3 people in a forest with sheets over themselves pretending to be ghosts

The time of horror is still upon us. And marketers have no problem making that known. But how do they keep the terror lingering even after October? Through experiential marketing.

Setting the Scene

Experiential marketing is a way for companies to create a face-to-face opportunity with their consumers. It creates a unique connection by evoking the senses and creating a memorable experience.

Blockbuster Strategies

No other market does experiential marketing like horror films.

Nothing gets a consumer’s interest piqued quite like a good scare or mysterious red balloons tied to sewer grates. And there are a handful of examples that really set the scare-meter standard.

The creators of the cult classic, The Blair Witch Project, used innovative horror experiential techniques. This mockumentary set a new standard for what horror marketing could be.

The marketers were determined to make this film seem real. So, they went on a mission. It started with spreading Missing Persons posters around college campuses and interviewing the “families” of these fake missing campers. Marketers even went as far as posting false leads and information on popular internet forums. Plus, they created a developed website that related the lore of the evil witch. And all that dedication? It paid off.

The independent film, produced for less than $1 million, went on to earn 250 times that at the box office.1

Since then, horror films have never turned back. A few years later, marketers for the 2002 horror flick, The Ring, placed “cursed” VHS tapes on random cars or under movie theater seats. Creating an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue … and a concern that viewers may die in seven days.

Experiential marketing didn’t stop in the early 2000s. In fact, Netflix has produced noteworthy experiential marketing for films like A Classic Horror Story and Resident Evil within the last two years.

However, you may recall something rather eerie occurring just a few months ago.

Paramount Pictures’ 2022 film Smile created quite the buzz with its subtle yet unsettling marketing campaign. Actors were planted throughout Major League Baseball stadiums and behind the windows of morning talk shows. Without moving, they all simply stared into the cameras while smiling maniacally.

It doesn’t seem like much, but one unnerving smile goes a long way. And when social media caught wind of it, the campaign went viral.

Keys to Scary Success

The examples are endless, but the successes are a bit more scarce. So, what makes an experiential campaign successful?

It all comes down to five aspects:

  1. Innovation – How can you make this experience unique and memorable?
  2. Human Intrigue – Build up the mystery without showing all your cards.
  3. Tone – Keep the marketing true to the message of the story so it meets consumer expectations.
  4. Target AudienceWho you need to market to will shape how you market to consumers.
  5. Adaptability – As is true with any campaign, be willing to adjust your strategy based on feedback.
Person facing a wall with human handprints all over it.

It Doesn’t Have to B-Horror

This strategy isn’t just for horror films.

So how do you turn those five key elements into a successful marketing experience? It starts with understanding your market and what you want to accomplish.

The best place to start is with your old content. Videos, messaging, or ideas that were proven successful in the past are an upperhand. By upcycling this content, you can reach new audiences while also keeping your original viewers engaged. Consider turning older messages into new forms of content — like turning a blog into a whitepaper.

Then, it’s time to build upon that. Look at your competition. Examine their past examples of experiential marketing. Find reviews, and take note of what consumers were drawn to — or what drove them away. Use that as a campaign springboard.

Once you’ve reviewed all the older content and examined the competition, you need to focus on innovation. What is the fresh perspective you’re going to bring? Get creative. Spitball ideas within your team, consider locations of interest, and think big.

But, whatever “fresh” means to you, remember to keep it authentic and true to your brand and the tone you’re trying to achieve.

At the end of the day, experiential marketing is a tool to create a bond with your consumers — which entails evoking emotion. So you want to stick the landing. Be conscious of what you’re trying to tell your consumers about your brand. Should your product make them feel calm? Or should it hype them up for a larger event? Maybe the campaign is meant to serve as a reminder of your brand values. Make sure to add this emotional draw into the core of your marketing.

When in doubt, look to horror films. It wasn’t simply scare tactics that kept people wanting more.

Resolution and Payoff

The campaign may be the climax of your brand’s story, but what’s the resolution? A stronger brand image, better brand awareness, and more loyal customers.

With face-to-face marketing techniques, you don’t have to worry about ad overflow. You won’t have to wonder if your creative is being drowned out by digital competitors. And the experience creates a buzz that naturally flows over to social media.

By connecting with consumers in real time and in their comfort zones — their everyday lives — they’re more likely to respond. Put your product in their hands and show them how it improves their lives.

A great experiential marketing campaign expands beyond the surface level of fun and creativity. It becomes part of the brand experience, making it more memorable and enjoyable — drawing in a loyal customer base.

And your audience will only grow the more people interact, thanks to word-of-mouth communication. Want people to talk about your brand? Experiential marketing is your answer.

Make your next campaign a box-office hit.

Interested in experiential marketing, but aren’t quite sure where to start? We here at MKR would love to help bring your big ideas to life.