Guest post

How can confectionery brands engage with customers in real life, post COVID-19?

By Liz Richardson

- Last updated on GMT

HeyHuman brings some life to a recent Oreo campaign. HeyHuman
HeyHuman brings some life to a recent Oreo campaign. HeyHuman

Related tags: COVID-19, coronavirus, Marketing

Liz Richardson, managing director and partner at transformative communications agency HeyHuman, looks at the challenges for chocolate companies hoping to stay relevant in a post-COVID world.

Experiential marketing has always been an exciting, inventive way to bring your confectionery brand to life - recent examples like Cadbury’s Creme Egg ‘Hunting House’, created fun and intrigue as people search for rare white eggs within booking.com listings for a chance to win a stay in a chocolate themed apartment.

Cadbury’s Flake took its i-Scream machine on tour last summer to busy locations inviting people to shout 99 as loud as they could to move the scream-o-metre and get a free sample.

This, and experiences like it have been a popular fixture in shopping centres, festival fields and busy train stations for many years and I’ve organised plenty of them during my career.

Going to the pub for a Sunday lunch isn’t the same as it was six months ago, and neither is experiential marketing.

But coronavirus has brought this close-quarters, intimate style of marketing to a grinding halt - for now, at least. With pennies being pinched and these popular approaches no longer viable, how can confectionery brands make their experiential budget work for them during and after the pandemic?

Look to stage events and activations outside

As certain regulations start to relax, it doesn’t mean things are ‘back to normal’ - going to the pub for a Sunday lunch isn’t the same as it was six months ago, and neither is experiential marketing.

Even if people can do certain things, a residual fear will still remain and we marketers need to understand how people are feeling and plan accordingly.

Hey human GreenBlacks_750
HeyHuman's Green&Black's campaign. Pic: HeyHuman

A few years back, HeyHuman​ worked with Green & Black’s, the luxury chocolate brand​, to launch its Velvet Fruits range. Our neuroscience research had given us a good steer on how to make the experience a memorable one and enhance the taste and texture of the chocolate. We created a little bit of luxury in busy areas such as train stations and shopping centres and invited people to relax in a soft velvet chair while we treated them to a chocolatier-style tasting experience with calming music.

When you take into account the trepidation to commute nowadays, on top of the health and safety questions this kind of activity would pose, there’s an urgent need to rethink how you reach people so that they feel engaged but reassured.

Going local

A great option now for Green & Black’s would be to take the campaign out of the train stations and malls and onto the streets, hitting commuter belts and putting on high-end street displays.  People now feel safer in their neighbourhoods than in city centres. It’s a trend that has led to busier local high streets and more people shopping at their nearby convenience store. So why not tap into this behaviour and put ‘local’ at the heart of your experiential plans?

People will remember that your brand made the effort and kept them entertained or feeling good while they were confined mainly to their homes

We’ve seen how popular socially distanced street parties have become and a confectionery brand could easily tap into this trend, organising brilliant live entertainment and branded displays. Give your activity extra impact and longevity by following up with a variation on the traditional door drop so that you take your brand experience into someone’s home. 

Create a sample gift box that can be delivered through the letterbox, or alternatively as a surprise sample in a Deliveroo order or Amazon delivery; add in a movie suggestion or advice on a perfect pairing wine, complete with discount codes, to make it a properly indulgent night in and a memorable experience.

These small moments of joy will make all the difference when things go ‘back to normal’ - whatever that may look like. People will remember that your brand made the effort and kept them entertained or feeling good while they were confined mainly to their homes as well as post lockdown. During this strange moment in history brand loyalty and sentiment arguably matter more than ever.

The other significant behaviour change we have seen is how much people have craved open spaces. During lockdown people took up jogging in their local park and when restrictions were lifted, flocked to beauty spots. People feel safer outdoors and the science confirms this. So, while the weather allows it, take your brand experience outdoors.

Drive-in cinema

And as the weather turns, think about the growing trend for drive-in cinema and how your brand could get involved or do something of their own to connect with people while they are out and about but feeling safe in their cars. 

And as we get to spring 2021, I suspect we might find more and more confectionery brands doing their own kind of Easter Egg hunt in the great outdoors.

Stay safe

Even under limitations, confectionery brands can create experiences worth remembering. They’ve just got to make sure they’re remembered for the right reasons. That comes from staying on top of changing consumer behaviour and understanding that safety remains a primary concern for as long as this pandemic lasts.

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