Main FeatureMarketingSoutheast Asia

The current state of on-ground activations in Vietnam: Moving away from the remnants of socially-constrained brand interactions

Shaina Teope - May 16, 2023

It is safe to say that most of what we’re experiencing at the current period are evolutionary realities residual of the pandemic. In the marketing world, we were introduced to fresh innovations owing to the unique demands in the face of the global crisis; on the other side of the coin, phenomenons that occurred pre-pandemic underwent transformative shifts.

For The Inner State, MARKETECH APAC’s dedicated industry deep-dive, we direct the focus on one particular marketing strategy that was a feature of the status quo, but unfortunately, had to take the back seat – on-ground activations. From its name, we know it hadn’t been tagging along our immediate present. But now that we’re way back on track — we ask, how has this in-person marketing strategy evolved and what significant changes did it undergo?

This special feature on on-ground activations is part of a wider regional series that pooled creative marketing experts from the different markets in APAC. In this particular insight, we’re going to get into the skin of creative leaders, specifically those from the Vietnam market.

The biggest change in on-ground activations 

If we would look at the biggest change within the said strategy, it’s that we’re not merely going back to how it once was. Something new has definitely ticked – there was a trigger. 

On-ground activations pre-pandemic leaned heavily on in-person gimmicks – and now that we’ve been brought back from the depths of the crisis – we can now never ignore the online channel. It had been our lifeline in the past three years, and as we move forward, audiences will be looking for it even in a physical-first marketing initiative such as on-ground activations. 

Luc Mandret, founder and managing director at The Advocacy in Vietnam, one of the leaders MARKETECH APAC interviewed, share in the sentiment. 

“Activations [have] been affected by localised lockdowns, therefore, brands accelerated their strategies from offline to online. Before, there has been a lot of activations in Vietnam, but only on [the] ground. No integration [of online and offline],” said Mandret. 

Meanwhile, Tra Linh Nguyen, managing director of T&A Ogilvy in Vietnam, brings this reality forward and suggests that aside from bridging offline to online in on-ground activations, brands are now also lulled to look for ways to direct that online activity to commerce. 

“O2O is not only online to offline but how on-ground activities can link to commerce, so it’s a must now. Every time people talk like how we can do on-ground activations, the client would ask for [a] KPI.”

Nguyen says further that the online strand of activations has truly increased in preference by the consumer– the biggest catch being that an individual, despite being in a remote setting, can now experience so much more from just where he or she is. 

“Online activation is much more visible. With all the technology like artificial intelligence [and] all sort of virtual technology offers, the consumer [has] a really convenient option to just stay where they are and experience the brand personally.”

Challenges ahead in modern on-ground activations

We know that for every opportunity brought to fruition, there is an inherent challenge that comes with such. According to creative leaders, what are the current challenges in modern on-ground activations? 

Sudarshan Saha, managing director at EssenceMediacom Vietnam, emphasises a literal demand nowadays, and says, post-pandemic, ‘hygiene’ has become of utmost concern for attendees, where they’ve grown warier of an event’s sanitation. 

But just like Mandret and Nguyen, he cites another ‘H’ which has now become a ‘requirement’ by default, and that is the ‘Hybrid’ format. In the similar light of connecting offline to online, to mount these initiatives in such a format is a challenge in itself, Saha would suggest.

“The changes are in the form of hygiene and hybrid.” 

He continued, “[Hybrid] will affect the way we design activities. The interaction, how we record, transcribe, how we plan to socialize everything.”

When it comes to fully leveraging the online component of activations, Nguyen says embracing technology and letting it be realised in different iterations may not always be a walk in the park. But that the antidote would always be experimentation

“However, the challenge could be how we embrace technology and how the consumer will engage online.”

“These changes are very significant for [clients], brands, and agencies to set a role together and how to encourage and [allow] experimentation. By experimentation, we can figure out, come to new ideas, and test new tactics and strategies for on-ground activations.”

Activation scene in Vietnam

The trio of leaders all shared that Vietnam as a market is ideal for implementing on-ground activations as locals are increasingly receptive to such high-spirited engagements. Add to that, the Southeast Asia country is undoubtedly a melting pot of styles, themes, and rhythms. 

Mobile trucks, for example, are a viable form of in-person engagement for brands targeting consumers in the areas of sports, food, beverages, and music. Just like any other market, the Vietnamese are warm toward such passion areas, agreed the leaders.

“Beer brands are doing a lot of music festivals in Vietnam. Street food culture is also prominent in Vietnam,” said T&A Ogilvy’s Nguyen.

EssenceMediacom’s Saha, meanwhile, emphasised that brands in sports will always be top adopters of activations such as mobile event trucks due to their high-action nature.

“Vietnam as a market has a very very high engagement for football events. There are live [screenings of matches in open] spaces, bars, and public places whenever [audiences’ favourite] football [teams] [play],” he said.

Saha added that any ‘consumption-related’ brands such as food and drinks would benefit greatly from such type of on-ground activation.

“To me, this kind of mobile activation is a very nice way of catching the audience, on different parts of the day, different parts of [the city], [and] different days; customising a morning coffee, post lunch, [and] sweet drinks.” “They can easily get drinks, that’s a whole ecosystem of enabling people on the go.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to the biggest challenge in launching activations in the market, the three are unanimous that due to the intricate logistics of such strategy, it would foremost be about answering to legal requirements. 

“If you want to conduct offline on-ground activation, you need to be very strict in the way you work with local and global [authorities] in Vietnam, and you need to register every activity that you’re doing,” admits The Advocacy’s Mandret. 

Nguyen agrees, “The challenge in mobile trucks is legal barriers. How to get the license for the mobile to go around the city.” 

She, however, stressed that at the end of the day, activations such as that of mobile event trucks, are an effective channel for catching the attention of the younger cohort. 

“[Mobile event trucks] would be like a good channel for engaging young audiences like Gen Z or even a bit younger because they are looking for something accessible, fresh, young, and engaging [on] a medium scale.” “Gen Z also want something authentic. This on-ground activation idea would be really good.” 

How to ultimately mount an attention-snaring on-ground activation 

As the world opens up once more and goes back to its former glory, consumers are raring to release pent-up energy for interaction and socialisation. Therefore, it would be such a disservice to not leverage such a physically led channel, and more so, to mount such type that is only a copycat of the old and a thing of the pre-pandemic past. 

If there’s one important takeaway, it’s that we’re simply not re-adopting previous trends, nor are we put to square one, but rather, it’s merging the foundations with the new-age hybrid-first marketing approach.

Interestingly, some leaders are on the same page, saying that innovation isn’t always the key, but meaningfulness is.

“Think meaningfully, not just innovatively,” said Saha.

“When it comes to on-ground activation design, I think the tip is to create something meaningful rather than being innovative for the sake of creating something new.”

Mandret says the same, “People are expecting meaningfulness when they want to join on-ground activities.” 

Saha shares further that there are two things to look at amidst developing an interactive initiative such as on-ground activation: Reach and Attention.

“When the reach is very high, attention may not be as good. However, high reach and high attention [are] possible,” he said, referring to events such as live sports, live music, live concerts, and lifestyle events.

“I think any concept which needs the audiences’ higher attention is an opportunity for [launching an] on-ground activation.”

Interestingly, Saha also advises, “Identify when to use humans to interact with prospective [consumers] or when to use augmented reality.”

With AI now all the rage, it won’t be a distant reality to finally see the usage of such tech in the creation of on-ground activations. 

Madret said, “Artificial intelligence could be the future of this strategy, specifically the use of [holograms].”

“I think it’s a very good way in terms of engaging with [consumers], he further shares. “When you have a hologram, you don’t need to have the people with you. If you want an event to be safe because you don’t have to be there since you can use the hologram, you can make one activity in as many [places] as you want at the same time. You don’t need to travel anymore, and the quality is so good.”

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.