Event Marketing Is Back, Baby: Two Experiential Experts Examine The ‘Fearless Girl’ Campaign

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You remember the 'Fearless Girl' statue that faced down the “Charging Bull” on Wall Street’s Bowling Green Plaza? It was the experiential marketing campaign that blew away all previous experiential campaigns. 

You want hard number ROI for something as ephemeral as a promotion involving an inanimate statue that called attention to gender imbalance within publicly-traded companies? To start, the launch of 'Fearless Girl' by agency McCann New York for its financial client, State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), generated 4.6 billion Twitter impressions, over 215,000 Instagram posts and a 379 percent increase in SSGA’s share of voice in the first month. More metrics, eh? How about 'Fearless Girl' sparking a 15x increase in calls from potential institutional investors and an estimated $7.4 million in TV, social and broadcast publicity coverage (including 1,600 TV segments)? Oh, and PR Week reported that State Street’s gender diversity-focused fund enjoyed a 384 percent increase in average daily trading volume.

So, is that enough ROI for an experiential campaign to satisfy your CMO? Maybe yes, but maybe no. To dig into the elements that made 'Fearless Girl' such a viral phenomenon – and learn how your brand can better quantify its experiential metrics – we spoke to two brilliant event marketers: Brad Pappas of INSTIGATOR, with whom our PR agency launched OfficeMax’s World’s Largest Rubberband Ball, and Jim Audette, president of Street Factory Media, which has worked with such brands as Nike, Coca Cola, Caribou Coffee and 3M.

First Impression of 'Fearless Girl'?

“It was a stroke of genius to put the statue up on Wall Street in the middle of the night and have it appear on Monday headshot.pngmorning,” marvels INSTIGATOR’s Pappas (pictured at right), who has worked with Gold’n Plump, Mentos Mints, Hill Science Diet and Tom’s of Maine. “In those financial circles for the audience of investors that SSGA cared about, you have to be heroic – and 'Fearless Girl' transformed that client into heroes.”

The sheer timing was remarkable, with the 4-foot-high statue arriving the night before International Women’s Day – not to mention the exquisite symbolic co-opting of the "Charging Bull," which Fortune called “a testosterone-charged symbol of Wall Street bravado.”

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"'Fearless Girl' was a home run – a stunt that sparked conversations not just across America, but across the world,” adds Street Factory’s Audette (pictured at left). “Compared to how you measure traditional advertising, with experiential marketing we measure buzz, impact, engagement and conversations generated by a campaign. By those metrics, 'Fearless Girl's creative idea was impeccable, its timing was beautiful and the location was spot on. I loved how they installed 'Fearless Girl' in relation to another iconic statue, the 'Charging Bull.' I marvel at how they managed to erect a private installation on public property. And although they secured a one-week permit to install the statue, the concept was so powerful that it was allowed to stay up for months. In fact, 'Fearless Girl' became a tourist attraction!”

So, when does experiential marketing Make sense for CMOs under relentless pressure to meet numerical goals for engagement and impressions?

“The success metrics a marketer should measure depend upon what your brand is and how it’s currently perceived,” adds Pappas. “Are you a brand so prominent that all people have to do is hear your name on a TV spot and they’ll be reminded to buy your product? Or – and this is where experiential pays off – are you a brand still trying to connect with your base and give them an experience in a moment in time that reinforces the relationship you have with them as consumers? Event marketers can create those emotionally resonant moments and, here’s the thing – not everyone has to experience it on the street! People hundreds of miles away will see an event on Facebook, on Twitter.”

Audette concurs: "When you think of traditional media platforms – print, TV advertising, billboards, radio – you think about high volume and mass reach to millions across a broad demographic. In contrast, experiential is bulls-eye targeted. We’ve got a frozen food client who identified who their alpha consumers are: gamers. So we’ve developed event activations that specifically appeal to gamers, launched it at large gaming conferences, where everything we do is tailored around the gaming experience.”

“It’s cool when you can take a brand, put it into dialogue with an existing public icon, and let consumers discover what you’ve done on their own,” says Audette. “The ultimate home run is when your ad becomes part of the fabric of your community. Rather than having brand ambassadors engage with consumers, 'Fearless Girl' was a piece of art that people interacted directly with, taking photos of themselves with it, touching it. It was a perfect storm of marketing. Here’s an example of that from our work: for the Minnesota State Lottery, Street Factory took giant power balls and made it appear as if they fell from the sky and crashed into cars parked on the street. There were no brand ambassadors visible on-site – Minnesota consumers just stumbled on these branded moments on their own.”  

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Notes Pappas, “That’s what was so special about 'Fearless Girl' – the McCann agency let the people who discovered the statue do the talking. No one from State Street or McCann was next to 'Fearless Girl' explaining or defending it. Instead, they let people stumble upon her and argue with each other about the position of the statue. That was this campaign’s genius.”  

How to Measure an Event Campaign

“How to measure an event campaign?” muses Pappas. “We can tell our clients the precise number of consumers who walk by a particular street corner and are impacted by an event activation, and we can obtain from bus companies and the cities the number of impressions a brand is getting just by our teams being physically on the street with branded activity and signage. But now with social media, we can multiply that engagement a thousand-fold. For example, when INSTIGATOR does an event for Just BARE Chicken, we’re usually catching up with consumers during an iconic moment in their lives, such as when they run the Life Time Triathlon Minneapolis presented by Just BARE. We invite people to use their own cameras to document what they’re doing and how it connects with our client’s brand, which they then post and share with thousands of friends.”

Experiential sharing, of course, can involve physical objects as well as online content. “Here’s another example of amplifying the impact of event marketing,” adds Pappas. “For the candy brand, Mentos, our street teams gave out 15 Mentos in a package and told people – share your candy samples with friends. So we gave out millions of samples – 3,000,000 across 20 cities – but that was multiplied by everyone who shared the candy.”

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“We know that it’s important to quantify an event experience for clients. We report on how many consumers sampled the product and we even sample new products and then ask consumers for their impressions, which we report back to clients,” says Audette. “It may be antithetical to admit this, but the success of an experiential campaign comes from the gut of the marketer who commissioned it. An event campaign isn’t trying to compete with billboards or TV spots. We’re going for a higher quality of impression that is a shareable experience which will impact consumers on a deeper, more personal level.”

Not surprisingly, today’s culture of social media sharing, Snapchat stories and selfies has changed the way experiential campaigns are measured. “The rise of social media gives consumers the chance to share these live moments with a brand, in a way that amplifies the impact of what’s happening on the street,” continues Audette. "People will tweet a photo of a branded experience to their 500 followers, and that post gets retweeted 10 more times to their friends and their followers.”

“As event marketers, we no longer engage just with the person who walks up on the sidewalk and samples our client’s product,” agrees Pappas. “If I’m doing my job right, we’ll have people lined up waiting for their chance to engage with the brand on the street, and then peripherally another two dozen people pausing to watch what’s going on, and then even more consumers taking iPhone photos and posting them on social media to reach thousands, and even tens of thousands on social media, who aren’t even on-site at the original event.”  

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An Unhappy Coda

The latest bump in 'Fearless Girl's' legacy occurred in October 2017, when the client’s parent company, State Street Corp, agreed to pay a $5 million settlement to 300 women and 15 black employees in a pay disparity suit after an audit found gender-based gaps in compensation. Headlines ensued, such as “Will Allegations of Inequality at State Street Cast a Lasting Shadow Over 'Fearless Girl'?” Although denying the charges, State Street’s settlement suggested irony at best, hypocrisy at worst for a company originally praised by AdWeek for its success in transforming “a financial brand into a paragon of corporate feminism.” 

If you believe Shakespeare’s admonition that “to err is human,” we as marketers can still applaud State Street for revealing that 25 percent of the 3,000 largest publicly-traded US companies have failed to have a single woman on their boards – even if, at the same time, State Street had gender-based issues of its own.

But it’s worth considering that the same social media and PR channels that blew the 'Fearless Girl' sculpture into a global viral phenomenon also facilitated the blow back against State Street when it was exposed as not living up to the values it evangelized for with 'Fearless Girl’. In this era of forced transparency, it will be more difficult than ever for corporations to, say, launch a “green” eco-advertising campaign while being fined by the EPA for dumping hazardous waste. 

Crisis communications pros know that no corporate misdeed goes unexposed in this social media climate. Event marketers recognize that no experiential campaign could be strong enough to camouflage a brand’s ethical blunders. It’s clearer than ever that your brand’s behavior must be in harmony with your brand promise and event marketing claims – that the internal reality of your company should match the external reality of your brand. Otherwise, your public may well become fearless in charging you, and your brand, with . . . promoting a very different kind of bull!

To learn more, check out Street Factory Media and INSTIGATOR. 

Intrigued by the power of experiential/event marketing? Check out our agency’s OfficeMax “World’s Largest Rubberband Ball” campaign here and our Kemps "100th Anniversary Guinness World Record Ice Cream Scoop” here.

About the Author

Paul Maccabee

Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.

Topics:  PR Perspectives

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