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Top 5 trends in experiential marketing in 2021

Wendy’s embraced the flexible format of the pop-up with its Rick and Morty’s drive-thru

As live events ramp up once more, experiential marketing is primed to return to the spotlight. From festivals to retail installations, guerrilla stunts to unmissable activations, there are many avenues available to marketers wanting to reach consumers enjoying their newfound freedom.

So, after a year of lockdowns and Zoom fatigue, what do audiences want from brands in the real world? And what do brilliant brand experiences look like, in 2021 and beyond? Here are our top five trends in experiential marketing...

1. Pop-up popularity perseveres

As the world reopened after the worst of the pandemic passed, brands took tentative steps to re-engage with consumers away from screens through flexible formats such as the ever popular pop-up.

From Lego and TikTok to Netflix, L’Oréal and Toyota, it really was the summer of pop-up experiences.

Jimmy Bennett, vice-president of marketing at Wendy’s, told The Drum why pop-ups have become a key channel in the restaurant chain’s marketing arsenal, explaining: “The ability to interact on a one-on-one basis with the consumer is phenomenal.” You can read what else he had to say here.

2. Immersive entertainment rules (just don’t call it the metaverse)

In the past 18 months we have seen brands such as Gucci, Vans, Stella McCartney, Burberry, Coca-Cola, Netflix and Warner Bros dive right into consumer-facing, interactive and immersive virtual platforms.

”That is not the metaverse,” however, as Bodacious founder Zoe Scaman reminded us. ”The metaverse is so much bigger and more complex than that. It’s about 10 years away.”

But getting in early, learning and supporting the growth of the metaverse could buy brands creditability and allegiance from these growing communities, as we found out here.

3. The great outdoors are great

Interactive and experiential out-of-home (OOH) advertising has been booming lately. From swimmable installations in Dubai to burning billboards for the BBC, OOH is no longer just paper and paste but a massive PR opportunity that brings people together in-person and online.

And as we found out, there’s much more to be excited about in the world of OOH experiences, from new human/machine interfaces such as neurotech and mid-air haptics, to creative techniques such as 3D anamorphic display, holographic technologies and the integration of AR with posters. Read all about it here.

4. Event-goers don’t want to share venues with the unvaccinated

Or at least 57% of them don’t, according to a survey of 2,000 people conducted by market research company Opinium for The Drum. It also found that 58% of people prefer in-person events, while just 17% say they are keener on virtual alternatives. Read more here.

5. Accessibility needs prioritizing post-Covid

Whether by design or not, events became more accessible when they shifted online during lockdowns. But there is still a lot more to be done and accessibility often seems an afterthought, as we found out when we caught up with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), ticketing website Eventbrite and disability equality charity Scope.

From sign language interpreters to narrators for blind people, “coming back from Covid we have an opportunity to rebuild a more inclusive events industry that allows everyone to enjoy the thrill of live events,” said Eventbrite’s Sebastian Boppert. You can read that here.

From festivals to retail installations to unmissable activations, we examine the avenues open to marketers in The Drum’s Experiential Marketing Deep Dive.