as the second screen, and the popularity of ad-blocking software, "there is no longer an audience waiting for your message". "If you don’t have something people genuinely want to see, then they won’t engage with it," he added. 

Bockel, who has also worked for Unilever and MTV, and is author of The Social Brand, discussed the role of brand experiences in the age of social, rather than just digital and physical, and he said brands need to produce experiences that people really want to see.

He made an interesting point that marketers often try to ‘target’ consumers, but asked what generally happens in life when we are targeted? The response... we run. "We build a wall between us and the brand that’s targeting us," he said, adding that he believes the more brands try and target consumers, the more they will be blocked.

Instead of brands trying to make people love them more, they need to turn things around and ask themselves what they can do for their customers, he said. "Give people something truly worthwhile, which they will want to seek out and share with others", Bockel added: "however the intention needs to be unconditional".

The brand bank account 

Speaking about the ‘brand bank account’, he described withdrawls as marketing or advertising that disrupts what people are doing, such as pop-up ads or ads before videos on YouTube. He said marketing activations that give something of value to the consumer can be perceived as deposits.

"Brands need to think about what they are giving and what they are taking," he said. "You need to create things that people really want to see. But what you get back is attention and loyalty, high employee engagement and, potentially, a positive impact on society."

When planning brand activations Bockel added that unless you are clear about your brand mission, it would be difficult to come up with suitable activity – you need to think about the product, the brand mission, and then activating that mission.

In terms of examples, he cited Red Bull’s Soapbox Race, which the brand created to try and give people the best experience they had ever had. "People loved having their moment in the sun; the visitors loved it, and shared content on social media. We even charged £5 for entry so it felt like more of an event," he explained.

Red Bull has also undertaken seemingly selfish acts such as helping a group of BMX riders to create their own dirtspot. Whereas Nike, for example, has hosted its Nike running events in order to simply encourage people to run. "Sometimes you can also do something really simple, like the giant Pepsi ball I saw at a festival," he said.

Responding to an audience member's question about whether Red Bull is able to host successful experiences because they are already pereceived as a cool brand, Bockel said: "Red Bull became a cool brand because of that kind of stuff, not the other way round". "It is possible for a brand to create something really amazing, sometimes it’s just about trying things and seeing what works."

More: Red Bull announces secret underground parties

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