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Why Brand Activation at Events Is Terrible

Why Brand Activation at Events Is Terrible
Image credit: SquadUP
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Event sponsorship is a huge market plagued by a lack of authenticity, efficiency, and innovation. However, by embracing technology and aggressively rethinking traditional business practices, ticketing has the potential to unlock incredible brand value and completely change the economics of the event industry.

It’s a well-known secret that event sponsorship and in-event advertising are broken. The present model of brand activation at events amounts to little more than the clumsiest sort of product placement: it’s awkward, forced, and in the best cases it possesses all the subtlety of an A-list actor slurping down Coke with a wink and a smile in the middle of a big-budget summer movie.

Compounding the problem is the fact that just about every brand competes for the same 100 events each year due to the difficulty of managing on-site activation. It’s simply not worth the hassle to make an on-site appearance at events with lower profiles or fewer than 15,000 attendees, which forces advertisers and sponsors to fight tooth and nail over the few events worth their investment.

If your company happens to sell something other than alcohol or energy drinks, doing sponsorship right gets even harder. Products other than energy drinks and alcohol don’t feel “native” to the event experience. When you walk into an arena and see a Kia Optima in the entryway, it’s awkward and forced. Unfortunately, the event-sponsorship industry as currently constructed cannot effectively support much more than that.

This could change. Smartphone ubiquity and the ongoing democratization of publishing heralds a major opportunity for brands to take their event activations digital, and to smaller events. Brands can post on social media and find other novel ways to integrate into the event experience, but the signal-to-noise ratio on major social publishing platforms is heavily skewed, meaning none of them have the ability to specifically target an event audience the way a brand would want.

Spends become inefficient, and messages diluted -- not the hallmarks of an effective marketing vehicle, and certainly not something brands would spend significant money on. Still, there’s hope. The way forward is to allow brands and companies to activate digitally via an event-specific publishing platform. It’s simply a matter of finding ways to drive significant audience penetration at an event with something other than Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Many have tried and failed in the past to create fun “event apps” (Color being one example). Today, companies like Eventbase and Double Dutch are doing interesting enough things in the event-app category that certainly have the opportunity to insert themselves in this dialogue. The only problem with these apps is that they’re all second screen, the optional nature of which limits their ability to drive significant audience penetration.

Related: What Will Attending an Event Be Like In 2020?

There’s only one industry positioned properly to penetrate event audiences and move to the next frontier of sponsorship activation: ticketing. Buying your ticket is the first “touch point” in an event’s lifecycle. The ticketing company is the first to know that you are going to an event, the first to identify you within a blob of people and to know where you are going to be and when.  

More importantly, people will always download apps to access tickets.  

I have an app for SquadUP, Eventbrite, Ticketmaster and every airline I’ve ever traveled on. You probably do. too. It’s simply easier to download an app to access a ticket than it is to print it at home or shuffle through your email when you arrive at the venue. As more and more people move towards accessing their tickets via mobile and taking advantage of things like Passbook and Google Wallet, the trend of downloading an app to get the ticket you purchased elsewhere will only increase.

To capitalize on this opportunity, ticketing needs to become much savvier where technology is concerned. Ticketmaster, which controls $9 billion of the $15 billion North American ticketing market, is built in DOS, a technology stack that hasn’t been relevant to mainstream developers in over a decade. That app -- and those of its competitors -- are sluggish, difficult to navigate, and lack any meaningful way to drive social engagement or deliver sponsor-branded content.

Ticketing must modernize if it’s going to build app experiences that are dynamic and responsive enough to bring audiences and sponsors together in innovative ways. Their business model must also follow suit - right now, most ticketing platforms operate on the assumption that the business is still about processing fees. This seriously impairs their ability to think creatively about sponsorships, brand goals, and the future of activation at their events.   

As the vital point of contact between events and attendees, ticketing has the potential to become their only truly non-optional digital component, thereby creating opportunities for meaningful marketing activation in previously unviable spaces. In order to do this, however, ticketing needs to engage with its technological and business challenges, discarding old assumptions and embracing a culture of innovation.

Related: Should You Go to SXSW? Let's Look at the Data.

This article was written by a member of the AlleyNYC contributor network. AlleyNYC is one of the world’s largest innovation hubs, helping foster the growth of startups in its flagship location in New York City. Entrepreneur Media is a partner and investor in AlleyNYC. If you would like to learn more about AlleyNYC and how to apply for membership visit here.