The rise of experiential marketing; why TV fans want more than streaming

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 11 October 2017

Streaming players Netflix and Stan are all over the experiential marketing scene when it comes to drumming up attention for new shows, but could the humble free-to-air channels pull off such a move?

Just last week the Opera House inked a deal with Netflix for Stranger Things to premiere season two in Australia at the same time as the US, with its foyers set to be completely transformed into the world of Hawkins circa 1984. Locally, Australian platform Stan has also held several unique events to promote its upcoming shows. 

Fox and FX have done similar for The Walking Dead, SBS had handmaids wandering around Sydney for the launch of The Handmaid's Tale on demand and Amazon launched its video service Prime with the help of three giant 'Mount Rushmore-esque' heads of presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Unique branded events that tap into cult viewing are a growing part of the TV-viewing experience and the marketing mix, but the FTA networks don't appear to be jumping on board yet. They could be missing a trick.

Speaking to AdNews, MD of Mr Glasses creative agency Chris Campbell says such events across the whole media and entertainment industry are “just the tip of the iceberg”, even though some will miss the mark and others will be spot on.

“As long as the events and activations have strong links back to the essence of the product or brand, which are authentic and the experience is remarkable, there is a huge demand,” Campbell says.

He says the other major equally important factor is that attendees are 'invited' and that they have the opportunity to engage.

“I'm referring to the fans, target demographic and the ever elusive unreachable millennials, who need to be included and invited to feel valued,”he says.

“The digital age provides the ability for individuals to share, and as such, the impact of an activation is not limited to one moment, but can create ripples that spread far and wide.”

He says the core objective of any of its campaigns is to allow people to enter into an emotional relationship with the brand and the experience, walking away as an advocate to fly the flag and tell all their friends and peers, share on socials and brag about their encounter. 

“People love an experience and the combination of right people with the right experience will spread the word,” he adds.

Transforming the Opera House brand

Speaking to AdNews about its new Netflix tie-up, Sydney Opera House’s acting chief marketing officer Christina Erskine (below right) agreed, and says events like this provide a great opportunity for the Opera House to attract new, young audiences.

“We collaborated with Netflix to transform the Opera House brand at key moments to create content that really connects Stranger Things fans with the Opera House. We then leveraged the strong reach and engagement of our email and social channels by spotlighting this content and reaching new fans through paid promotion,” Erskine says.

She says The Opera House, which has inked partnerships with Samsung, Airbnb, Sony and Adobe, was looking to create a one-of-a-kind immersive experience for super fans.

The event will be created and brought to life in-house by the Sydney Opera House production team. Keep an eye on the AdNews Australia Snapchat for live snaps.

“Events like these allow us to look at culture that is often consumed alone or in the home – gaming, podcasts, television, internet art – and bring audiences together to share in a collective experience. While people could stream the premiere from the comfort of their couches, there is nothing that super fans love more than coming together to geek out on the shared love of a show like this.”

Christina Erskine

It's one thing stumbling upon a cool event or popping into something on the weekend, but so far Erskine says it's already seeing huge excitement from fans registering to access free tickets to the event.

“We expect that the super fans out there will be more than willing to take a half-day off work to participate in the world’s largest free fan event for the premiere,” she says.

Imagination Australia director Heath Campanaro says some brands, products or moments in time lend themselves better to experiential than others, but the launch of anything is always the perfect reason to get people together in the flesh.

“Smart marketers realise that gathering their tribes, their influencers and the media together as an exclusive audience for an event or experience that is unique, fun, and highly shareable, is so much more powerful than trying to spread that same message any other way,” Campanaro says.

“Social lights up with awesome imagery and storytelling from people that people trust and relate to including their friends, people they follow or media outlets they respect. We're often seeing the earned media value will far outweigh the spend, and consumers can connect with a brand in a more meaningful way than through paid media.”

Can non-streaming players win in this space?

As to who can pull off such events, Campanaro says it's not about the brand, it's more about the story.

“If Foxtel* did it for Game of Thrones I think you'd see the same voracious fan love you saw for Stranger Things. It's about how you connect with your tribe beforehand, and how well you execute that will ultimately drive success,” he says.

One media agency exec who did not want to be named says running such events “does not come up” with TV networks as it's out of their comfort zone.

“An MKR in-store pop-up or Bachelor PDF party kit is probably as experiential as the TV networks would go when it comes to being cool and clever with experiential events,” the adman says.

“The TV marketing cloth has been cut and it's nothing like what you'd see from the Netflix and Amazon's of this world. The upfronts event is more than enough to keep them busy for the whole year.

"If and when they do do events it doesn't involve the fans/viewers, it's for clients and media."

Campbell says other TV networks have and will continue having discussions about hosting and producing experiential events, although for now it seems they are watching and taking notes – perhaps to follow suit in due time.

But are they cool enough to pull it off? “Cool is in the eye of the beholder, and as such any product can be cool to the right audience,” he says.

“The prohibitive factor for many brands is an apprehension to push past the limits of traditional marketing concepts and work out new ways to create talk-ability and connection to their target demographic.”

One free-to-air channel exec, who did not want to be named, tells AdNews the only reason the streaming players do these events is “because they have to” to get audiences.

“We don't need to do these events as we have the audiences already. Streaming players rely on these events as they need to let people know they are there and have to flag what content they have to attract people,” the TV exec says.

See: Netflix inks Opera House deal; Stranger Things to premiere same time as US

Getting the marketing spend

Campbell agrees that getting sign off on experiential events is more difficult to get over the line.

As people become more tech-savvy and brand-savvy they are tuning out from most forms of traditional marketing, Campbell argues.

With many streaming entertainment while blocking ads, communicating and sharing news via social media and ignoring even the most brightly coloured billboards and direct mail, it means brands need to put thought into creating actual memorable experiences.

“I like the saying 'you have to fish where the fish are, and use the right bait,” he says.

“Consumers are not unreachable when you take the time to develop an authentic campaign aimed at connecting instead of simply advertising.”

As with any alternate way of doing things, Campbell says the early adopters willing to take risks will benefit the most and that once the path has been well worn more cautious brands will follow, until a point where the alternative avenues are standard, and then effectiveness will decline.

While Mr Glasses works solely on the creative, it's sister agency Showtime Marketing handles all its executions. Campbell says the challenge his agency loves is to think outside the box.

Campanaro adds that experiential will always suffer in the ROI stakes.

“Measurement tools aren't as honed and often there is no call to action to actually measure against,” Campanaro explains.

“We always set an objective that is measurable - sometimes it's sales pipeline, which can be measured on-site now, sometimes it's propensity to buy, or measuring key message take-out. It's critical as an industry that we capture and report on something to prove that we have influenced behaviour.”

“We often talk of depth versus reach. Experiential may not reach as many for the spend, but the value of that interaction is so much more powerful - and thanks to social media, a well-executed experience could be shared like crazy by your audience, further extending the value we can create for clients.”


As part of the 2015 Graphic Festival, Fox's flagship entertainment channel FX and Foxtel, launched its socially driven #TWDonFX campaign, celebrating the launch of the sixth season of the global phenomenon, The Walking Dead - also at Thre Opera House.

Does not replace traditional ad spend

CEO of Stan Mike Sneesby says events are a top way to extend the Stan entertainment experience and it has had top turnouts at fan events such as its Wolf Creek Roadhouse pop-up bar, the Friends Central Perk pop-up café, the Twin Peaks Gelato pop-up at Gelato Messina and the Better Call Saul Los Pollos Hermanos pop-up fried chicken store.

On the question of where it fits within the marketing budget Sneesby says: “All Stan experiential events are part of our broader marketing plans – they don’t replace other traditional forms of advertising.”

As to if FTA stations could pull off the events too, Sneesby says if you are obsessed with giving fans and subscribers what they ask for across all aspects of its product and content, that’s a strategy that works for any business.


AdNews has since learned (we missed the invite) that in 2015 Foxtel aired the Game of Thrones season five premiere at the Sydney Opera House, which included a fire breathing statue of Drogon the dragon on the Opera House forecourt.  It also held an event the year prior at the State Theatre in Sydney, with an Iron Throne that fans could have their photos taken on.

Foxtel says these kinds of activities are part and parcel of how it has marketed its programing.

See the fan-made YouTube video below.

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