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August 17, 2015

Portugal: What Is Brand Activation?

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Building a brand is a long process, in permanent contact with consumers, and involves the most varied actions, above and below the line.

Advertising, events, public relations, selling point initiatives, sponsorship, etc. are all ways of communicating (each with its focus) with the target audience. Let us focus especially in events. What are the main trends in brand activations? We sat down with Manuel Roque, from Pitch, Vasco Pereira, from Evoke It, and Rui Batista, from UpPartner, three specialised agencies in this tool.

Everyone talks about brand activation

There isn't much literature available on "brand activation", but this is not an academic approach, as much as a "hands on" one, listening to people who work on the field every day. The term is relatively recent. And there are those who do not even like it, wondering "one activates a brand as opposed to it being deactivated"? The saturation of traditional channels, the migration of certain consumers from television to the Internet, the crisis, the consumer behavior of volatility, the need for brands to provide different experiences, among other things, makes this conversation between brands and consumers more and more present. "Brand activations have always been done with other names: promotions, experiences, events. Today, the label brand activation has stuck. On the one hand, these actions rose sharply in times of crisis, with lower budgets to promote them, and then the good results with activations caused them nowadays to be seen as mandatory when there is an integrated communication plan", refers Manuel Roque, from Pitch. Knowledge about this area is growing in Portugal, guarantees Vasco Pereira, from Evoke It. And business too. "Regarding the business area itself, there has been an increase, with a positive perspective for the future." At UpPartner,  the designation is not very well liked.

"We prefer 'Live Communication' to the expression 'brand activation'. For us, to activate a brand we have to engage our target with it, live and in an emotional and intense manner, generating a brand experience. We activate it, yes, but we want our audience to feel involved, immersed in the events we create and produce," Rui Batista points out. This option is due to the fact that the expression has become too generic, being used "for all purposes". "We refer to brand or product activation a particular advertising campaign or other that is developed as part of a marketing plan, as this is such a generic term," he says.

Social Media

It transformed communication, broadened the reach of messages, increased interactivity. This poses brands some challenges. Social media, today, is one of the main working tools of Evoke It, agency based in Aveiro with great technological focus, shares Vasco Pereira. “A brand activation action lives of its moment and awareness of that moment," he says. Manuel Roque mentions that digital platforms and social media "have made activations more muscular and amplified their message." Rui Batista, UpPartner Event Director, refers that social media has revolutionised event discipline. "Today everyone can have an opinion, participate and be part of real events through the digital use. In my point of view, if it is true that it has never been so easy to communicate or to publicize an event like today, it is no less true that finding the right tools to do it, and use them the best way, presents itself as one of the challenges the advent of new technologies poses."


Creativity and strategy are fundamental. We need to meet the passions, the interests, the needs of consumers. Creating concepts as content is a challenge for agencies. Manuel Roque believes it is more difficult to convey the concepts than to create them and he says: "We need more daring and boldness from the decider, the marketeer". Rui Batista believes that the most difficult part is to create concepts that generate content. But "if a concept is strong enough, either for the corporate area or for the consumer, the reality is that contents eventually emerge," he says. According to Vasco Pereira, the most complicated is to innovate concepts. "This constant challenge to be different and at the same time maintaining relevance in the information we want to share with the audience, I think this is the big challenge." Difficult because the public is more demanding ?, we wondered. "Audiences are more demanding, and brands are in part responsible for this situation. Always trying to surprise consumers made them increase their expectations and demands,” he adds. The opinion, on the whole, is shared by other respondents. "Today, with any event we design, we have increased care with elements such as security, media impact and other factors. If it is true that for a brand to hold an event is an excellent means of communication, the fact is that it is exposing itself directly with their audiences and we must prevent any eventuality," says Rui Batista. "Audiences know very well what they want. So we have activations with high attendances because of the brand experience, boldness, prizes / giveaways, and others less so. When we go through a music festival, we very well understand what the public wants, where people present, in which stands they want to be, what they want to do. Through social media, for and against opinions are more and more noticed", emphasizes Manuel Roque.

We challenged our interviewees to share their creative process with us. Manuel Roque explains that the inspiration comes from what surrounds them and from the brand's needs. "One of our missions in creativity is to do what has not yet been done and I sincerely believe that we have achieved it a few times." Vasco Pereira does not have a fixed recipe. "All actions are different. However, taking into account our technological component, there are always some concerns that become constant. The best way to characterize our creative process is to look at the concept of gamification and immediate feedback to the user, as he should always feel that there will be a benefit from every action and every share." Rui Batista confesses: "I like to involve as many people as possible in our creative process," but with no specific methods. "Sometimes we find ourselves having ideas and thinking about concepts in the most unusual environments. The creativity area, in my opinion, does not reconcile much with rules. However, we don't discard at any stage of this process all the knowledge and facts that the client can transmit to us or that we can investigate. In the end, there are no bad ideas, just great ideas that sometimes are poorly implemented, something we try to avoid at all costs".

Gifts are often puzzle pieces in the brand activation strategy. But they have been losing their importance, according to Rui Batista. "Consumers increasingly look for brand experiences, or significant discounts. Gifts lost some of their importance, unless they very distinctive and extremely suitable to what is intended." On the other hand, Vasco Pereira believes they still have great importance, being physical or digital. "Without them, it becomes more difficult to evoke the brand to the consumer / user after the action / event." Manuel Roque looks at free gifts integrated with activation and designed according to it. "Gifts are necessary. I think that nowadays they are already more connected with the campaign and activation concept, they are no longer the odd one out, as before."

Client involvement and return assessment 

How far can client (brand) involvement go on concept creation and implementation? Rui Batista is very pragmatic. "As far as you want and find useful. Due to the current work dynamic, it is not always possible to have clients involved in the creative process. Personally, I'm really sorry this happens, because I think having clients participating actively with the agency provides time savings. And who better knows the brand?", he says. "Client involvement has to be complete, transmitting an elaborate briefing. Then, it is up to the agency to interpret and create from it. But this initial phase is crucial for a good work performed together," says Manuel Roque. In Evoke It's method, the client is fully involved, as Vasco Pereira refers. "The action must reflect the values of each brand. To achieve this, we like to involve them in our line of creation and production." Once the brand is activated, it is necessary to measure its effectiveness. "Measuring the return on an investment made is one of the key points in any business, so this issue is considered extremely important by Evoke It. In fact, if we do not do it, there's the risk of not being able to justify to potential and existing customers what the benefits of using technology in a given action are," says Vasco Pereira. And they do it by measuring indicators such as time per contact, number of contacts, return of social value and the return value for the brand, he explains. Manuel Roque, Pitch CEO, believes that measuring is critical. "The results of such [measurements] are decisive for the future of our work. Quantitative and qualitative studies allow us to have a correct sampling of how our consumer lived, understood and joined the activation". This view converges with that of Rui Batista, who qualifies assessment as "absolutely necessary" so that the manager / client can take the best possible decisions. And they do it since the beginning of the process, knowing the target audience. "We have several tools that allow us to measure the results througout our events. At the end, reports are generated and we discuss all measurable aspects of the event. Over time, we have been investing time in training of our teams. Through our European company 27Names and with the help of field experts like Dr. Eling Hamso (Event Roi Institute), we have been focusing on this type of tools and services."

And are there more difficult brands to activate than others? This is a challenge for agencies. "When we communicate health in a festival, probably the topic is 'boring', because people want to have fun and are not concerned if they have a few drinks or if they are exposing their skin to the sun. The challenge is to make that communication serious, responsible, but fun at the same time," Manuel Roque explains. Vasco Pereira believes that all brands have activation opportunities, "they just have to work with a creative team that finds them." Nevertheless, "there are some challenges more demanding than others." "I think all brands are possible to activate," UpPartner Event Director continues, "I have seen highly creative events and campaigns based on products or brands that are not love brands at all." Rui Batista mentions that the important thing is "to have a very strong complicity between customer, brand and audience, a factor that sometimes allows us to go further and provide unique experiences. For example, at UpPartner we produce many corporate events that, were we able to publicize them, they would disclose brilliant and unique events," he concludes.

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