The drive-thru trend that rolled out across the nation this year provided a lifeline for event marketers searching for a way to safely connect with consumers. An extension of the drive-in trend, drive-thrus take a page from theme parks and allow brands to strategically infuse messaging and multisensory engagements at every turn. Concert properties and sports stadium parking lots have become the go-to venue for these experiences, allowing ample space for check-in, vehicle queues, crowd control, and for the journey itself. Hop in the backseat as we roundup five brand drive-thrus activated this year.
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This drive-in movie concept at Soldier Field in Chicago, which billed itself as the largest ongoing socially safe event in the Midwest, scored a lineup of sponsors that helped form a drive-thru aspect of the experience and helped forge a new path for sponsorship engagement in the COVID era. As consumers arrived for the ticketed event ($55 per carload) they drove through a sponsor zone on a giant red carpet before heading to their designated parking spaces. Brand ambassadors in masks and gloves passed out giveaways and samples, like Lifeway Kefir, which handed out smoothie samples, and Heineken 0.0, which sampled its non-alcoholic beverage (designated drivers received a coupon for a free can at the concessions tent).
Indeed, a pandemic Halloween calls for movie night. So, to celebrate and promote the array of horror content on its platform among consumers, Hulu activated the HULUWEEN Drive-in Experience in Los Angeles—an immersive drive-thru and drive-in movie event.
Consumers navigated their vehicles through the “Haunted Forest” pathway built out with eerie sets and living vignettes bringing many favorite horror characters to life, including “Edward Scissorhands” and “Carrie.” Multisensory effects included fog, lighting and a soundtrack synced with attendees’ in-car FM radios. There were treats, of course: Each vehicle received a “scare package” packed with candy, popcorn and hand sanitizer. To boot, Hulu offered an in-car photo activation featuring HULU’s branding before consumers were directed to park to view 4K film content on a 30-foot by 50-foot LED screen (Agency: AGENC).
A typical summer for Hyundai includes music and arts festival sponsorship activations. But in a season unlike any other, the brand zeroed in on its Southern California roots, hosting a free drive-thru art experience that celebrated Latinx artists during Hispanic Heritage Month in September. Held at the Hollywood Palladium, one of the first large-scale venues to book Mexican-American guitarist Carlos Santana in the 1970s, DRIVEN: A Latinx Artist Celebration Presented by Hyundai, had consumers driving through eight art installations while an FM station with a playlist curated by KCRW’s Raul Campos provided a soundtrack. The works were curated through a partnership with the Museum of Latin American Art and the Art of Elysium. Hyundai’s Palisade, Sonata and Elantra vehicles, wrapped in works by the artists, were also on display.
In addition to showcasing the art, the surroundings around each exhibit reflected the culture of where the artists are from, mimicking the terrain from Southern California to Mexico to South America—eight climates in total reflected in landscaping choices from tropical trees to desert plants (Agencies: Advantage; AKJohnston).
Filming was halted on the fourth season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” in the wake of the pandemic, but fans of the sci-fi series didn’t have to wait much longer to dive back into the Upside Down thanks to a drive-thru activation dubbed the Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience. Held in October, the experience transported Los Angeles-based consumers to the year 1985 from the safety of their vehicles.
The ticketed experience ($59 per car), produced in partnership with immersive theater company Secret Cinema, took place at an undisclosed location in downtown L.A. In groups of 24 cars, attendees navigated the multi-level experience, stopping for extended periods of time to allow scenes to unfold. Think: live actors playing beloved characters, killer A/V and special effects, and sets that replicated the Starcourt Mall, the underground Russian Lab and the infamous Upside Down. After experiencing one scene, the convoy drove up to the next, where fans parked again for another “chapter” in the story.
Hospitality technology platform Resy engaged foodies, and supported local restaurants, with a 10-course drive-through tasting experience presented by the American Express Gold Card which served up never-before-seen dishes from Los Angeles’ best chefs served directly through consumers’ vehicles. The pay-to-play program (at $95 per ticket), involved a contactless check-in and branding moments before the stops began. Attendees received their takeout dishes, and while they ate, listened to a guided playlist that walked them through each course and even featured music selected by the chefs.
At the final stop, attendees received a take-home food item. And all along the way, there were surprise and delight moments, like a roller skater crew that danced around twirling light sticks.
The effort all tied to a giveback mission, with Resy and American Express donating to the World Central Kitchen organization, as partner Hedley & Bennett donated 1,000 masks to the organization as well (Agency: Shiraz Creative, Los Angeles).