Extraordinary Experiential Agency: Showcasing The Success Story Of Oracle Experience
By Jeremiah Agada
The idea of an oracle in marketing communications is an interesting one. In classical antiquity, an oracle was a person or agency considered to provide wise and insightful counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods.
Oracles were also thought to be portals through which the gods spoke directly to people. In ancient India, the oracle was known as the “voice from the sky” and was related to the message of a god.
More specifically, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines an oracle as a shrine in which a deity reveals hidden knowledge or the divine purpose of a person. In a rare definition, it calls it a person giving wise or authoritative decisions or opinions.
Most often, brands and organisations have campaigns they wish to run, marketing objectives they need to achieve through coordinated communication activities and strategies they wish to bring to activation, they require not just foresight, insight and hindsight on the feasibility of these plans but also guarantee that they are not wasting hard earned money. In other words, they require an oracle’s expertise.
In 2006, such an oracle, aptly named Oracle Experience, came calling into the Nigerian marketing communications space. The agency has risen through the years to become Nigeria’s ‘primus inter pares’ in strategic brand experience.
Oracle Experience has competencies in event and promotional marketing, retail marketing, trade enhancement, digital, social, sponsorship marketing, employee engagement, public event, content marketing, guerrilla marketing and more. The agency is also known for its skills for immersive and inventive technology and moving image too. With a penchant for diagnosing brand problems, bringing to life extraordinary ideas that create emotional connections, fuel conversations and deliver business results, the agency has become a toast for its numerous clients.
Since 2006, it has being in the business of helping these clients bring their brands to life and building better customer experience through experiential marketing, brand strategy, user conferences, activations, consumer engagement, event marketing, sales enablement, shopper and retail, product launch, employee engagement, broadcast design, promotional marketing, sponsorship marketing, and digital.
The Oracle Experience Through The Years
Just like its name denotes, for twelve years, the agency has served as an oracle for its clients’ brands and businesses, guiding such brands through the journey to avant garde consumer engagement and connection.
The foundation of the agency according Felix King Eiremiokhae, MD/CEO Oracle Experience is strongly built on a solid foundation, God. Everything revolves around God. The agency is perhaps the only one in the entire Nigerian market that has a full time in-house Pastor whose sole responsibility is the spiritual well-being of the organisation, its people and its operations. It is also known to have regular consistent Christian activities on monthly and weekly basis.
Felix King, the experiential visionary that leads the agency explains how the name ‘Oracle Experience’ has translated into delivering top notch results for its clients over the years.
“When clients approach us, they do so with a brief to ask us how best to go about doing those things just like people ask the oracle to tell them about the future. We in turn go into our ‘shrine’ to look at what the challenges are. These take us to our story telling process. Through that, we are able to understand the challenges and the solutions to addressing those challenges. We then bring out creative ideas that will drive intended brand message out. We derive the ‘experience’ part of our name from the engagement process between the brand and the consumer. The interfacing point is the experience.”
Without doubt, the agency is one of the biggest players in the experiential space in Nigeria. How do you rate its performance over the years, especially in a sector that has poor, even nonexistent data on spend? Certainly not only through billings or even the number of clients it has but also the number of years it has been able to sustain working relationship with these clients. This is especially so because it is increasingly difficult to keep a client for a period of at least one year.
The agency has been a beehive of activities for the past years despite tight budgets, economic hiccups like the recession that brought many businesses to their knees, and other exigencies of the IMC sphere. The Oracle Experience success story is attributed to a strong foundation built on God, consistency in high quality work and a partnership built on trust.
This partnership, as Kings observes has made the agency’s clients pay consistent serial patronage to it. “From 2006 when we started operations till date; there is no single client we had that has left us. I am sure we are the only agency that can say that. We have been working for Nestle for 12 years and Procter & Gamble for eleven years while Nigerian Breweries has clocked ten years with us.
“The secret also is that we work only with organizations we believe in and audiences we care about and we ensure that everything we do creates tangible, shared value for our audiences, our partners, and ourselves.”
These are relationships that have survived series of Marketing Directors, Marketing Managers and many more Brand Managers. The longevity of these accounts is not a function of personal relationships, but, rather, due to consistency in terms of delivery.
Investment & Technovation Drive
Perhaps a most striking feature of the agency which gives it an edge over other players in the industry and sets it apart in a world of its own is the massive investment it has made on implementation tools, ranging from creative, technical to human capital that can be activated within quick-turn-around time, and also in technovation to drive its operations. More specifically, it has made in equipment critical to day-to-day event management spreading across production, multimedia, light, sound, effects and essential logistics. These investments enable it own and control its working environment. In addition, it has a state-of-the-art large format printing facilities.
Its lightings for instance are directly sourced from Clay Paky, Italy and these include; scenius profile, Hepikos, Sharbar, Spheriscan, Stromy,Igloo series, Sharpy, Mythos super sharpy etc. The agency has such effects as rain bars, lightning and thunder effects, fire bomb, gas projectors and wave flamer, Haze systems , carpet fog system – digitally powered, lasers among others.
These investments, Felix says, is to build capacity to serve the clients better and churn out maximum premium output at the shortest time possible. “We own the things we work with. We don’t rely on third parties as we prefer to do everything in-house. The difference between us and some other people is encapsulated in these words of wisdom that people say, “When a child makes his first money, he spends it.” You will agree with me that such a child is not wise. We decided not to emulate that child. The bulk of the money we get from the industry, we push back into the business only that way can we be stronger.
“We own our equipments. We don’t have to approach people for help when we need anything. Today, we can boast of having the best lights in the country and also own biggest sound systems, we are bringing more LED video walls to the country. We are well grounded in terms of our operations.
Asides the advantage these investments give the agency, Felix says it is a win-win situation as the client also benefit directly and otherwise from these investments. He says, “Because of these huge investment which translates to enlarged capacity, we are able to give discounts-20, 10 even 50 percent discount without compromising on standards and quality while others that don’t have investment on equipments struggle.
“We have also done massive investments in terms of transportation of personnel and equipments. Today, we can boast of being the only agency that has fifty Toyota hummer buses. You will discover that most of the work we want to do like open market activations, etc, requires viable transportation. We can have 50 vehicles running simultaneously around the office, activating one market in Sokoto, another in Abakiliki, Jos, -just criss-crossing the country. We have ten Hauling trucks, etc.
Asides its investments, the agency has built a strong financial capacity to execute jobs on demand. This, Felix says, is an edge Oracle Experience has built over time. The reason for a strong financial base is not farfetched. “If today a client wants to activate ten states and you are struggling to do that, you don’t have ready funds needed to drive it, then there will be issues. The way things work in this space is that someone can give you a 100million job to activate but no one is going to give you any advance. You are expected to finance it. You discover that sometimes, you could have a project of N150million running simultaneously, you just have to drive it.
While some players are quick to assert their presence in the continent or even the West African region, Oracle experience is proud to say its footprint is strategically pan Nigerian and cuts across the entire 36 states of the federation, including the federal capital territory, Abuja. With its presence across the country, the agency has the capacity of activating simultaneously across the network in a single stretch within a quick turn-around time of between 24 to 48 hours. This of course is no mean feat considering the Nigerian dynamics.
A massive footprint like the agency’s requires a well trained workforce. Oracle Experience boasts of 1500 trained field agents. It also boasts of over 300 permanent staff comprising Nigerians and expatriates, all creative, passionate, and talented team of professionals in live event marketing and activations.
Felix says of the team, “Our people come from diverse background and a wide range of job and life experiences. We have professionals from specified fields working together to create winning and supportive cooperate culture.
“Our strength also lies in our people. I daresay we are the luckiest agency in this market because the best of professionals work here.”
He says synergy within the team, hard work and a friendly work environment are commonplace in the agency. Great idea is nothing without control and technical capabilities to implement them. Felix says, “We ensure that we have total control of our crew and all third parties working on our projects through regular meetings, exchange of ideas, friendly structure and interaction and superb understanding of objectives and the superior need to achieve it within cost.
“We are never afraid to get our hands dirty. I tell people that I am the only MD/CEO you see at events carrying iron. Everyone is involved. When you come for my event and see that I am working, you have no choice than to join. We believe here that nobody is indispensable. The clients deserves the best no matter how you feel about the budget.
“At Oracle, what we do is hard. So we take care of each other. By taking the work seriously – but not ourselves. By demystifying smart and speaking like humans (No jargons), By enhancing our delightful diversity (No uniforms), By getting joy out of seeing our impact on people.
The agency also does its part in taking care of its own. “Two years ago when there was recession, we are the only agency that were still employing people. We are the only agency that still pay 13th month salary. We also pay salaries as and when due without crossing over to the next month. All these are made possible because of the foundation on which it is built-God.
Oracle in 2017
Oracle Experience had a lot of innovative initiatives that were brought to life in 2017 but most remarkable of them, what one can refer to as the icing on the cake is the construction of the 70 feet high Eyo masquerade built with a whooping 2750 crates for the Nigerian Breweries’ Star lager beer brand at the 2017 One Lagos fiesta held towards the end of December.
The incredible work of art automatically became the most photographed as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchats were inundated with pictures of attendees of the event behind the Eyo statue. It was also the talk of social media as it was the number one trending topic for a day on Twitter.
Felix King says the project was one of the highlights of the agency’s work in 2017. Surprisingly too, it took a lot to convince the client to agree to the job which has today enjoyed a lot of successes. “It took us three years for the client to agree to the Eyo idea. The idea was birthed in 2015 but finally got the nod of our client for 2017.
“The project was so massive that many renowned news media channels featured it-Channels, AIT, TVC, etc. In fact, you cannot quantify the level of exposure it had. The Lagos State government even asked that we leave the statue for a few more days after. We gave it three weeks extension before bringing it down. It was quite massive bringing 2750 crates to build that. It was quite an experience.
The Beer Festival held in Lagos last year had Star as one of the most dominant brands at the event because of the sensory experience created for the consumers. The five senses of touch, taste, feel, sight and sound were satiated through Oracle’s innovative initiative of taking the consumer through the process of producing the drink and serving it to them.
The happy laughs, thrilling excitement and gushes from consumers at the event indicate that the Star brand has acquired new brand faithfuls.
Another interesting campaign last year for an FMCG brand was the ‘Maggi Naija Pot’ launch. That was one of the most successful launches it did last year. With the kind of success recorded with that project, it comes as no surprise today that the problem the brand has now is how to meet up with production.
The agency also partnered the DStv brand to bring the teeming Nigerian football fans the prestigious English Premier League, EPL, cup during the October/November period.
The agency carried out many projects for Procter & Gamble in 2017. Felix explains. “We run campaigns for P&G 24/7. At every given time, we have campaigns scattered across the country, working simultaneously. P&G believes so much in working in the open market. They do a lot of interaction there. We have been doing that with them for the past 12 years nonstop.
“If you succeed with P&G, you can succeed with any other group because of their system. If you survive one year with them, then you are good. You cannot work with them if you don’t have credibility because for everything you do, there is always a back check. For instance, you are in Lagos and you need to do an activation in Kano, you say you have been able to reach 100 000 people for instance, they are going to verifying that.
Apart from that the agency also executed the High Life Fest competition for the Life Continental Lager beer brand, also from the stables of Nigerian Breweries. The event was aimed at reviving, celebrating and promoting highlife music in Nigeria’s South East. At the event there was a showcase of various displays of talents among young Nigerians. The agency will do the event this year again.
On these initiatives, he said, “It is not about how big your idea is that matters. It is how effective the ideas are. You have to look and ask yourself what is the best channel to reach your target consume , get him to read through the clutter and get to read your message? This is because, sometimes, you can have a lot of sexy ideas but do these ideas resonate with the people? Is it connecting with the people?”
Core Values and operational Philosophy
The agency has always being on top of its game executing creative projects because of its operational policies and values which it strictly adheres too. Kings says that the agency abhors cutting corners. “We do not take shortcuts here. Many people do that a lot. When you try shortcuts, you can easily fall out of business. I have seen a lot of agencies collapse because they want to take shortcuts. When a client sees that you like to take shortcuts, you may get away with it once or twice, after that, you lose the account. Once an account is lost, it is always difficult getting it back.
“Some of our clients refer to us as Powerpoint. This means that when we come to your office to pitch what we want to do on Powerpoint, we execute exactly what you saw presented to you on slides when you attend to your event, even better than the presentation.
“Here, we say ‘Excellence doesn’t come by luck’. We believe in putting our backs to work, bringing out our very best for each projects and letting our work speak for us. If a client has paid you money for it work, it is only honourable for you to give him what he paid for, rather than short-changing the client by cutting corners.”
Oracle Experience according to its MD is in no competition with any other agency in the Nigerian market. The agency takes itself as the biggest rival. “We also like to challenge our biggest competition, which is us. A former marketing manager of Nigerian Breweries we worked with used to call me aside after some of the breathtaking activations and ask, “now you have done this, what next?”
“A lot of people in the industry are interested in what next Oracle Experience is going to do. And because of the high expectations on us, on what we are going to do next, we cannot afford to disappoint. We see that as a huge challenge. We build on our knowledge here mostly through exposure.
“We benchmark our deliverables on global best practices. There are things done in America, Europe and in other parts of the world which can be replicated and localized here, given the right exposure. When we were going to do sensory experience for Star last year, I went to Amsterdam four times to go and study their simulations and localize it here.
“Sometimes we pitch an idea to the client who doubts that it can be done in Nigeria. We don’t put up much argument with them. Instead we reach an agreement that they don’t pay for it until it is done. Gradually, we have been able to build confidence with our clients. If we tell our clients today that we want a man to hang, they believe we can do it because we have done the impossible things.”
As part of its operational policies, the agency shies away from using celebrities for its events. Where there is no choice, it downplays the relevance of the celebrity to almost a zero. The idea is to promote the brand, make it the centre of attraction. As Kings puts it, if people leave your event and all they remember is about the artists, that has not make any meaningful impact.
“We believe that in every event that we do, the brand must be the centre of attraction. That is why sometimes when you come to our events, we hardly use artistes. I don’t like using them. Even if an artiste is coming, we downplay the artiste as much as possible and emphasize the brand. We don’t want people to remember the artiste much more than the brand. We try to make him as irrelevant as humanly possible. It is all about the brand. Brands have very interesting stories and aspects. How do you bring these to life so that it becomes people’s centre of attraction?
“Traditionally, people put their banners here and there for people to take pictures, selfies on. We do not do that. Heineken bottles are very sexy. We thought, why don’t we use the bottles to build our selfie wall? Why don’t we use the bottles to create a big LED board and you project through the bottles?” We did that. When people came, they were all talking about the Heineken wall. Everyone was talking about the Star Eyo, no one remembered the ‘One Lagos Fiesta’ that was going on. That is the powerful effect of using the brand asset to create an idea that will be what people remember and keep talking about.”
Interestingly, some four years ago, the agency had a campus activation to execute for the Nescafe brand. Unlike the telco brands that were also doing campus activations, the budget for the Nescafe was not much. However, the agency swung into the action of creating memorable lasting experience for students. It embarked on something innovative and entirely different from what was the norm. It took the hot air balloon to the campus and gave students the feeling of taking the Nescafe brand which is close to being in a hot air balloon! Till date, that experience is what remains fresh in the minds of those who witnessed it. It is still very much talked about in the experiential circle.
Kings recalls a not too distant memory on the Nescafe campus activation. “I was at a client’s office last year November. We were having a conversation that centered round the campus activation he wanted to do. In the conversation, he said there was this campus activation he will never forget-hot air balloon. He was surprised to find out that Oracle brought it to the campus. There are things you do that remains with the consumer and it costs you a lot less while others may cost a lot of money but is not memorable. There are product launches that have been done with a lot of big budgets but at the end of the day, the only thing people remember are the artistes that came to perform, nothing else.”
Innovation and ideas generation remain a major pillar to agency success. Since 2006, Oracle has been at the forefront of driving innovation for the industry and this has become a major contributory factor to its success. In 2011 and 2012, the agency was awarded the West Africa’s World Class award for the Experiential Marketing Agency of the year consecutively. In the same vein, the Managing Director of the agency, Mr. Felix King was awarded the West Africa’s World class Experiential Marketing personality in 2012.
A year later, in recognition of its contribution to the development of the experiential space in Nigeria and for its novel and innovative initiatives, the Brand Journalist Association of Nigeria, BJAN, gave the agency an award for Best Effort In Innovation (Experiential Marketing). The association also honoured the Mannaging Director with the Industry Influencer Award for the same year.
The clients were not left out of recognising the good job of their partner agency as Polaris Excellence Award for 2013 was given to the agency courtesy Procter & Gamble. Surprisingly too, the audience, targeted consumers are not left out of this as one of the campuses the agency executed the Nescafe Hot Air Balloon activation awarded it for a job well done. Students of the University of Ife gave the agency an illustrious ‘Event of the Decade’ award for that activation in 2014.
Oracle Experience has also received Marketing Edge award for the Most Outstanding Experiential Agency in 2014. The agency has also received the Nigerian Brand Awards for the Best Experiential Agency of the year Award in 2015 and 2016 back to back.
Just last year at the World Quality day, the agency was awarded the prestigious Global Most Trusted quality for experiential marketing agency of the year for 2017. In the same year, Mabisco Biscuits, known as Mayor Biscuits Company, the manufacturing arm of the agency got the SON certificate for some of its products.
CSR: The Felix King Foundation
The agency understands the place of given back to the society and has been a vibrant player in Corporate Social Responsibilities. Kings take us down memory lane on how the journey started and where it is now.
“In 2006 when we started Oracle, life was challenging. Within that period, my six month baby was critically ill and I took her to the hospital. The hospital bill was around six thousand naira. Unfortunately, I did not have it and I could not raise it. The hospital refused to treat her. That was one of the most traumatic times of my life. Fortunately, God showed up and I was able to raise three thousand naira which they commence ‘half treatment’ pending when I will complete payment.
“After that episode, I began to appreciate what people face every day. I decided I am going to give hope to more people. Immediately we stabilized, we decided to start a foundation. What we do is that a certain percentage of money made by Oracle and the Mayor Biscuit Company goes to the foundation.
“Our area of concentration is with disadvantaged widows and orphans. This year we have decided to expand it to include the rural active poor women. You discover that when a man dies in these villages, the woman is left to shoulder all the huge responsibilities. If you go to some of these villages, once a man dies, the woman is subjected to all kinds of inhuman treatments- from denial of inheritance to child welfare, to human rights abuse, etc.
We took interests in that area because when you empower our women, you will be amazed at the kind of things they can do and what this country can become. We believe that if you invest in those rural women, the communities will be better because they are the economic backbone of the family as they go to the market, farm, etc, just to ensure their children have sound education.”
One of the areas the foundation is assisting women is through financial empowerment. “We are flagging off the rural women initiative in February. The initiative is simple. The women will form themselves into the meeting system of between twenty and fifty people. We give each meeting the sum of fifty thousand naira grant each. After the first month, every other month, the sum of a thousand naira is being contributed to the purse. The contributed one thousand which is now 50 thousand will be given to another person. This goes on until the end. We are starting with four communities. It’s like a woman help woman initiative.
Asides assisting these women, the Foundation has also sponsored a bill to stop the maltreatment of women in the country and has also commenced a campaign to that effect. “We believe also that pertinent issues affecting widows like widow’s maltreatment should be abolished. Since we cannot start pushing for this abolishment from the central government, we decided to start from the states and work our way up. Last year, we went to the Edo State House of Assembly to present a bill to them on the need to abolish widow’s maltreatment.
“After what we did at Edo State, I am glad to say that Desmond Elliot also did the same at the Lagos State House of Assembly. To make the campaign effective, we signed on Desmond Elliot, Mercy Aigbe as ambassadors to push the messages.”
Earlier in the year, the media space was inundated with images of King being hionoured with the honourary citizenship of Georgia in the US. He throws light on this. “Mid last year, we got an email from the US. They felt what we are doing at the Felix King Foundation is worth recognizing and worth commending. We were invited to the senate of Georgia and we were recognized based on what we are doing.”
The agency has also taken the bold step in helping the health sector that is suffering from total neglect by governments at various levels. “As big as Nigeria is, there is only one hospital that attends to Lassa fever patients…only one. That is the Eruan specialist hospital in Edo State. The hospital is in a very sorry state. It has no beds, nothing. We have fifty bed consignment coming into the country. We intend to donate to that hospital. I spoke to the person in charge yesterday. We only want them to sign a contract of five years that any widow that comes for treatment in that hospital will not pay a dime for the use of bed because that is our course. They agreed. The container will come in by March.”