“Hey! Let’s put live tigers in front of kids on the streets of New York!”

“No, let’s jump out of a balloon 24 miles above the earth!”

“Nah, let’s just change the color of the logo.”

Why is it some companies get the value of experiential accountability—both internally and for customers—and some seem to not want to get involved? Perhaps it’s that many companies lack one crucial component: Fearlessness.

The Balloons

Certainly R. H. Macy & Co. showed that confidence when they expanded their store in the early 1920s to take up an entire city block in New York, stretching from Broadway to Seventh Avenue along 34th Street. And what would be more befitting of opening the “World’s Largest Store” (over a million square feet of retail space) than a parade, right out front, on Thanksgiving morning?

Now we all know, years later, that in spite of the parade’s timing, it was never about Thanksgiving, but more about encouraging customers to begin Christmas spending. So, on the morning of November 27, 1924, Macy’s gave parade goers what they billed as “A marathon of mirth.” The spectators who stood ten-deep could watch the entire show easily, as this first escapade only lasted a matter of minutes, extending only two city blocks. But yeah, it had the effect they were going for with customers. Even better, it made employees delighted to share and spread the happiness.

The only way to beat the competition, to get a leg up, is to find what the competition is not willing to do and go do it yourself. Set yourself apart, connect with consumers, create an experience they’ll never forget.”

Leigh Dodson KingEncore Live VP of Operations

Of course, Macy’s Parade quickly became a Manhattan tradition, to the joy millions, except those participants from the New York City Zoo. Turned out wild animals weren’t wild about marching six miles with what looked to be a line of snacks in front of them. That’s when they were replaced with (say it with me) the parade’s true signature: the famous lineup of character balloons, starting in 1927 with the one and only Felix the Cat.

Over the years the route has shortened a bit in length, but the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” still ends on another celebrated note, with Santa showing up in Herald Square, heralding the sound of all the wallets opening up inside Macy’s department store.

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The Other Balloon

Oh, speaking of balloons …

Nearly a century later a brand used another type of balloon, a whole different Felix, and an experiential feat that aimed higher than any before in history. In 2005, Red Bull and Austrian skydiver and base jumper Felix Baumgartner began a seven-year plan for a stratospheric freefall that would exceed human limits and captivate the world. It was called Stratos. For decades, Red Bull had created PR out of extreme stunts, positioning themselves as a drink that “gives you wings,” but this was certainly on an unprecedented scale.

There were setbacks, there were disappointments, missed deadlines, but there was always transparency in every communication with the public and the world. And there was definitely no turning back. So, on October 14, 2012, Baumgartner ascended to 128,000 feet in a stratospheric balloon and completed a jump that had him rushing towards Earth at supersonic speeds before parachuting to the ground. Felix became the first human to break the sound barrier in freefall, while providing invaluable scientific research data.

Broadcasting the jump on a live YouTube stream was innovative and trailblazing, truly visionary. And sponsoring Baumgartner’s record-breaking jump proved Red Bull not only had far-sightedness to stick with the plan, but it provided unbelievable global exposure. The company found thousands following their every move on various social networks. There were over three million tweets. It was on mainstream network news for days. The jump made the front pages of leading pubs. And the drink that gives you a buzz found all this buzz created amazing opportunities for the brand. They took off like a rocket, you might say.

Red Bull has hopefully inspired marketers to demand more from ourselves. Sure, not all companies have the budget to send a man into space, but everyone has the capacity to set themselves a higher standard and not just settle for a mediocre concept.

Robin GrantWe Are Social Global MD

But these two events share another common denominator aside from their bold and intrepid gestures. They not only generated the desired promotion and exposure, but each in its own small way invested in, maybe, an improved us.

Society. Maybe?

Because the scientific information from Felix Baumgartner’s fearless fall is certainly still being studied this very minute, applied to the medical field, space exploration and sporting endeavors in general. And what person doesn’t need to smile as often as possible? Like the grin that has come countless times on Thanksgiving morning, as that wonderful, wonderful cat flies overhead.

The In-Audacity of Non-Experience

Of course, for every Macy’s and Red Bull, there are scores of would-be competitors who fail to grasp the power of experience. Experiential firm Encore Live parodied these companies in its “Don’t Be This Company” video series, which you can view here.

Bruce Wilson

Author Bruce Wilson

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