Leaning on the ‘Unexpected,’ American Express Invites a Magician to CES


Magician Dan White hosted Amex-infused magic shows.

Event marketers have to strike a balance in embracing the “unexpected.” There has to be relevance. It has to be the best version of what that unexpected idea can be. And it has to be an easy experience for attendees, especially at a show like CES. For the past several years, American Express has checked all the boxes as it has leaned on service, entertainment and the unexpected, rather than technology, to engage customers and prospects in its human-centric messaging. From a live Escape the Office game on the show floor to an attendee Service Station, the brand has cleverly woven in messaging about its card products and benefits while providing overscheduled and overwhelmed CES attendees with a chance to recharge. The strategy this year? Magic.

Under a big-top-style branded tent outside the Las Vegas Convention Center, American Express returned to last year’s prime booth space with a weather resistant activation that treated attendees to a professional magic show with magician Dan White (he happens to be a more than 20-year Amex cardmember). Visible from the Las Vegas Monorail and other corners of the CES footprint at the convention center, the design included street lamps, street-sign-style directional signage and translucent banners that alluded to the experience and read: “There’s magic in the cards.”

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“As a non-endemic brand, it’s really important that we hit home on who the customer is and who the CES attendee is when creating things like this. We want to have high relevance and we want to do something different,” says Tracey Shechtman, vp-global experiential and brand partnerships at American Express. “We know that the attendee is going to be overloaded with technology and lights and sounds and machinery and digitization, and we get to take advantage of that opportunity and go completely offline.”

Two magic shows took place every hour, with an intimate seating of about 25 attendees at a time. The shows offered mystique, audience participation and moments where the brand was interlaced into a trick. To be helpful to busy attendees running from one meeting to the next, the brand set in place a reservation system. While waiting in line for their show time, attendees engaged with sleight-of-hand magicians and enjoyed fresh, buttery popcorn—you know, the good kind of popcorn you can’t stop eating at the movies or the circus. In fact, “fresh” popcorn was a directive from the brand—it was popped on-demand and on-site.

Outside the show tent, patio furniture and high-top tables provided causal seating to rest and check email. Over in a portrait studio, attendees could snap a photo to create their very own vintage magician poster against a wrapped wall backdrop depicting curiosities, like butterfly specimen displays and vintage books. On a countertop, a crystal ball, lighted candles and greenery were in reach and, above, affixed to the wall, was the American Express logo in 3D marquee signage. Attendees who flashed their American Express cards took home a premium, branded playing card pack.

“We’re not an in-person brand, so we love that opportunity of creating that personal touch,” says Schechtman. “There’s nothing more human than magic. Magic is something that’s universal, that everybody understands, and that transcends language. So for a global product in a global show like CES, it was important for us to find things that could do all of that. And this really hit home.” Agency: Momentum. Build: Freeman.


Discover the Magic for Yourself:

Photo courtesy: In Color Studios

Rachel Boucher
Posted by Rachel Boucher

Rachel joined Event Marketer in 2012 and today serves as the brand's head of content. Her travels covering the experiential marketing indust ry have ranged from CES in Las Vegas to Spring Break in Panama City Beach, Florida (hey, it's never too late)—and everywhere in between.
View all articles by Rachel Boucher →

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