The first quarter is my annual conference/event/circus adventure season, so I typically drink from the firehose of multisensory event marketing stimulation this time of year.
This year has been a particularly busy one, as I added more and more dates on my calendar and found myself away from home base every week in January and February. During the Super Bowl, the Grammys, Summit Series, SXSW, TED Long Beach, and even my first New Orleans Mardi Gras, my brain has been a sponge and recipient of brand activations from coast to coast. As a person who by day helps build brand stories and launch products via social media and experiential marketing, I can at times become highly critical, which can make experiences a bit annoying and distracting. However, this season I was very pleased with the strategic approaches of a few companies that were able to intertwine their brands' stories into events in a very authentic way.
Dewar's Hub (TED, Long Beach)
While most liquor brands are known to align themselves with subjects like music, art, or sports, Dewar’s Scotch Whiskey  has chosen to position itself around “ideas” and thus are in partnership with TED , the nonprofit dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
This year at TED 2012 in Long Beach, Calif., Dewar’s debuted its Dewar’s Hub, which was an interactive display that distilled and visualized Twitter conversations and allowed users to manipulate and experience the social media attention tapestry with their hands.
If this sounds like an art exhibit, that’s exactly what the experience felt like. Using Microsoft Kinect technology and a beautiful visual display, TED attendees were able to literally and figuratively dive into the real-time TED conversations to better understand the depth and layers around the associated Twitter hashtags and message memes. In front of the screen a plinth allowed users to navigate through the tweets and topics by picking up hand detection. Attendees could directly influence the visualization on the screen and sort through search terms and tweets using hand motion detection within the plinth.
Global Marketing Manager Tom Swift says that the Dewar’s Hub was built using open-source technology and designed for “idea generating” events like TED, SXSW, Behance, or LeWeb. Swift believes that brands need to be “having conversations with (versus talking at) the consumers, and the Dewar’s Hub is doing just that.”
What I liked about Dewar’s Hub approach at TED is that it fit into the ethos and spirit of my overall TED experience. It didn’t try to force its brand tagline of “160 years of blending knowledge in one cup” down the consumer’s throat. The Hub was prominently featured in the “romper room for Ted adults”--the creativity lounge that was a new concept area for TED2012. The lounge was a large, cozy space where attendees could play with curated exhibits and innovations from various TED partners. It was in this room that my brain had a moment to wander after listening to the countless amazing speakers on the TED stage. (They even have a name for the pain I was experiencing, which is called a TED-ache). I was really excited to see them use Microsoft Kinect technology, which enabled them to deliver an experience that bridged the real world and Twitter with an engaging and gorgeous approach. The future potential of the Dewar’s Hub could include an election, the Olympics, or any other live event that would naturally draw a huge online conversation.
Nike (SXSW, Austin)
(Disclaimer: Social People  works on social media/digital initiatives for Nike)
If you have not heard, the good folks in Beaverton, Ore., who were known for making waffle-bottom running shoes, are now looking more like an innovative tech company. With the release of the Nike FuelBand , the sports shoe and apparel company--which has been a revolutionary game-changer in the lives of athletes worldwide--is now looking to impact the lives of the “everyday athlete.”
The Nike FuelBand, which fits unobtrusively on your wrist, tracks how active you are during the day as you exercise, chase a cab, power through a meeting, and even grab a beer after work with friends. Nike created a proprietary algorithm called Nike Fuel score which allows you to measure how physically active you have been for the day/week/month/year. Users can then rate how well they are doing against their friends in Facebook by monitoring and comparing scores.
According to most attendees this year at SXSW, the real winner was not Highlight or Glancee, but Nike and its FuelBand launch efforts. In true Nike fashion, the company decided to create a huge Nike FuelBand Lot at 4th and Colorado where the Old Spaghetti Factory was transformed into a daytime “pop-up retail” location and influencer-seeding basecamp, and by night a concert venue. During the SleighBells/Diplo party in the evening, Nike turned the venue into a giant FuelBand and tracked energy levels with the signature red, yellow, and green LED lights. The lights were then displayed on the Austin’s tallest building, The Frost Tower; the more energetic the crowd inside, the more green the building became.
If that wasn't enough, Nike opened up the Nike FuelBand API for a one-day music tech hackathon sponsored by Backplane. “SXSW Managers Hack” was the perfect collision between the SXSW tech and music crowds. Hackers were judge by the likes of music managers Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber), Troy Carter (Lady Gaga), and Jay Brown (Jay-Z’s Roc Nation). Nike opened up its API for the first time to developers interested in combining music with the FuelBand. Nike understands that its presence at SXSW signifies a message to the market that to be taken seriously as a “tech company,” it needs to play in the same event sandbox that the other tech companies, influencers, and early adopters. Nike's approach needed to be honest and authentic and pay respect to the digital and culture curators who drive the market. It not only did that, but it did so with a spirit of curiosity and openness.
Dewar’s believes that “Some Things Are Worth Doing” and Nike believes to “Just Do It,” and I’m really glad that they showed up and made my experiences that much better. While many brands are still searching for moments or events that “go viral,” brands that recognize that doing the right thing, at the right time, with the right tonality on the right platforms and with the right message will ensure success. Consumers have all the power and what they think about your brand showing up in their everyday experiences is all that matters. Come to the party-- but be authentic, be relevant, be cool, and all will be well.
[Image: Flickr user Andres Lombana ]