LONDON: Unilever and L'Oréal are among the brand owners using experiential marketing to engage with consumers in the UK.

Unilever, the FMCG giant, recently partnered with Sapient Nitro, the interactive agency, to launch a "smile-activated vending machine" for its ice cream brands.

This device – which was described as an "an ice cream truck for the digital age" – will be employed to distribute products like Wall's, Ben & Jerry's, Good Humor, Breyers and Klondike.

More specifically, it utilises augmented reality and facial recognition technology in a "smile-o-meter" that assesses the expressions of passersby.

When shoppers smile broadly into a camera, the vending machine takes a photo, which is then displayed on a touchscreen, and gives the individual concerned the option to upload it to Facebook.

Participants will then receive a free ice cream of their choosing as a reward for their efforts.

"We're really excited about the possibility this new technology holds for Unilever," said Ian Maskell, global brand development director for Wall's.

"It offers a revolutionary new way for consumers to buy ice cream and, simultaneously, a revolutionary brand experience."

The first of these units was unveiled at a music festival in Lisbon this year, and further examples will be rolled out across "high-traffic" locations worldwide in the next 18 months.

Jim Prior, chief executive of The Partners, which is owned by WPP Group, argued that increasing numbers of marketers are likely to adopt this sort of strategy in the future.

"One of the reasons that experiential marketing is becoming more and more important is that what people are craving is genuine experiences, rather than just communications," he said.

"It's an opportunity to engage with something, rather than traditional communications which are just one way."

L'Oréal, the cosmetics giant, is also trialing interactive kiosks in certain retail stores in the UK, allowing customers to "virtually" experiment with leading ranges like Maybelline.

This gadget is based on "EZFace" technology that provides a "virtual mirror", with Boots, the high-street chemists, having previously installed this tool in selected outlets.

T-Mobile, the mobile network, pioneered this type of activity with a "flash-mob" campaign organised with agencies including the experiential shop Blazinstar.

This project encouraged members of the public, and a few actors, to come together on the concourse of Liverpool Street railway station and dance, with the company filming the results for a TV spot.

Shaz Smilansky, co-founder of Blazinstar, suggested this kind of marketing was about much more than "plastering your logo" on a product or event.

"If it's not 100% authentic and meaningful, the audience will see through it," said Smilansky.

Morrisons, the supermarket chain, constructed a more long-term programme, handing out seeds to shoppers who could then grow their own vegetables.

Its "Let's Grow" initiative featured live workshops and a digital suite of tools offering guidance in this area.

"People want more dialogue, more experience than just being talked at," said Tove Okunniwa, managing partner at MEC Access, which worked on this scheme.

Data sourced from This is London/Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff