Despite the many challenges event marketers have faced these last two quarters, there have been plenty of wins. From challenger brands leveraging their nimble nature to salvage tours to category giants turning to social media to scale their existing platforms, marketers have been able to keep the momentum going amid social distancing.
We rounded up a few of our favorite experiential-leaning digital programs from the past three months that solved common industry pain points and are spotlighting new trends sure to take hold through the remainder of the calendar year.
More on Pandemic Pivots:
- The New Playbook: How Event Marketers are Adapting to the ‘New Normal’
- Five Ways to Pivot a B-to-B Program in a Hurry
The solution: Launch a synergistic cause-marketing program.
Like many companies in its category, Anheuser-Busch went full-tilt on COVID-19 relief efforts. Among them: leveraging its supply chain and logistics network to distribute hand sanitizer, and partnering with the American Red Cross to redirect its $5 million in sports and entertainment investments to help, among initiatives, identify stadiums for temporary blood drive centers.
Then, the brands under its umbrella shifted into COVID-19 messaging, too, each targeting relief efforts befitting of the brand ethos. Busch Light, for example, partnered with the Midwest Animal Rescue & Services, encouraging consumers to adopt or foster a dog in order to win Busch beer for three months (while supplies lasted). All they had to do was post proof of a confirmation email from the rescue organizations to Busch’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account.
Stella Artois launched Stella Sessions@Home, IGTV broadcasts with top chefs, local chefs and famous foodies, as well as Instagram Live virtual happy hours with influencers that supported The James Beard Foundation and HelpMainStreet.com in support of restaurants.
The Bud Light brand pivoted its Dive Bar Tour to the Dive Bar Tour: Home Edition on Instagram and Facebook Live featuring artists like Thomas Rhett, Charlie Puth, Dierks Bentley, and Jon Pardi performing for an hour from their homes. The program supported the American Red Cross, and consumers were offered a $5 code for beer delivery via Drizly.
The solution: Transform an emotional pain point for consumers.
Before COVID-19 took its hold on the U.S., Jared was rolling out in-store events that would allow the brand to act as a concierge through life’s biggest moments from weddings to a first child—moments you celebrate with jewelry.
In looking at weddings, in particular, Jared saw an opportunity. An estimated 800,000 weddings were canceled in the wake of social distancing, so Jared decided to plant a stake in the ground around virtual weddings. The goal: to ease the planning process and make it a memorable experience for brides not wishing to postpone their nuptials.
The Jared Virtual Wedding platform, created in partnership with Publicis Experiences, allows consumers to customize their virtual wedding. They register, choose from three different ceremony interface themes, and then identify “guest speakers,” like parents, an officiant, or someone that will read a passage or make a toast. All other audience members appear in a group chat, where they can send their well wishes. The platform accommodates up to 125 audience members for a 60-minute event. Best of all, the couples receive archived footage as a keepsake.
By early May, nearly 500 weddings were scheduled on the platform. Jared will continue to host them until the brand has served 1,000 couples.
FLAVIAR x WHISTLEPIG
The solution: Focus on micro-communities with interactive education.
It’s not easy to infuse interactivity into virtual events, but online spirits community Flaviar and WhistlePig whiskey teamed up on a program that involved at-home blending kits, crowdsourcing (or, more specifically, crowd-blending), sampling, polling and a livestreamed event featuring a panel of experts. Best of all, it had a charitable component tied to it benefiting U.S. bartenders.
Members of the Flaviar community received Blend Your Own Whiskey Kits through the mail and an informative microsite offered tips for participating in the program. There was a “How to blend at home” video with instructions on setting up a blending lab at home. There was a link for participants to submit their preferred blend recipe. And there was a save-the-date for enthusiasts (in the community, and beyond) to join in live and vote for the winning blend.
On April 28, the top three blends, crowdsourced from Flaviar members, were recreated in the livestreamed event on YouTube. Panelists included WhistlePig’s master blender, Pete Lynch, and YouTube spirits influencers Rex and Daniel of “Whiskey Tribe,” and Chad and Sarah Perkins, hosts of “It’s Bourbon Night.” Spirits expert Dan Dunn served as host. At the start of the event, Lynch offered instructions for armchair blenders on how to properly measure at home. Fans were invited to blend and taste alongside the experts, and then vote for their favorite in a live poll.
The chosen blend, WhistlePig Homestock Whiskey, has been released with the tagline, “Blended Together, While Apart,” and WhistlePig is donating 20 percent of bottle sales via Flaviar and Caskers to the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild Foundation’s Bartender Emergency Assistance Program to help fund its COVID-19 Relief Grants for people out of work due to the pandemic.
The Flaviar x WhistlePig crowd-blending event helped both brands extend their programming in the wake of social distancing orders. As for results, the livestream produced more than 3,100 chat engagements, and one week after the event, the content had garnered more than 2,600 views. The story was picked up by top-tier outlets, including MSN and Men’s Journal, to the tune of more than 200 million p.r. impressions.
The solution: Redirect your tour assets, and tour staff.
The first quarter of the year was going to be a major kicking-off period for Chaco’s 2020 experiential programs. The Michigan-based outdoor lifestyle footwear brand was gearing up to launch two tours—one from SXSW, and one from Portland—when event cancellations and restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic came down in domino effect.
The easy thing to do would have been to cancel marketing plans for the year and funnel the money into digital ads. But Chaco saw an opportunity to pivot with programming that would engage consumers isolated at home and help healthcare workers on the front lines, too. Enter: The ReChaco Crisis Response.
Following Michigan’s statewide stay-at-home order, Chaco paused production and quickly retrofitted its factory to produce face masks and explore specs for other personal protective equipment, sourcing patterns from local healthcare systems and collecting raw materials from its parent company, Wolverine Worldwide.
Next, Chaco turned its attention to its ReChaco Mobile Repair Factory bus parked in Portland, which the brand had planned to send across the country on a 2020 Roving Repairs Summer Tour. The converted school bus, designed to look like a traditional river rafting transport vehicle, was already outfitted with sewing machines and equipment as well as trained staff ready to operate it (Field Scout, Portland, handles). The tour was going to hit festivals throughout the summer offering Chaco Z/Sandal owners free repairs and customizations.
“We knew canceling was not a strategy that aligned with who our consumer is—our consumers are doers, they’re makers, they’re active,” says Lyndi Bell, experiential marketing manager at Chaco. “This has been a way to still meet that need and talk to our consumers in a meaningful way while addressing the immediate need that we were seeing, which all of the sudden became even more relevant over the course of the week as we were planning it.”
Sister brand Merrell supplied fabric and materials, and the field staff on the bus (which remained parked in Portland) helped to produce protective equipment for hospital systems in Hood River, OR, and other locations in the area. “We had a trained crew, we had dedicated hours. We didn’t want to cancel on them or our agency, and we didn’t want to let our consumers down either,” Bell says.
It was then time to decide how to pivot the brand’s CHILLOut tour program, planned to promote the new after-sport CHILLOS slides. The marketing team wanted to still engage consumers at home in all the touchpoints the brand had planned for its SXSW activation and other stops at music and wellness festivals throughout the summer. The programming had included performances, sound baths, yoga and CBD-infused mocktails, and partnerships with mindfulness and wellness experts.
So, Chaco moved the program to social media, launching weekly Instagram Stories takeovers (“CHILLOuts”) by featured experts who served up tips on leveraging mindfulness at home. Among featured content: Tips for reducing stress from Suu Kuu Hemp & Botanicals, makers of small batch organic herbal formulas, and Bloomscape’s Joyce the “Plant Mom,” who talked being a “plant parent” and all its benefits. The results have been positive for the brand as well as the marketing team.
“We’re using our digital channels to express what we would have done through event marketing to tell this story, and the result we’re seeing is a surge in sales and traffic to our website, which in turn, is making the team feel like what we’re doing is having a real impact and that we actually do have some control over this situation that for all intents and purposes should make us feel powerless,” says Josh Weichhand, managing director-marketing at Chaco.
The solution: Cruise into an all-new marketing category.
The stay-at-home economy has opened up opportunities for brands to expand their portfolios and their reach. In March, Seattle-based Jones Soda made its move into esports by signing on as title sponsor for the Torque Esports’ Last Chance Qualifier competition in The Race All-Star Series. The five-week sim racing virtual championship streamed on Saturdays at 1 p.m. Eastern from March 21 through April 11 on Twitch and YouTube.
The races took place on virtual versions of automotive circuits around the world (like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), and each race featured real-world motorsports stars racing alongside professional gamers—remotely, of course. Winners shared a $10,000 pot. As part of its sponsorship deal, Jones Soda was featured in track branding and in shout-outs by star commentators during the events. Jones Soda was also featured in promotions ahead of race days across the championship channels.
For Maisie Antoniello, vp-marketing at Jones Soda, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced her team to think moment by moment, rather than months out.
“We had in our plans for 2020 some pretty big events, which included going back to our guerrilla marketing roots and our heritage in skateboarding, so when it became obvious that things were not going to happen, we knew we had to pivot,” Antoniello says. “Esports was something we had looked into, and given our history in gaming, and knowing that everybody was going to be hunkering down and staying in, it felt like a good time to strike while the iron’s hot and see what happens.”
Torque Esports put The Race All-Star Esports Battle together in 48 hours following the cancellation of the opening round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship in Australia. Its first sim race raked in more than one million views, a stat that was particularly attractive for Jones Soda, as was the involvement of well-known racecar drivers, like IndyCar’s Tony Kanaan and Formula 1’s Max Verstappen.
Approaching a digital sponsorship is a lot like approaching a live, real-world event sponsorship, Antoniello says. It’s all about partnership.
“We’ve worked really hard with Torque to ensure that Jones has great in-game integration, soup to nuts,” says Antoniello. “The other thing we’re learning is with motor sports, the lead up to race day is also important, so how do we integrate that into our own social channels and partner with them as they’re ramping up to race day. We’re figuring out how we can create more engagement and buzz to build momentum, too.”
Like any traditional event sponsorship, Jones Soda worked with Torque Esports to structure the program ahead of each race, track progress, and analyze what worked and where to make adjustments for the next one.
“The blessing in this, and the opportunity in this, is you can learn as you go and you can shape the consumer experience and brand integration iteratively,” Antoniello says. “When you’re the sponsor, whether it’s virtual or not, you always want to come to a place where there is a true partnership, where the rising tide lifts all boats. And I think that holds true no matter what you’re doing. That spirit of partnership is important, especially in this virtual space, as well as constant communication, learning and improving.”