We live in an age where digital display and augmented and virtual realities are the norm – from in-gaming and automated user onboarding to staff training, powerful educational tools and interactive walk throughs.

Organisations as diverse as local authorities, corporations, SMEs, libraries and museums all routinely enlist immersive experiences to demonstrate, improve understanding and convey messages.

We are frequently invited to interact with digital marketing campaign – with increasing numbers taking us on a tour of the product, service or wider company behind them.

Car manufacturers offer ‘virtual test drives’, VR allows you to live your holiday before you book or even ride a roller coaster from the comfort of your sofa. Tech giants are enablers with the likes of Google letting us ‘stroll’ around a neighbourhood we are interested in visiting.

With most baby boomers and Generation Xers now au fait with digital devices and Millennials and Generation Z completely ‘plugged in’ – it’s hard to remember a time when personal tech wasn’t embedded into our lives. IT has, indeed is, shaping how we live our lives – from smartphones to tablets and the ‘internet of things’.

Anyone not wanting to be considered socially or professionally inept must now be on the grid. We all have huge e-footprints, with ready access to multiple screens every day, constantly receiving and sharing information. To stay ahead of the curve, we must adopt emerging technologies and the latest media options quickly.

And yet, if only because of sheer volume of messages, digital marketing only manages to connect for a few seconds with target audiences.

This is why a physical or experiential PR stunt (AKA engagement marketing) that is tangible, visually striking and/or on an impressive scale should always be considered. Positioned correctly, they connect directly with target customers en masse – and with plenty of branding, sales and information literature and friendly advisors on hand, messaging can be reinforced heavily.

Something that people can look at in wonder, walk around or get into and explore, appeals at a very elemental level. Humans like spectacle and scale; they like discovering marvels for themselves; they like imaginative, audacious events. Executed correctly, these are highly potent marketing tools that engage with your audience and provide them the opportunity to develop their own ‘content’ to share, with your message at its centre.

And, like most communication strategies, physical stunts shouldn’t be merely standalone presentations, but a physical anchor for the multichannel approach.

Their power was illustrated recently when our client, MadeBrave, turned a new double-decker bus into the world’s largest children’s toy – packaging it in a giant HotWheels-type box in Glasgow city centre to launch First Bus’ fleet of luxury vehicles. This spectacular drew thousands of the transport provider’s core audiences – informing the city’s travelling public about the new service.

George Square buzzed with commuters, shoppers and tourists, who stopped to take pictures and quiz First Bus about its new vehicle’s features. They were also invited to enter the mocked-up box – which was emblazoned with key messages – to inspect and board the bus, with long queues for the tour entertained by live music acts.

Of course, e-delivery can and should be drafted in to enhance any PR stunt – exciting and educating much wider audiences and serving as a weapon of mass reputation management for the client. To this end, MadeBrave created on-the-day social content in real time; capturing the unveiling live on Facebook; covering the event extensively through Instagram stories; and even having a videographer in attendance to create a film of what went on.

In the few days following, it generated more than 100,000 impressions and 97,000 engagements for First Bus on Facebook alone, with nearly half a million across all channels. Actively reminding people of Glasgow’s fantastic new service, it also presented the operator as a go-ahead innovator. And all that’s not including the many passers-by who talked to the team to find out more.

As mentioned, experiences also support multichannel campaigns perfectly. When building a narrative online, a pillar is needed and the stunt can be that pillar – used to enthuse worldwide audiences across multiple digital and social channels while also conveyed by ‘old school’ content forms.

For example, MadeBrave’s impactful 16-foot ‘bus-in-a-box’ was the first step of a far-reaching integrated creative marketing programme that would run for the next three months. Seeking to change people’s perceptions of bus travel in Glasgow, this cross-media second phase saw e-comms, as well as outdoor, radio and print – with Definition securing massive national press coverage.

Although big is often beautiful, there is an engaging, experience to fit most budgets.

Simply handing out samples works – why just show people a chocolate bar in a VR headset when they could be given a real one to eat?

This approach could be stepped up by having a liveried cyclist touring a town handing out the confectionery from a grocer’s bike, for example. And then again by dispensing it from a branded catering trailer – with smiling staff on hand to engage and inform – and so on.

Whatever the scale, though, don’t be seduced by the magic of ‘show’ business and lose touch of the job in hand; just like any other marketing route, physical and experiential stunts must convey key messages efficiently and be in the right place at the right time to make an impact on target audiences.

David Gatehouse, Account Manager