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Brand Strategy Media Planning and Buying Experiential Marketing

Have influencers made experiential marketing risk-free?

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By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

December 11, 2023 | 9 min read

The pop-up is having a major resurgence. We ask brand marketers what’s behind this change and if pop-ups are worth the expense.

Make up and tattoo parlor at Pinterest pop up

Influencers flock to Pinterest pop up 'Possibility Place' / Pinterest

Spend on experiential marketing is up as brands respond to a growing appetite for real-world experiences from consumers. But top marketers at Asos, Britvic and Pinterest believe they can glean more from this channel by doubling down over the next year.

The IPA Bellwether surveys reveal seven successive quarters of growth for event marketing budgets from 2022 to Q3 2023. Its most recent report forecasts that event budgets would be up 5.9% in the final quarter of the year and found that 14.5% of marketers anticipate a further rise in event marketing spend.

Accordingly, this year we’ve seen many older brands such as Pinterest and Asos launch their first experiential campaigns. Dan Elton, senior customer director at Asos, is behind Asos’ first ever pop-up, which opened off London’s Oxford Street last month. Elton is pushing the online retailer to do more experiential marketing to connect with customers offline and increase its content output.

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“Now you can use pop-ups and with social media that they can be absolutely incredible places for you and your consumers to create content... content that can be consumed at scale by customers online,” Elton says. “That makes them much less of a risk.”

The ’Asos In Real Life’ activation was a four-story immersive pop-up off Oxford Street that brought together fashion, beauty, food and music in partnership with brands like Charlotte Tilbury, Crosstown donuts and Marc Jacobs Fragrances.

Make up stand at Asos' pop up

“If you were going to run a pop-up 10 years ago, then you were heavily reliant on a small number of writers and journalists picking up your press release or visiting and writing about it. So it was a bit more of a risk,” Elton says. If someone attended who wasn’t from the right outlet or didn’t enjoy the event, Elton says, then the investment wouldn’t be worth it.

“The only people who ever benefited from it were a couple of 100 who attended, whereas now you can guarantee that there are going to be tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands who consume content about it online,” he says.

To blend the physical with the digital Asos teamed up with Snapchat where visitors can try out outfits using AR technology. There were also live DJs, panel talks, workshops, styling sessions and even a running club with New Balance. “Our consumers interact with it [activation], they produce content and it becomes this enormous and measurable word-of-mouth flywheel,” he adds.

Pop-ups have also become an essential tool for FMCG brands that don’t have ownership over their retail environment.

Alex Petrogiannis, who is marketing and e-commerce director at Britvic, helped open a temporary coffee shop for the plant-based milk brand Plenish. The activation included free Pilates classes and coffee for press and influencers. Over the two days, Plenish served over 1,200 coffees and reached over 10 million consumers through a mix of press and influencer coverage.

“It’s particularly important for FMCG brands like Plenish that don’t have a ‘physical home’ outside retail stores,” he adds. “Pop-ups have become an indispensable tool for marketers.”

Petrogiannis warns that pop-ups are becoming “commonplace”. Brands need to think up new experiences, he says. “It’s become critical to think outside the box and offer real value to not only attract visitors but also ensure they leave feeling rewarded,” he says.

Social platform Pinterest has also cottoned on to the benefits of meeting users in the real world. The mood board site also launched its first physical activation opening Possibility Place pop-up in London last month. The event offered free tattoos, nail art and DIY and cooking workshops. Louise Richardson, director of marketing in Europe, recently told The Drum: “Experiential just conceptually makes so much sense for us, pinners are always asking to bring my Pinterest to life.”

@yaya_kannibal Come with me to #possibilityplace pop up by @Pinterest UK 5-11 short's gardens WC2 (covent garden) 29-30 September- 11am to 7pm loads of opportunities a free choice between : a hair style, nail art or micro tattoo. tattoos: @One By One Tattoo food demonstration: @Lagomchef free tote bags,a gumball machine,Lotto, photo ops, master classes, DIY classes and live panel painting. #london #coventgarden #popup #pinterest #pinterestuk #onebyonetattoo #lagomchef #sharepositivity #goodvibes #timetosparkle #itspossible #makeover #freetattoo #vegan ♬ Cupid – Twin Ver. (FIFTY FIFTY) – Sped Up Version - sped up 8282

The Drum visited the Pinterest pop-up on a Thursday morning and found a queue filling four streets around the surrounding area. In the past, a brand’s social team would be sharing scenes like these online, but now Pinterest can let the visitors do the work for them.

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The economic conditions for brick-and-mortar retail are also set to play a big role in brands’ use of experiential for the coming year. Laura Ashley’s costly high street stores resulted in the retailer’s collapse in 2020; when the home and clothing brand returned months later, it pursued a licensing business model with no plans to reopen permanent stores.

The company’s vice president Poppy Marshall-Lawton revealed to The Drum that for customers who “missed“ their Laura Ashley store the pop-up is vital to service them.

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