MAG on the Move

Moving sucks. 

Least that’s what you tell yourself as you begin to relocate your offices after 6 years.  The amount of “stuff” you accumulate as an event production company is pretty incredible, think storage wars on steroids. In the walk back to my desk as I was packing up I passed a stormtrooper, a box of stuffed animals, an assortment of wicker baskets, and signage from a network that I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist anymore. 

Then there’s the personal belongings. The ceramic plaque your kids made you on Father’s Day, or the picture from that family vacation you took almost 10 years ago (also reminds you to change the pictures of your kids more often). There’s NDA’s for clients that never materialized, and contracts with clients that changed the shape of your career.  There’s thank you notes from interns recognizing and appreciating the attention you showed them during their brief time in your office, and notes from colleagues that have moved on and took a moment to thank you for helping them get there. 

Welcome to the new home of MAG.

The more I think about it, moving doesn’t really suck, it’s perhaps the best opportunity to figuratively start something new. Each year (or if you’re like me, each week), you think about what you want to accomplish, both personally and professionally. Moving gives you the opportunity to throw away what’s not important, so you can make room for what is.  It’s a new place to get your coffee, a new view from the conference room, and for some of the team here, a new place to walk your dog when you (and your pet) could use some fresh air. 

Perhaps most importantly, moving can be a true sign of growth. Not every company makes it, and as a business owner perhaps I remind myself of that way more than I should. So personally, I’m beyond excited to be part of a company that’s growing both in terms of size and stature. Moving to a new space, with new furniture, and yes, even a new phone greeting (sorry Kevin), only further demonstrates the company’s strength and opportunity.  

Those views, though.

We’re fortunate here at MAG that since the acquisition, we’ve seen many upgrades. A new IT system, cleaner policies and procedures around HR and Finance, and now a completely remodeled space that we can call home for at least the next 10 years.  We now have offices across the country, and soon internationally as well. Our client list has grown, along with our capabilities both here at MAG as well as across the entire group of companies under the BDSmktg umbrella. 

As I took the last picture off the wall I thought back when we started all of this almost 20 years ago. I could not have done it without the support of so many amazing clients, colleagues and partners. It was certainly a dream to one day sell to a larger organization that could help us grow in ways we couldn’t do on our own.  I’d like to think of our new office as a new beginning for MAG, where we will welcome new team members, new clients, new capabilities, and new excitement for all of us.   

5 Experiential Marketing Trends To Watch in 2018

At EventTech 2017, we saw the nation’s leading experiential marketing specialists offer their insights into how the new year — 2018 — will change the industry. Naturally, our own Erin Mills was a featured speaker.

In her presentation, Erin demonstrated that experiential marketing firms are going to spend 2018 leveraging new and developing technologies to generate B-to-B conference and event content that’s more democratic and more responsive than it’s ever been before.

Here’s how…

A Friendsgiving Dinner Story

So every year around this time I get a friendly email from my digital designer reminding me that my Thanksgiving blog article is due in a week.

Her gentle nudge also pushes me to perhaps reflect deeper than I normally would on a Monday morning.

But I love it, I really do.

I love thinking about all the good in this world, and, more importantly, the good that’s around me.

Closest to me are my friends and family. Equally as important though is my business, and the team here that keeps it fun and successful.

Last week we held a “Friendsgiving Dinner.” Let’s just say, I’m sure everyone in the room wouldn’t mind if it became a monthly tradition. Besides the homemade dishes, rows of crockpots, a dessert table, and (many) bottles of wine, there was an overwhelming feeling of happiness and togetherness.

When I was pushed to make remarks (I should know by now this is going to happen and perhaps prepare something in advance next time) I said how lucky we are, or, dare I say, I was, to be at a place where people want to be in a room together, share a meal, and, more importantly, share a laugh.

I know we’re not the only company that shares these values. One only needs to look at a “Best Places to Work” list and, alongside benefits and office atmosphere, is high company morale and team building activities. But, for every agency that takes the time to instill these values, I’m sure there are plenty that don’t.

I know it’s hard sometimes to find time to step away from the day-to-day and do things that matter. In a perfect world, we would have that Friendsgiving meal here every month. But all of us lead busy lives, and our roster of clients and projects keep us pretty busy here as well.

So maybe it’s not a lunch with co-workers. Maybe it’s a walk with a friend, a good deed, or even a monetary donation. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone made an effort to do just one extra nice thing this holiday season? Can you imagine that?

This year our holiday gifts will once again have a pro-social element tied to them, we’re already planning next years “MAGVolunteers,” and when the office manager announced that we received this year’s Winter Wishes from NY Cares, I’m proud to say within minutes they were all snatched up.

It’s not nearly enough, but it’s a start, a step in the right direction. I’m looking forward to so many things in the year to come – health and happiness, an even stronger year for the group, and other ways to do our part in making the world a better place.

Happy Thanksgiving.

End the Neglect! Marketing to Generation X

Ah, yes, Generation X.

Born between 1965 and 1984, this crew came of age through two great economic disasters, the housing crash, the death of job security, and the rise of divorce. They grew up during America’s longest war and, in their adulthood, have seen the emergence of an even longer one. Sandwiched between the black-and-white Baby Boomers and Millennials, Gen X is a wash of gray — neither hippies nor hipsters, neither tech natives nor old fogies. The Boomer worldview was defined by the end of WWII; the Millennial worldview by 9/11 and the digital revolution. But what defined Gen X?

Even that name — Generation X — is wishy-washy. Isn’t X just an undefined variable?

Because of the vague, transitional nature of Gen X and its relatively small population, experiential marketing companies often overlook the generation in their discussions about strategy.

But no longer.

Today we discuss the top 10 most important things for experiential marketing firms to remember when targeting Generation X.

1. They’re Worth Your Time

Generation X includes everyone from ages 32 through 53. It’s the most influential living generation. These are our decision makers at both the professional and political levels. They wield more spending power than Boomers or Millennials and they are the most inclined to use that power.

2. They Buy Toys

And not just for themselves. In 2017, Generation X is the parental generation. The youngest pole of this generation is now entering into parenthood; the eldest pole is getting ready to ship their kids to college.

Remember: if you’re targeting kids, you’re targeting their parents too. Every sale to an under-18 is a sale to a Gen Xer.

3. They Buy The Good Stuff

As professionals and parents with money to burn, Gen Xers put a premium on quality. They want to know that a brand is reliable, that a product is hardy, and that media is sophisticated.

Remember: Mad Men wasn’t written for Millennials.

So experiential marketers need to put products in Gen Xers’ hands — show them how smart and tough the goods are.

4. They Care

Although they aren’t quite as liberal as Millennials, Gen Xers prefer brands that do good work outside the marketplace. Experiential marketers would be smart to go pro-social with this demographic. Giving and helping goes a long way.

5. They Can’t Be Fooled

Generation X learned skepticism the hard way. These folks have been through two impeachments. They gave the world grunge music and modern marketing. They are today’s power brokers and executives. They don’t fool easy. They give trust to those who earn it.

So don’t try to win them over with glitz or glamour. Show them your true colors and they’ll respond. Gen X has a history of loyalty when it comes to authentic, transparent brands.

6. They Work Harder Than They Play

Here at the michael alan group, we believe in marketing to people where they live, where they work, and where they play. But when it comes to Gen X, we prioritize where they work. Because Xers are in their prime professional years and they know it.

When we market to these guys, our first questions are: Where is their office? How do they get there? And what’s the first stop after work?

7. They’re On Their Email All The Time – And Also On Social

The only thing that works harder than a Gen Xer is a Gen Xer’s Outlook account. But email isn’t the only digital platform where these folks live. Believe it or not, Gen X spends more time on social than Millennials. Sure, they don’t care for Snapchat much, but Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have them riveted.

Experiential marketers would do well to tap into these information streams, but they should also do so with care. Smart, busy, and thoughtful about their tech use, Gen Xers expect quality shares. And they’re intentional about what they post themselves. So if you’re sharing, make sure you’ve got value-add content. And if you’re encouraging Xers to share, ask: how will this share give the poster a digital hero moment?

8. They Love New Tech

As technology natives, Millennials don’t need to try very hard to stay up-to-date on the latest tech developments. And Boomers are less likely to mind being out of the loop. More than any other generation, Xers have learned to learn when it comes to new tech and they are the most intentionally devoted to staying current.

That’s why we like to draw the 30-50s in by dangling new gizmos in front of them — AR, VR, 360, and whatever new tech has emerged by the time you reach the bottom of the page. All of these technologies should come into consideration when planning an experiential marketing stunt for Generation X.

9. They Put The Message Before The Medium

Despite their interest in new tech and their attachment to email and social, Generation X is uniquely situated to consume messaging across all sorts of media, traditional and digital. Paper, plastic, silicone — it’s all fair game.

This is part of why Gen X is generally neglected in conversations about marketing strategy: all media strategies work on them. Xers are comfortable in the digital world, but also know how to open a newspaper without tearing it in half. So don’t be afraid to mix up the media.

10. They’re Natural Influencers

When it comes to influence, Millennials entering adulthood are looking to their Gen X brothers and sisters for guidance. And Boomers see their Gen X children as their

link to all things new. While Millennials define what’s hip, Gen Xers define what’s good. This generation controls your prestige and your staying power. Marketing to them isn’t just about winning their loyalty, but also about turning them into evangelists.

That’s why we’ve found experiential marketing to be the best way to reach Generation X. It’s the only marketing medium that gives targets the opportunity to interact with brands face-to-face. There can be no question that it produces the highest quality impressions.

Photo credits: The Epoch Times, Space Invaders (CTRPhotos/iStock); roller skates (StockPhotosArt/iStock); TV dinner (Ednam/iStock); Apple MacIntosh (Public Domain)
The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to chat about building a campaign targeted at Generation X.

Breaking Down the Buzzword: Storytelling

“Your campaign should tell a story.”

If you work at a marketing firm or had a marketing firm pitch you, you’ve probably heard this phrase before.

This is bad advice. It’s fundamentally incorrect. And it’s attitudes like this one that are responsible for bad pitches, activations, and campaigns.

The problem with this advice is that it assumes that you’re only telling a story when you intend to. The thing to remember is not that your activation should tell a story but that it does tell a story. In fact, everything you do from pitch to sizzle tells a story. Everything you ever do that’s seen by another person — from the way we ride the subway to the way we socialize at parties — tells a story.

What makes marketing firms so powerful — and particularly experiential marketing firms — is that they are intentional about what stories they tell and how they tell them.

How Stories Work

It’s tricky stuff trying to define the word “Story.” There is an entire field of study dedicated to this issue (narratology) and there are as many opinions on the matter as there are books discussing it. But utilizing storytelling in a marketing campaign doesn’t require that we develop a strong stance on whether Mark Twain’s definition is better than Wikipedia’s. It merely requires that we understand how stories work and why they’re useful to us.

When it comes to the question of how stories work, Narratologists still have lots to say, but opinions are not quite as varied (or abstract) on this point. Aristotle’s Poetics, Freytag’s pyramid, and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey cycle are some of the best-known articulations of story mechanics. And while each illuminates and elaborates upon different aspects of storytelling, they all agree on the fundamentals of how stories work. It doesn’t matter much which of their philosophies we use to explore the role of storytelling in marketing.

So we won’t use any of them.

Instead, we’ll use Dan Harmon’s.

If you know of Dan Harmon, you probably know him as the comedy television showrunner who brought the world Community and Rick and Morty. Harmon’s philosophy of storytelling (which is really just Joseph Campbell sans Carl Jung) — has become fairly popular since superfans of Community first noticed strange circular diagrams popping up in the background of the show.

In response to fan curiosity, Harmon published his delightfully-simple approach to diagramming story. It’s a circular philosophy, but not in the bad way. And it’s been making the rounds for years.

The blog series is worth a read, but for the short-on-time, here’s the reductive gist:

A story introduces us to a character who wants something. The character enters a new situation, adapts to it, gets the thing they wanted, and discovers that the thing comes at a cost. Then the character returns to their regular lives having learned something. (This last step is best epitomized by the fable’s moral-of-the-story.)

Or to put it even more simply: characters enter into new situations and return changed.

Harmon is careful to clarify that all stories work this way — that even student filmmakers who try to break these principles of storytelling will inevitable fail. Film a plastic bag floating around an alley and viewers will impose a cyclical narrative on that video. (See Ricky Fitts’s home video and Katy Perry’s interpretation of it.)

The value of understanding how stories work isn’t that it makes storytelling possible; it’s that it makes good storytelling possible.

Storytelling in Marketing

We said that in stories, characters enter into new situations and return changed. In marketing, the character is the consumer. The new situation is their interaction with the brand or product. The return comes when they’ve finished the interaction and return to their routine. The change speaks to their opinion of the brand/product post-interaction. In experiential marketing, the change may also refer to a change in the person — their day, their relationships — they may have learned something new, had a bonding experience with a loved one, etc.

As we’ve said, any activation is going to tell a story with this structure. But marketing firms that are intentional about their storytelling have two advantages.

First, intentional storytellers are able to make the activations more memorable and clarify their messages for consumers. They do this by calling more attention to each of the story beats and to the story arc as a whole.

Take, for instance, experiential marketers who sell soda. Most give their attention to sampling: they want consumers to try the drink and discover that it tastes good. That’s a story, sure, it’s just not a very good one.

When we were asked to help sell Mountain Dew, we got intentional about our storytelling. We took the “enter into a new situation” beat very seriously. You could even say we did some world-building.

Of course we offered tastings, but we also built a mountain in the middle of New York City (we called it “The DEWggro Crag,” in partnership with Nickelodeon) and challenged consumers to race to the top. We featured battling musicians and competitions of all sorts. What we offered wasn’t just a sampling story; it was an adventure story. And the moral of the story wasn’t just that Mountain Dew tastes good. We also conveyed that it’s the drink of fun, competitive thrills.

The second value of considering story when you market a product is that it helps you keep your eye on the prize: a positive, memorable consumer interaction.

Particularly in traditional advertising, marketers have a tendency to prioritize exposition: they want to tell consumers what a product does and how it will make their life better. In contemporary advertising, this messaging is usually couched in fictional storytelling. (Dad buys a new cereal that makes the dog wear sunglasses and skateboard; the attractive coworker becomes interested when the balding employee switches deodorants.) The Superbowl and various ad awards celebrate these stories.

But what traditional advertisers almost always forget is that the content of the ad isn’t the whole story. It’s more like the story-in-the-story. The larger story is the one about the consumer’s experience — the marketing event itself. Watching the ad. And for many consumers this is a negative experience: it’s the story of how an ad hijacked their viewing or listening experience to sell them something.

Traditional advertisers usually aren’t sensitive to this. Nor are they sensitive to problems inherent in over-saturation: the more consumers are forced to experience the same ad, the more hostile they become toward the ad and the brand itself.

This is the sort of dangerous thinking we mentioned at the beginning of this article: traditional advertising usually assumes it’s only telling a story when it wants to — when the ad begins. This perspective forgets that everything the brand does tells a story. That includes the very act of airing an ad in the middle of a season finale. Or airing the same radio ad over and over while rush hour traffic holds consumers hostage. Here, the presence of an advertisement is telling its own story — one that is often more powerful than the story that the ad intends to tell.

By contrast, as experiential marketers we appreciate the power of the broader story. We know that what matters most is a strong finish: consumers should conclude the brand interaction and return to their routine changed for the better. To that end, we prioritize the consumer’s personal experience. Our priority isn’t to write a funny radio spot; it’s to give consumers positive, memorable interactions with brands and products. Sometimes funny fiction can be a good way to add value to people’s lives, but more often, we find that what matters are the stories of consumers’ rides to work and weekends off — their quality time with the family and hilarious moments with friends.

Which is why we got in this business in the first place. As an experiential marketing firm, we don’t communicate by allegory; in experiential marketing, consumers are the heroes of their own stories.

We put storytelling first, which empowers us to create impressions of the highest quality.

The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to craft the best story for your consumers.

Diving Into Data: Choosing the Right Tools for the Job

Back in March, we talked about the how and why of data capture for experiential marketing agencies. We explored the importance of things like generating leads and demonstrating ROI while we also discussed particular data collecting strategies that we’ve developed over time. Now we’re back, as promised, to share of a few of our favorite experiential marketing technologies that will help you capture data from pre-game to post so that you can deliver better experiences to consumers and better results to clients.

RegOnline by Lanyon

Many experiential events begin weeks before consumers check in; they begin at registration. And when it comes to registration technology, Lanyon’s RegOnline is at the head of the pack. When attendees sign up, event planners can collect all the data they like — from identifying details to contact information to travel plans and lodging information. RegOnline also features theme-based page building that’s flexible enough to incorporate brand colors and logos without requiring coding know-how. Of course all of this is useless without reporting, so the software is designed to keep you and your project stakeholders in the loop in real time.

Cvent OnArrival

When the big day arrives, you’ll want to know who actually showed up. That’s where Cvent’s OnArrival app comes in. This check in software is at the top of its class. Of course, OnArrival enables you to check guests in through the typical search and browse interfaces, but you can also sort guests by their institutional affiliations, check them in by confirmation numbers, or just scan a barcode. And if you’d like to empower your guests, you can run the app in Kiosk mode, enabling visitors to check themselves in and even quick-print their own badges.

Event Farm

Now that you know who showed up and when they showed up, elite marketers will want to get on the floor and make those quality connections that turn the brand-curious into brand evangelists.

With Event Farm, experiential marketers can flag VIPs as prospects and assign sales representatives or brand ambassadors to those guests. When a prospect checks in, the team assigned to them will be notified via mobile. That team can then refer to their in-app “Sales Playbook” where information about the prospect is collected.

Following interactions, teammates can post notes and tasks to the Playbook, which sync across all other affiliated devices. Do your due diligence and by event’s end, you can know everything there is to know about your prospect, and they’ll know everything about your brand too.

Simple Booth

With plenty of guests roaming your venue, it’s time to pull out the big guns. One of the most effective ways to get consumers sharing contact data while also evangelizing for your brand is by pointing them in the direction of a photo booth. There, they’ll be asked to trade data for their photos. A well-executed photo op gets your client leads and guarantees that the client’s social media page will be blowing up with branded photos of happy consumers.

We usually work with photo booth specialists to create customized experiences, but if you prefer to fly DIY, one great option is Simple Booth’s Halo app, which turns iPads into user-operated photo booths. It also offers social integration, customized web galleries, real time analytics, and data capture. You’ll want to pick up their proprietary hardware to give your photo booth a distinctive look and give your consumers-turned-models the flattering lighting that they deserve.


Another great way to capture data in-flight is through technologies that track consumer engagement. For instance, Poken is a great tool for transmitting information to event attendees while capturing data on what interests your guests.

Pokens are USB devices enabled with NFC technology; guests can tap these devices against marked touchpoints in your event space to collect information. For example, an exhibit-style event might feature touchpoints next to each exhibited product. As guests collect additional information through those Poken touchpoints, marketing teams collect information about which products were popular — and among which guests.

When enabled with iBeacon technology, Poken interactions can be made with a wider range of devices besides for these proprietary USB drives. You can also use phones, badges, and other wearables.

Utlimately this data tells you and your client both what worked and how best to follow up.

RFID Technology

There’s no one vendor we’d point you to, but we’d be remiss not to follow Poken with a shoutout to RFID. By enabling anything from badges to shoes with RFID technology and laying down sensors in critical locations around event venues, experiential marketing agencies can track where guests spend their time and — by the transitive property of congruence — how they spend their time. Not only does this data help experiential marketers measure ROI and develop prospects; it also helps us target consumers with personalized messaging that’s sensitive to what individual attendees experienced during the event. RFID vendors can also deliver metrics in heat maps, which use green-to-red coloring to represent the quantity of engagements at various spots on your floor plan.


Quividi is another technology that’s great for measuring the impact of your experience, and it goes deeper than any of the others, delivering qualitative analysis through quantitative metrics. Quividi’s “scene analysis” tools can tell you not only how many people have entered a given space, but also how many faces have registered a particular object in that space. It can even estimate the demographics of those faces. And — here’s what really gets us — Quividi can measure how long an experience holds a consumer’s gaze and estimate the consumer’s mood by reading their facial expressions.


Whether you’re looking for in-flight reactions or post-game feedback, surveys are critical not only for determining and demonstrating what made your event great, but also because they offer another opportunity to collect more prospect-identifying data. And when it comes to surveying your guests, there’s no tech that matches the power of Qualtrics.

It may take some time to learn, but users who get the hang of Qualtrics can survey consumers with more than a hundred types of questions while also utilizing logic trees, quotas, triggers, and randomization. Qualtrics also packs a powerful punch in the analysis department, offering visualizations optimized according to question type as well as customizable graphics. If you’re working with a team of busy folks, you can command Qualtrics to send them periodical reports even while the core team monitors results in real time. You can also make results public on your website or via social.


But not every event marketer needs the depth that Qualtrics delivers. Where Qualtrics offers survey strength, Typeform offers agility. Its simple, user friendly design makes building and taking surveys a delight. Creators will appreciate the variety of question types and the easy drag-and-drop interface while audiences will appreciate Typeform’s emphasis on answer visualizations and personalization. You can build surveys to become more personal as responders enter their information.


Once your event has come to a close, you’ll want to stay engaged with consumers over social both to strengthen new relationships and to collect data that demonstrates the success of your event.

Hootsuite is the clear leader among social listening engines. Its super-powered dashboard allows users to coordinate brand activity and monitor consumer engagement across multiple social media platforms. Analytic feedback offers data on reach, impressions, click throughs, social interactions, and can even report on your (new)media share compared to competitors. You can filter information to narrow down how specific demographics are engaging with your brand, monitor for trends, and even execute giveaway campaigns.


Finally, we thought we’d finish with a more creative tip: try SURKUS. There are all sorts of reasons to collect data, and one big one — particularly on the experiential agency side — is to generate an audience. Enter SURKUS, the app that connects branded events with people who want to attend them. When experiential marketers create events, they’re offered a dossier of consumers who’d enjoy going to their events. Then it’s up to the marketing firm to “cast” their “crowd.” It’s not one of our go-to techs, but it’s one we’ve been itching to try.

With these data & monitoring tools you’ll be able to improve the quality of consumer engagement while providing clients with leads and demonstrating the power of your work. Have we mentioned how much we love technology?

The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to chat about capitalizing on data collection at your next event.

From MAG to Mom: 10 Campaigns That Say We Love You

The Michael Alan Group is a pretty cool place. But even we at MAG aren’t too cool to tell our mothers we love them. So as a tribute to all the MAG moms and all the moms of MAGsters, we’re going to bring you ten of our favorite Mother’s Day marketing campaigns.

Mother New York – Motherly Advice

It seems fitting to begin with a campaign from an agency that celebrates mom, well, every day. Mother New York knows best that there’s nothing quite like motherly advice, and they decided to share this maternal wisdom with a stern, albeit loving outdoor campaign last year. The agency actually surveyed their own employees’ moms for the material, so you can be certain each message is tender, heartfelt, and probably means business.

LG – #MomConfessions

Speaking of mother-generated content, LG had the idea of taking over a Times Square digital billboard to post the often-hilarious confessions of guilty mothers. LG’s “Mom’s Inner Voice” campaign was already well underway. TV spots featured disgruntled mothers being upstaged by their home appliances or else desperately seeking solace in them. But it wasn’t until Mother’s Day 2014 that the inner voices of consumer-mothers were heard. And once we heard those voices, we could never unhear them.

JustFab/FabKids – FabMom FunDay

JustFab saw how badly moms needed a day off and gave it to them. The apparel brand took over West Hollywood’s Au Fudge desert shop and invited a band of mommy bloggers to take a day for themselves. Au Pairs (get it?) were on site to play and craft with kids while mothers were pampered with scrumptious meals, rich deserts, new shoes, and some quality mom-to-mom bonding time. And as with any good experiential marketing influencer campaign, those bloggers were all sent home with JustFab giveaways to offer their followers.

Tesco – Breakfast in Bed

Letting mom off the hook doesn’t always mean taking the kids off her hands. Sometimes it means putting those kids to work. Tesco took Mother’s Day as an opportunity to promote its “childproof” recipes and launched spots featuring adorable disaster children whipping up breakfast in bed for their mothers. The gorgeous, pastel-heavy art direction kept these spots buoyant and playful even in the face of catastrophic kitchen messes.

Samsung – Texts From Mom

This Mother’s Day ad by Samsung features the many familiar texting faux pas that we’ve come to expect from our mothers. From incoherent grammar, to misused emojis, and beyond, Samsung reminded us to call our mothers — if for no other reason than because it’s easier than texting them.

Procter & Gamble – 2016 Olympic Games

For every eye-roll, tongue-in-cheek ad about mothers, there ought to be another of earnest celebration. And Procter & Gamble’s Olympics-themed spot was perhaps the all-time leader in that category. The ad harnessed the existing cultural awareness and enthusiasm surrounding the Olympic games to deliver a heart-warming reminder that for every Olympian, there’s a mother who trained them. Because, as P&G reminded us, “it takes someone strong to make someone strong.”

Teleflora – One Tough Mother

Speaking of strong mothers, the Teleflora flower delivery service took a break from depicting the gentle beauty of motherhood to celebrate the determination and toughness of our matriarchs. This Mother’s Day ad, which currently has 7 million views on YouTube, showed us the grit that motherhood takes. Set against Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi’s famous “Number One” speech, and coated in stark-but-epic grays and oranges, this spot pulls no punches in its direct and deliberate challenge of our gendered assumptions about the experience of motherhood.

American Greetings – The World’s Toughest Job

As one MAG mother always likes to say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. The American Greetings company found a very different way to salute the incredible work ethic of our mothers. This marketing stunt began with a job-posting spree advertising a vague employment opportunity for “Directors of Operations.” Millions of applicants encountered and steered clear of the outlandish job postings that demanded unlimited hours of work per week for no pay. But twenty-four folks did apply. And we’re grateful to them, because without them the world would never have seen this brilliant, award-winning Mother’s Day ad.

Jetblue — Flybaby

Not only do our mom’s put up with a lot of grief from their kids, but they also put up with a lot of grief from the adults around them. Any mother who’s ever flown with a baby knows what it’s like to get those dirty looks from strangers as they silently curse your existence. Jetblue took pity on mothers last year with an experiential marketing campaign geared toward de-stigmatizing crying babies. Every time a baby cried on select flights, all passengers were awarded 25% off their next Jetblue flight. The result: a plane full of previously grouchy sky-commuters celebrating the high pitched screams of their youngest co-passengers.

KFC — Tender Wings Of Desire

As we close out our Mother’s Day tribute, we’d like to tip our hats to a campaign that’s being launched for this Mother’s Day. And it is easily the strangest one yet: KFC’s Tender Wings of Desire. To be clear, that’s not the name of a campaign; it’s the name of a novel. An erotic novel to be precise. This year, KFC is celebrating motherhood by offering mothers a deeply rewarding read, free of charge, about a sexy colonel who made one woman’s most closely-guarded fantasies into a reality.

Building a Brainstorm Part Two: Setting Up the Storm

Hello, and welcome back to our three-part series on building a brainstorm. Our mission: to explore time-tested strategies for generating top-shelf experiential marketing ideas. Last time, we kicked off the trilogy with an in-depth look at how experiential agencies can elevate their RFP research process. We explored the importance of engaging with the product directly, becoming familiar with the brand, getting to know the competition, and learning to love the target. Now we’ll be turning our gaze from solo work to group work. We’ll be investigating the best ways to prepare a brainstorm, get the team warmed up, and deliver the briefing.

Forecasting the Storm

Now that you know the RFP inside, outside, upside-down, and all around, it’s time to pull a King Lear and call a storm. And as you shout up to the heavens about how you need to book a conference room, there are three key questions we recommend that you keep top of mind:

Who’s in the room?
A brainstorm is a collaborative, team-oriented exercise. There are plenty of tools to create good teamwork — tools which we’ll be exploring in this article and beyond — but none are quite as powerful as beginning with a great team. Good teams transcend departments and hierarchies: all that matters is that everybody feels comfortable speaking up and supporting each other. They should be eager to nurture each other’s fledgling brainwaves.

Of course, this is easy for us to say: we’ve been blessed with a group of persistently positive, remorselessly ridiculous ideators who repel conflict and crave community. So if that describes your experiential firm too, just do what we do and invite everyone.

When is it?
Here are some times not to storm: Christmas. Midnight. Lunchtime.

Finding the right time for a storm isn’t just about ensuring that all parties can be present physically. It’s also about ensuring that all parties will be present emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and, in short, metaphysically. If one of the team members will be on site at an experiential activation all day, don’t pressure them to free up fifteen minutes. You want to be catching people at the time of day and day of week when they’re most fired-up and storm-ready.

How long should a storm be?
We took a poll of three bears and they all told us the same thing: it should be just right.

Time is a scarce resource. It should be spent and saved using precisely the same reasoning that we bring to the expenditure of any other scarce resource.

Dedicating a serious chunk of time to your brainstorm communicates its importance. It tells your team that you’re deeply invested in the success of this project and that they should be too. Keep the storm too short and people will reason that this proposal just wasn’t worth your time.

Besides, once we’ve finished covering all the factors that go into a great storm, it’ll be clear that you simply can’t rush the process. From warm-ups to briefings and beyond, there’s a lot to get done. You want to allow plenty of time to explore the material, to share bad ideas (the ones people don’t share when they’re pressed for time), and to turn those bad ideas into good ones.

Still, it’s worth remembering that brainstorms are susceptible to the law of diminishing returns, just like everything else. So there is a ceiling on how long a storm ought to be. And you should probably leave some time to actually write the proposal.

The Warm Before the Storm

This is the part of the article where we pretend to understand science.

Any Nobel-Prize-winning neurologist can tell you that our thoughts, memories, and ideas are stored in neural clusters all over the brain. When you think about the same thing every day, only one cluster of thoughts, memories, and ideas is engaged — like maybe the cluster that stores information about running Outlook and staffing events. But when you’re trying to come up with a brilliant, out of the box experiential marketing event, you want to be drawing on a much wider variety of ideas and experiences; you want to be using as much of your brain as possible. That’s why we warm up: to dramatically increase the number of neural clusters (ideas) that are in the mix. Here are some ways to pull that off:

Sell Coffins
This is a trick that they used in the writers’ room of The Office. Whenever they were stuck, they’d stop trying to write an episode of their own show and start brainstorming an episode of Entourage instead. The brilliance of this tactic was in the fact that it exercised the same skill set that the team actually needed to be using, but lowered the stakes down to the realm of the ridiculous. So next time, you’re trying to come up with clever experiential stunts to promote charitable foundations or foreign films, take a break to sell something awful that nobody wants. Like coffins. Or floss.

Bomb The Proposal
A nice variation on selling coffins is to brainstorm the worst possible ways to sell the product that you’re supposed to be promoting. Preparing for a pitch to a luxury car brand? Consider parking one of their cars in Times Square and blowing it up. Or inviting consumers to power-saw their way through the car’s hood. Not only does this warm up help foster an all-ideas-welcome rapport, but it can also lead to some crazy, accidentally good ideas.

Consider The Target
You can even use warm ups to get to know your target better. Try introducing the target demographic and asking your team to do some memory-based research. Who’s a person they know in that demographic? What does that person do with their time? What sort of challenges does that person face? Do they have a pet and what’s its name? Who’s their star crush? This warm up gets people activating ideas beyond the usual scope of the brainstorm, but also gets the ball rolling toward the serious task at hand.

The Brief Brief
Once everyone’s nice and warm, it’s time to get to the brief. We don’t mean to lay the pressure on thick, but it’s pretty darn essential that you get this right. So far, only the people on this account really understand the thing that you’re trying to sell. You need to get everyone up to speed and you need to do it quickly so that the room’s energy stays kinetic and generative. There are a few key beats to hit that communicate all the need-to-knows without over-informing:

The Thing
Begin with the thing. What is this experiential marketing event selling? Go deeper than a one-sentence description. Offer an in-depth insight into what the thing does and how it does it. Share what you learned when you got hands-on with the product and what people said about why the thing matters to them. Share video of the product in action. Or, if you can bring the product in for people to handle, all the better.

The Positioning
Get the room up to date on the competition. What other products are out there and what sets this one apart? If the field is already full, why was this product created? What problems does it solve? When you “Sized Up The Other Guys” [insert link to previous article], what did you decide to play down and what did you decide to play up? Again, try to keep things visual and tactile: don’t just tell them about the competition; show them.

The Target
Who’s going to be buying this product? How do they fill their time? Where do they hang out and what do they do for fun? Why do they care about the product? Remember that when you researched the RFP, you didn’t just read about the targets, you also talked to them. Make sure to highlight the things you learned about what they love and obsess about when it comes to products like these.

The Voice
Finally, you want to make sure that your team understands the voice of your potential client’s brand. Getting first-rate outlandish ideas isn’t helpful if you’re pitching to a conservative company. And activations that make the product look like time-tested won’t appeal to a proudly-disruptive brand. Your team needs to know how the client thinks. In this section, it’s great to share visuals and media: show ads that the brand has used before, share some website copy, and display logo lockups. Whatever it takes to get your team thinking like the client.

Brilliant ideation is fast approaching. Now that your team is convened, warmed up, and in the know, it’s time to get the winds a-blowin’ and rains a-pourin’. We’ll be back next time with ten ways to turn this storm into a hurricane.

The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to chat about brainstorming ideas for your next experiential campaign.

Experiential Fun With Food

There’s a lie that people have been telling for a long time. A devastating, pernicious lie. A lie that betrays youth and deeply detracts from the happiness of adults.

That it’s wrong to play with your food.

After much internal debating, we at MAG have decided to come clean, and tell the world the truth about playing with your food. That it’s fun. That it’s delicious. And that people will love you for letting them do it.

So the next time you’re cooking up an experiential marketing event, consider these ten ways of reminding people that food was meant to be fun.

The delicious s'mores evoked memories of summer camp, with each served hot and made to order.

1. Play Gourmet

The elevation of simple foods to the realm of gourmet is always a great way to surprise and delight. For example, when USA Network asked us to promote the launch of their first competitive reality series, Summer Camp, we knew we’d have to find a yummy way to bridge the gap between adulthood and childhood. So we turned our favorite camping cuisine — s’mores — gourmet. That meant caramel-glazed marshmallow and cocoa spread wedged between warm gram crackers and served small plate style. Man, that was a good day.

2. Pun Like Crazy

Get out your thesaurus and rhyming dictionary. Or just study up on homonyms. Quality punning is essential for blending bites with brands. And it makes eating all the more fun, because you’re not just eating food — you’re eating an idea. Like when we asked Silicon Valley tech engineers to enjoy some poached eggs, leave their jobs, and sign on with Bigcommerce.

3. Check the Calendar

We have deeply-set associations between foods and times of year. But when people are feeding themselves, they don’t often have the opportunity to play with those associations. So we recommend that you do what we do: take those seasonal expectations and turn them up to eleven. Like when we traveled a massive gingerbread house around town for ION Television. This holiday season activation featured 54 pounds of brown sugar, 30 pounds of shredded coconut, and 15 pounds of icing. Not to mention the enormous gummy bears.

4. Speaking of Enormous

Always remember that as much as people love food, what they love even more is really, really big food. We can say that with confidence, based on our experience serving a massive wedding cake in Times Square to promote the second season of WeTV’s Bridezillas.

Brand Ambassadors dressed as modern "milk men" while serving milk and cookie shots and assisting employees with filling their cookie bags.

5. Long Forgotten Flavors

A little nostalgia goes a long way in this business. And if you can find a clever new twist on tastes from the past, well, that’s the sweet spot. We can tell you we sure had a delectable time promoting 20th Television during the 2015 upfronts, when our 50’s-style milk men and women delivered milk-and-cookie shots to agency staff.

6. Dressed Down Dining

Come to think of it, 20th Television really has inspired some of our yummiest work. For another upfront season, we brought a buffet dining experience directly to agencies. But we ditched all of the usual buffet fare and replaced it with candy. Lots and lots of candy. Undermining traditional dining expectations has always served us well. So next time, you’re looking for a way to catch consumers by surprise, consider turning a meal on its head. And loading it up with sugar.

7. Make Them Work For It

There’s something tastier about earned deliciousness. That’s why we recommend giving consumers the opportunity to win their food. That was the philosophy that motivated us to install smoothie bikes in agencies during NBC’s Green Is Universal initiative. Executives jumped at the chance to hop on our bikes and blend their own pedal-powered smoothies.

8. Color-Coded Cuisine

Never forget that way the food looks matters just as much as the way it tastes. Color-coordinated foods offer a must-seize opportunity to draw the eye and reiterate the client’s branding. That’s why the gourmet popcorn arrangement in our MasterChef Junior mailers was carefully color-coded orange, white, and chocolate brown. That’s true brand cohesion — from kit to kernel.

9. Play the Theme

Put all of these suggestions together and you’ll have the secret of playing with food: theme. The best way to fuse fun and yum in your experiential marketing campaign is to combine form and flavor in support of a single idea. Like when we activated on behalf of USA Network’s Sirens. Our ambulance-style food truck made “emergency stops” in New York, Chicago, and Detroit, where EMT Brand Ambassadors treated consumers to a… hearty menu entitled, “How To End Up In An Ambulance.”

10. Remember Our Best Friends

Finally, we can’t claim to be real radicals without recognizing that humans aren’t the only ones who deserve to play with their food. Dogs deserve to have fun too. That’s why we teamed up with Rachael Ray to serve her Nutrish animal food at a bespoke bar for dogs.

So the next time you’re serving food at an activation, remember to fly in the face of the established order and play with your food. And invite your pets to do the same.

The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to get creative with the cuisine at your next activation.

Building a Brainstorm Part One: Researching an RFP

Welcome to our three part series on pitch ideation. During this trilogy, we’ll walk through the ways in which experiential marketers can work as a team to cook up inventive solutions to client challenges. Later on, we’ll explore techniques for brainstorming, but before we get to that, we’ll begin with the prep. Here are our top 10 steps for researching an incoming RFP.

1. Use It or Lose It

This strategy is listed as number one for a reason. There’s simply no better way for wrapping your head around a new brief than to use the product in question. Reading about it isn’t enough; we want to play with it, watch it, listen to it, eat it — whatever the client’s recommended means of consumption.

Actually using the thing is a great way to springboard your understanding of why this product exists and what consumers are going to love about it. It might also inspire insights into how consumers will interact with the product on site at your activation. So it’s especially important to focus on the details. What does using the product make you feel? What makes it memorable?

For a new album, you might take note of catchy lyrics. For a TV show, you might want to track character quirks and recurring locations, props, and activities. When handling a physical object, what’s simple and delightful about using it? When handling an app, observe the layout, the experience flow, the color scheme, the functionalities — all the small details that make this app dynamic and unique.

2. Stare At the Target Till You Go Cross-Eyed

Once you know what you’re selling, you’ve got find out who’s going to be buying. Some RFPs will include elaborate sections profiling their targets and giving them cool names — most will focus on age, sex, ethnicity, region, and income. It’s your responsibility to do the detective work of finding out what makes your target tick.

As detective work goes, this can be a walk in the park — sometimes literally. You don’t need to hunt down and stalk your targets; they’re all around you. They’re your parents, your siblings, your children, your spouse, your neighbors, coworkers, or bosses. They’re the people who grab the Corn Puffs while you grab the Cheerios, the people who steal your parking spots, who serve you lunch, who — you get the point.

If people-watching isn’t your thing, get online and read what they read — or what they write. You’re not only looking for their opinions about your product here; you’re also looking to discover what sorts of movies they watch, cars they drive, and politics they align with.

The better you understand them, the better you’ll be able to sell to them.

3. Nerd Out

Having gotten a tight closeup on the product, it’s time to pull back and get a wide view of what this is all about. What is the product’s context — what’s the history behind it, the ecosystem in which it exists? What does Wikipedia have to say? What are the terms of art?

Developing a broader understanding of the field will not only help you to better appreciate the product’s purpose, but it will also elevate your interactions with your client and targets. Because you’ll know the history and speak the lingo.

4. Size Up the Other Guys

Now that you know what you’re talking about, it’s time to learn about the other major players. The goal here is to discover the client’s positioning — why this product exists, what sets it apart, and why consumers ought to choose this product instead of another. It’s important to get a sense of both the competitors’ strengths and their weaknesses, so that you can hone in on what to play down, what to play up, where to defend, and where to attack.

Competitor websites, literature, and ads are great for this stage of competitive analysis, and so are articles and reviews that articulate consumer perspectives.

5. Keep Up With the Joneses

The competitive research you’ve just done was about your client’s competition. Now it’s time to find out about your competition. What sort of activations or stunts have the other brands in this space pulled off? You’ll need to understand what those other experiential marketers were doing if you want to put them all to shame.

You’ll also want to tune into the things that have worked in the past, so that you can use your competitors’ discoveries as your starting point. This is especially true if you’re planning to exhibit at an annual convention where there will be plenty of data on what previous brands have done to break through the noise.

This is a great time to start a romance with Google. Photos, sizzles, feature articles — these things will all help you better understand what you’re up against.

6. Prepare for Life Undercover

Part of understanding your client’s positioning is understanding their voice. What kind of copy do they use — is their language flashy and set in sans serif or do they prefer a conservative tone and a Roman font? Are their ads composed of a few long takes or do shots cut quickly? What are their brand colors and what do those colors communicate? Does the brand emphasize youthful innovation or mature reliability?

The deeper you wade in, the better a job you’ll do speaking for and even to the brand. On the receiving end, your client may feel most comfortable with a proposal that looks and sounds like it was written by one of their own. Alternatively, if the RFP’s indicated that the client would like to make a dramatic shift, then it’s important to have a deep understanding of what it is they’re trying to distance themselves from.

7. Analyze the Types

While experiential marketing is a growing field that attracts new brands every day, for many of your clients, this will not be their first at-bat. So before you lead them back onto the field, it’s good to get into some post-game strategic analysis: how has this brand activated before? What’s worked and what hasn’t? What sorts of activations do they like? Maybe they lean toward digital activations, immersive engagements, or stop-and-stare stunts. Maybe they like to get cute or maybe they like to play things edgy. Do they put a premium on hired talent? Do they go mobile?

Just as with Step 4, this process will allow you to get smart about what previous strategies you’re rejecting and what you’re utilizing. You can recycle and reshape what worked; diagnose and treat what hasn’t.

8. Give ‘Em the Third Degree

By now you’ve got a good a great sense of what this product is all about. But we’ve been working in the realm of theory and, as we know, experiential is all about getting hands-on. A great deal of good can come out of real life engagements. That’s why we recommend that you interview fans, users, or experts. Your goal here won’t be to gather large data sets, but rather to glean a few individual perspectives.

Talking to real life targets and specialists can often reveal important information or demonstrate that the things you thought were important aren’t really.

Advertising a TV show? You might know the plot, but real fans often reveal surprising favorite characters and reminisce about particular moments. They can also tell you why they’ve stopped watching or what keeps them coming back.

The same goes for techies, pet owners, world travelers, and sneakerheads. A short conversation can offer insight into what sort of event could make their weekend, what sort of premiums they’d value most, or what they need to hear from a new brand before converting.

Again, you don’t have to reach out into the ether to have these conversations — just call up a friend or family member who fits the demographic.

9. Don’t Draw A Big Picture – Draw Five

You’re swimming in knowledge now, so it’s time to sift, sort, and compartmentalize. Take some time with a whiteboard, flashcards, or post-its to start identifying patterns and themes. It’s a rare product that only has one way in. After all this research you’ve probably got a wide variety of angles to work from.

Consider what you’ve learned about the brand from interviews and articles, and what the brand says about itself. Consider the context and history around the product, and the qualities that set this one apart from others. What you love about it, what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t. And use that information to identify and label discrete ideas and questions.

All told, you should start seeing a few different directions in which to head. In future installments, we’ll see how this categorizing of information will make for great brainstorm facilitation.

10. Buy a Poncho

Of course the final step to wrapping your head around a brief is to bring in the team. So warn the office that a storm’s coming!

Next month, we’ll get into the details of how to make that brainstorm a successful one — from filling the room to briefing it. And later we’ll cover our top 10 rules for inspiring top-flight ideas. Stay tuned!

The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to chat about brainstorming ideas for your next experiential campaign.