The pandemic-induced era of virtual interactions highlighted the undeniable value of technology in bridging gaps and sustaining connections. Yet, it also illuminated the limitations of the digital realm, underscoring the irreplaceable authenticity of in-person interactions. On-ground activations serve as a counterbalance to the digital fatigue that many experience during prolonged periods of isolation.

Furthermore, the revival of on-ground activations is not just a return to the past, but a reimagining of the future. The lessons learned during the pandemic have catalysed innovation within the marketing and advertising industry. Hybrid models that seamlessly blend physical and virtual elements have emerged, expanding the reach of these activations beyond geographical constraints.

As the curtain rises on this new chapter, the return of on-ground activations stands as a beacon of hope, reminding us that while our world may change, our fundamental need for connection and shared experiences remains constant.

This is no different to the on-ground activation scene in New Zealand, which is slowly returning thanks to the resilience of local businesses and the government’s proactive measures. The evolution of New Zealand’s on-ground activations reflects not only the challenges overcome but also the spirit of unity that has emerged in the face of adversity.

To learn more about what industry leaders in the said market think of this industry renaissance, MARKETECH APAC’s deep dive series The Inner State spoke with industry leaders Brianna Elder, managing partner at Mango Communications NZ and Ian Benet, general manager at Eleven PR, to know about their insights on the recent changes on on-ground activations in the local market, how they are adapting to these changes, and what industries could tap more into this.

Cautionary yet excited: How New Zealand’s on-ground activation scene is dealing with a pandemic era

For Eleven PR’s Ian Benet, following the easing of restrictions in New Zealand, fervour for on-ground activations and events was coming in full force, even stating that they had the honour of working with several of these initiatives. But despite this, Benet offers a small word of caution for the industry.

“It’s too early to tell. In New Zealand, restrictions were lifted in September [2022]. Everyone is so excited to be back at enjoying life and really leveraging the power of experiential marketing to help brands really maximise the moment that we’re in,” he said, explaining how it is still early to tell whether a significant change in the on-ground activation scene was evident.

He also added that during the pre-pandemic time, a big part of the events was committing RSVPs and making sure they were coming through the doors, getting those ‘yes-es’ to the events through media or influencers. Meanwhile, in the post-pandemic times, there were no issues in getting people to attend. In addition, people really wanted to come and craved human interaction. 

Benet also added that in terms of the impact on-ground activations have nowadays, people will still come to events/activations for a while. Then, in the longer run, things will settle down and the change will happen, just not drastically. And for that, he has a piece of advice to offer for brands.

“Brands, agencies and companies need to recognise that even though things will settle down, there’ll still be that craving for interaction, there’ll still be that craving for engagement and a desire for something that really captures the attention,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mango Communications’ Brianna Elder that a significant portion of these on-ground activation changes in New Zealand has something to do with the rise of experiential marketing: especially those that require more design planning on how to execute it properly.

“We’re spending way more time at the front-end of the project, and the planning and the designing of the execution to make sure it’s safe and it’s checking all the boxes from a public health and social responsibility point of view,” she said.

Moreover, Elder noted that nowadays, consumers are expecting bolder, bigger, and more creative activations while at the same time keeping the experience intimate and ideal for smaller groups of people even in larger spaces.

“We need to make sure that we are having multiple outputs and multiple touchpoints from the on-ground activations just to hit as many people as possible and give the brands the reach that they crave,” she added.

Opportunities for mobile event trucks in a growing on-ground activation industry

Both of the industry leaders have agreed that the use of mobile event trucks–albeit not yet a staple in the local scene–can help spice up upcoming activations in the near future. It is also worth noting that both industry leaders also agree that utilising a mobile event truck should not just be used as a standalone channel but rather as part of a much larger experience.

For Benet, both the brand and agency must consider how to bring a campaign to life while also utilising the mobile event truck as sort of a stage for the on-ground activation. Moreover, he adds utilising an opportunity like this must bring fresh to the consumers.

“You need to think creatively about ‘what are we trying to do here?’. At the start of the events process, I always like to be a bit cynical and scrutinise what we’re doing and think about it from a public point of view, like ‘What are we offering here?’ What are we doing that’s actually worth their eyeballs, that is worth them engaging with, that is worth the general public taking notice?” he says.

Interestingly, Benet shared about a campaign they did with local vodka brand Long White where they wanted to emphasise Kiwi culture while cheering up the people. For the campaign, they hired a truck, decorated it, put a band on it, drove through three MIQ centres, and played a 15 to 20-minute set at each location. And while admittedly this was executed without the permission from authorities, the guerrilla activation worked well for both them and the brand.

“t was a bit of a calculated risk in terms of how this would be taken, how would doing something like this be received. But I think because it was such a part of a cultural conversation at the time and something that was being extensively talked about, we were able to have a pretty good gauge of how it would be received by the general public in a way that would be positive,” he said.

Meanwhile, for Elder, while she hasn’t seen a mobile event truck being implemented in New Zealand, there is absolutely a desire in the industry for those mobile vehicle-led on-ground activations. She even remarked that a mobile event truck is like a ‘moving billboard’: it just keeps working for you even when you’re not working it. This then allows the brands to also get the chance to get out of main city centres and work with other demographics.

“The relationship and interaction change completely because they were in a completely different mindset. They’ve got time to talk to you and engage, so you have a far richer interaction with your target audience,” she said.

She further explained that when designed well, mobile executions work as they encompass many facets – the transportation method, the activation hub, the asset holder, and the work 24 hours a day – not just when the activation is live. In short, an eye-catching design and clean and clear messaging on the vehicle provides a moving billboard advantage amidst a sea of local campaigns.

How to get the local sign of approval for your on-ground activations

As advice for brands in New Zealand to have more effective on-ground activations, Elder said that it should always feed the curiosity of the locals, especially considering how much time Kiwis have spent indoors during the pandemic due to strict restrictions back then.

“Kiwis love being out, and I think for us we can often feel a long way from the rest of the world. So anything that feels new and exciting and kind of inspired by travel, art, culture or feels different will always cut through and people love it,” she said.

It is also worth noting that aside from asking permission from local authorities, brands and agencies should also be mindful of the cultural sensitivities in the market, especially considering that the native people of the country–the Maori people–have a special relationship with their native lands. 

This was also echoed by Benet, who said that with proper permission, local councils and authorities recognise the value of your event or your experience is bringing. Moreover, they recognise the way a brand and agency are trying to bring joy to someone through events or experiences, and that they are good at understanding the way advertisers work.

“The council are actually quite good at recognising what we are trying to do, how we were trying to do it, and actually working with us to make it happen in a way that’s acceptable to the client and acceptable to them,” he said.

This feature is done in partnership with Unicom Marketing.

Unicom Marketing is an event management company spanning Southeast Asia that provides full-service such as roving event trucks, on-ground activation, online digital activation, and virtual event management.

New Zealand – Media agency Initiative has been appointed as media partner to New Zealand bank ASB and will be expanding its global footprint by launching in New Zealand as ‘Initiative Aotearoa’.

As ASB’s media agency partner, Initiative Aoteroa will be delivering innovative and integrated media strategy, planning, and buying across all channels.

The new business announcement follows a competitive pitch process which saw expressions of interest from a group of high-caliber local and international agencies, with the contract taking effect on September 1. 

Commenting on the partnership, Helen Fitzsimons, chief marketing officer of ASB, said, “We were inspired by Initiative’s philosophy and the impact this is having for its clients around the world. Initiative’s energy, strategic thinking, data smarts, and overall approach were aligned to ASB’s transformational agenda and the ambitions of our marketing practice. We’re excited to welcome Initiative Aotearoa to New Zealand and to the ASB team.”

Melissa Fein, CEO of Initiative AuNZ, also mentioned a move to open a New Zealand office has been on the agency’s agenda, but it was waiting for the right brand to launch with.

“We’ve always admired the sheer creativity of marketers in New Zealand and share their philosophy on embracing bold cultural ideas to fuel growth. As such, a New Zealand presence was always on our radar, but we were waiting for the perfect partner to set up shop. ASB is that partner”, added Fein.

Meanwhile, Sam Geer, managing director of Initiative AuNZ, commented, “We’re excited for this partnership that will see global expertise with the best of New Zealand, delivering innovative solutions in support of ASB’s ambitious plans.”

New Zealand – Mango Aotearoa is experiencing growth, increasing in size. The recently announced changes include the appointment of seven producers and a talent manager.

The Mango experiential team receives support from group ECD Matty Burton and strategy director Jack Murphy. Additionally, they have an internal content creation team comprising digital, design, and technical domains.

Jessica McColl has been appointed as group business director at Mango.

Speaking of the appointment of McColl, Brianna Elder, managing partner and head of experiential at Mango Aotearoa, said, “Jessica brings with her an incredible wealth of experience, amazing creative ability and the best black book in the market.” 

She added, “We have an incredible team of producers that can make any idea a reality, and we’ve partnered that expertise with more creative firepower, pointy insights and content creation that significantly expands the reach of our physical executions into the digital space.”

“As our clients diversify their experiential needs, we’re delivering differently too. We’re seeing a shift away from product-led experiences to a dual need for product and brand in all executions. Tasting is no longer believing, there are layers of messaging and emotional connection in everything we do,” Elder said.

New Zealand – Harvey Cameron, a local business and marketing solutions agency, has announced an expansion to its existing team. They include Tim McConnell as head of web development and design, Callum Radford as UX/UI designer, Anna Parker and Rosa Dalgleish as digital account managers, Karishma Walia as digital media planner, Michelle Wu and Tim Williams as web developers, along with Ian Sweeny as senior copywriter, and Hannah Sandilands as digital projects coordinator

The team will be led by general manager James Duggan, working closely with creative director Alan Kang.

Duggan said, “Ensure we build online experiences that respect and enhance brands, while delivering seamless integration between the digital and offline world”.

He added, “Now more than ever before, customers expect a seamless, frictionless user and brand experience across all channels – but especially digital. To achieve this, it’s vital that brands focus on the digital experience as a whole, across the entire customer journey, rather than in silos.”

“To achieve this, we’ve worked hard to bring together a team of experts that can integrate digital experience, conversion/e-commerce, digital media, plus retention and lifetime value.  It’s a wide-ranging combination to offer along with strategy and creative, but we’re finding the market is responding positively to the opportunity,” Duggan said. 

Meanwhile, Harvey Cameron, managing director of Gareth O’Connor, emphasised “streamlined capability.” 

He said, “As the market get tougher, we’re finding that brands are looking for greater efficiencies across all platforms and channels.  By ensuring we have strong and proven skills across both digital marketing and web development, along with our established strategy, creative, e-commerce and CRM capabilities, we can provide a combined offering within one team, and one location.  This provides businesses with the adaptability a tight market needs.” 

He said, “As the market get tougher, we’re finding that brands are looking for greater efficiencies across all platforms and channels.  By ensuring we have strong and proven skills across both digital marketing and web development, along with our established strategy, creative, e-commerce and CRM capabilities, we can provide a combined offering within one team, and one location.  This provides businesses with the adaptability a tight market needs.” 

Australia – Coca-Cola has launched its FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 campaign initiative titled ‘Believing is Magic’ which seeks to promote and improve the collective journey of the FIFA World Cup, generating enthusiasm among fans of football worldwide.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, marking the two countries’ first-ever collaboration. From July 20 to August 20, the event will take place in nine locations, with ten stadiums.

As part of the campaign, Coca-Cola is providing a variety of consumer experiences, including a stadium tour across many places in Australia, where fans may journey through a tunnel filled with games and booths. A special fan-zone area will also allow football fans to capture moments and participate in game booths for a chance to win Coca-Cola tote bags and drink coupons.

Moreover, Coca-Cola’s television commercial will air in New Zealand on July 19 and in Australia on July 20, and it is now available on YouTube. The advertisement, which shows a global community of fans coming together to watch the games, underlines Coca-Cola’s capacity to bring players and supporters closer together. In addition, Coca-Cola will release short films featuring Team Coke athletes such as Ellie Carpenter from Australia, Katie Bowen from New Zealand, Alyssa Naehar from the United States, Wu Hai Yan from China, and Huynh Nhu from Vietnam. 

Kate Miller, marketing director of Coca-Cola Australia, said, “Coca-Cola is committed to bringing people together, and this is at the essence of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. This is more than just a football tournament – it is a celebration of positive change in society and a testament to the spirit of believing in magic.” 

She added, “When we unite and believe in the impossible, anything can be achieved. We want everyone to embrace the power of optimism, see what happens when you believe in magic, and be part of what will be an incredible FIFA Women’s World Cup.”

Auckland, New Zealand – ANZ has teamed up with TBWA\NZ and Eleven NZ to launch an awareness campaign which uses screensavers to remind vulnerable people on the rise of financial scams recently.

The initiative combines the one thing all grandparents want – pictures of their grandchildren – with advice they need – tips to avoid getting scammed. Said initiative was launched after research revealed that over half of over 65-year-olds have experienced an actual, or attempted scam in the last 12 months.

Launching just in time for Mother’s Day, the programme calls on New Zealanders to take photos of their children holding up a sign with banking safely tips, before adding the photo to their grandparent’s devices as its wallpaper. The goal is to have families share banking safely advice while uploading a wallpaper that serves as a reminder about steps grandparents can take to avoid being scammed in a way that’s memorable and loved.

Ben Kelleher, managing director for personal banking at ANZ says, “Older adults are being disproportionately impacted by a range of online scams – they’re afraid of being scammed but aren’t always aware of what to do to stay safe. Only 29% of them are speaking to their families about their scamming incident, so we are hoping this initiative will help them to speak more freely about this subject and feel more at ease.”

Meanwhile, Shane Bradnick, chief creative officer at TBWA\NZ, commented, “Sometimes security advice can be dry, forgettable and in formats that may never reach the people that most need it. We all know someone who has been affected by a scam recently because they are so rife. So we wanted to find a way to have families teach their loved ones and ensure the most important banking safely information gets to those most vulnerable to these scammers.” 

Australia – Following its successful Australian launch in late 2021, and off the back of a period of rapid growth, ad-spec business ‘The Spec Sheet’ has expanded into New Zealand.

Leading the New Zealand office is The Spec Sheet’s Head of Media and Sales, Nick Howie. Howie has extensive knowledge of the New Zealand media and marketing landscape with more than 17 years of industry experience. Prior to joining The Spec Sheet, Howie was TVNZ’s Head of Trading for more than five years. 

The Spec Sheet launches in New Zealand with the support of a vast network of local and global media partners, including TVNZ, NZME, Go Media, JCDecaux, Lumo, Stuff, and Mediaworks to name a few.

Founded by former Special Group talent Sharon Gray and Jesse McLallen, The Spec Sheet was built to help media owners, media agencies and creative agencies solve a problem that has plagued the industry for decades. Gray, a former digital producer, and McLallen, a former digital creative, created the platform to eliminate errors, cut out the unnecessary wasted time and increase collaboration during the ad spec and material instruction process.

In less than two years, The Spec Sheet has expanded to a client base of over 256 media owners – including Foxtel, Nine, Ten, Nova, SBS, ARN, and QMS – and now has over 44,000 ad specs, making it the largest verified ad spec database globally.

Sharon Gray, the co-founder, said, “We started The Spec Sheet out of sheer frustration. We knew there had to be a more effective, less laborious, and more accurate way of creating, sharing, maintaining and documenting ad specs. And so, The Spec Sheet was born. With the mission of making life easier for media planners, we’ve since onboarded almost every major media owner in Australia, taken our tech to the next level, and hired more than 20 incredibly talented people.”

“It’s been a massive journey, but we’ve got real talent in our team, and now a robust and polished product. As we’ve started to work with more and more media owners and agencies who do trans-Tasman planning, we knew that launching in New Zealand was the obvious next step in our journey.”

The Spec Sheet is already working with several clients in Australia who plan across markets, with interest from agencies on the ground in New Zealand rapidly increasing. 

Jesse McLallen, also co-founder, said, “Since we launched at the end of December 2021, the product has totally reinvented itself. The Spec Sheet is now a fully collaborative, living document that is powered by a library of media owner verified ad specs. It can be shared between all partners. Simply put, we connect media owners, media agencies, creatives and clients, providing an end-to-end solution, saving our customers up to 70% of time when they create and share spec sheets.”

“Aligning with global media industry players, The Spec Sheet is rapidly scaling and expanding our product suite. We are now proud to include Material Instructions as part of our offering, and we can’t wait to get started in New Zealand. This is just the beginning.”

Auckland, New Zealand – Public relations agency Mango Aotearoa has announced four new hires across its PR team namely Jo Martin as public relations account director, and account managers Braxton Dinnan, Ellen Pye and Clea Kanning.

Martin joined at the start of the year after a number of years running Brand New You, a personal branding organisation first established in Australia before setting up in New Zealand in 2020. Dinnan was also with Martin at Brand New You, and brings experience across PR, marketing and e-commerce.

Meanwhile, Pye was previously from Showroom 22 and brings her knowledge of fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands to Mango clients including Specsavers and Lion Beverages, as well as campaigns such as Correct the Internet for Team Heroine.

Lastly, Kanning, who hails from the UK, brings strong PR and social expertise, and is working with the team on Samsung, and The Warehouse Group.

Managing Director Sean Brown says Mango Aotearoa is excited to expand the team and welcome such a variety of skilled people to the agency.

“As our business continues to grow, we are pleased to bolster our offering so that we can continue to provide top end integrated marcomms work for our fantastic clients. It’s particularly pleasing that Mango continues to attract the best talent, and we are delighted to welcome our four new recruits,” Brown said.

Some of the client accounts Mango Aotearoa has handled includes Cannabis Clinic, Volkswagen New Zealand, and Bendon Lingerie.

Sydney, Australia After a competitive pitch, media agency Initiative has retained its media remit for distillery company Pernod Ricard to work across the entire brand portfolio including all Pernod’s wine, spirit, whiskey, champagne, RTD and ‘new to world’ brands, focusing on Australia and New Zealand market.

Since its sealed partnership in 2019, Initiative has helped the company to propel into culture, with notable highlights including challenging gender bias through The Glenlivet Break The Rules campaign, tackling regional inequality through Absolut Pride Relay, and launching major brands like Malfy Gin and Altos Tequila into market. 

Jo McAlister, managing director at Initiative, said that the agency is excited for another 3 years of partnership with the company to continue its journey in leading ANZ’s competitive alcohol beverage markets across all brand categories.

“This is phenomenal news and we are so proud to continue our partnership. For the past three years we have grown together as brands, collaborating via a truly open and transparent relationship and enjoying an agency/client bond that I’ve rarely seen in market,” McAlister added.

Eric Thomson, CMO at Pernod Ricard Winemakers, added, “The chemistry between Initiative’s team and ours was evident from the start of our relationship three years ago and it has not waned. We are delighted to continue our partnership as we both push forward to produce effective and creative work that connects and engages our customers in an increasingly complex market.”

In January, Initiative also retained its media business remit for energy networks owner Jemena Limited, extending its 10-year relationship with the brand. 

Sydney, Australia In addition to its existing remit in Australia, digital marketing agency Tug agency has expanded its partnership with entertainment company and tourist attraction operator Merlin Entertainment to increase the share of voice and audience traffic for all Merlin Entertainments attractions in Australia and New Zealand through free, organic, editorial and natural search results. 

Merlin Entertainments, which is a home for tourist attractions, appointed the agency in July last year to manage the search engine optimisation for SEA LIFE Sydney. In the expanded role, the agency will now work on all four SEA LIFE locations in Australia and New Zealand and other attractions including WILDLIFE Sydney Zoo, LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Melbourne, Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventure and Otway Fly Treetop Adventure, Madame Tussauds and Sydney Tower Eye.

Matt Newman, head of e-commerce at Merlin Entertainments for APAC said that Tug agency has been consistently delivering strong performance so they are delighted to expand the agency’s remit for their operations in Australia and New Zealand.

“Merlin Entertainments offers something for everyone and we look forward to engaging more visitors at our attractions and creating more magical experiences for our guests with the help of Tug’s digital marketing expertise,” Newman added.

Charlie Bacon, managing director at Tug Sydney, commented, “Following a successful trial, we welcome the opportunity to extend our specialist search capabilities for all of Merlin Entertainments venues. They operate some of the most unique and memorable visitor attractions and the team is ready to ensure that the business continues to enjoy customer growth.”

Tug agency specialises in performance media, using data, media, content and technology with offices in Sydney, Singapore, London, Toronto and Berlin.