Why tea and cakes can out-market tech

The future of experiential marketing in Brexit Britain lies in tea and cakes! Wendy Hooper, Brightsparks’ Commercial Directoir, explains what we can learn from The Great British Bake Off.

Tech is all the rage in experiential marketing at the moment. Every event right now seems to involve virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), NFC chips, holograms and digital screens.

But technology is inherently unsettling for many (which explains our fascination with films and TV series about robots taking over the world – think AI, The Terminator, Humans and the upcoming Westworld series), and right now, much of the UK population is unsettled enough.


Lessons from The Great British Bake Off

Causing quite a stir was the news that The Great British Bake Off is jumping ship and moving from the BBC to Channel 4.

Let’s just take a moment to think about that. Many are more shocked and hurt by the fact that a TV show is switching channel than by the fact that we are leaving the European Union. Why?

The answer is simple: force-fed a 24-hour-a-day diet of bad news (terrorism, natural disasters, civil war, schisms within political parties, the economy, robots and AI taking over our jobs…) it should come as no surprise that so many of us take refuge in the kitchen.

At a time when we are confused and lost, The Great British Bake Off’s big tent welcomes us and comforts us with – let’s be honest here – old fashioned, home baked cake spiced with a serving of glorious double entrendres.

But what’s this got to do with experiential marketing? Simple: it’s time to create experiential campaigns that reinforce the human touch rather than replacing it.

VR, AR, holograms, ‘remote presence robots’, proximity marketing and ‘big data’ all have their place in experiential campaigns; but usually that involves leveraging the fascination with new tech to grab consumers’ attention, then intrigue and excite them to the point that real human brand ambassadors can take over, engage them in conversation and get the brand into their hands.

We must never lose sight of the basic fact that experiential marketing is most effective when it’s face-to-face marketing between real human beings. The aim of an experiential campaign or activation should be to engage someone via a physical medium so they experience some of the values related to the brand or service being promoted.

Yes, it’s certainly possible to give someone a VR tour of a holiday destination, a vineyard or Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and you can create relevant sounds and smells and deliver them artificially. You can even build a hologram that demonstrates how a gadget works, or a ‘machine’ that gives out free samples (although more than half the time there’s a person inside the box).

In almost every case where technology has been used effectively as a key part of an activation, though, there have been human brand ambassadors on hand to handle the face-to-face interactive element. The explanation is simple: you can’t make a robot that delivers warm hugs and hands out tea, cake, sympathy and understanding, and you can’t make a machine that can handle the complexities of human interaction.

Empathy, the very thing that makes us all human, is our key USP against machines and needs to be embraced in marketing to drive engagement with a product or brand.

There’s a magic to great experiential, a bit like there’s a magic to great cakes – and great television. It’s the people involved the show that make The Great British Bake Off great. Take the people out of the recipe, and you’re likely to end up with something that just won’t rise to the occasion.