How PBS’s Ocean-themed Booth at VidCon Baltimore Engaged Tweens and Young Adults

“It’s always critical to give an opportunity for interaction—however that comes across in the way that’s most authentic to the program or the show that we’re promoting and is of most interest to the audience that we’re connecting with.”

–Sloan Carroll, Senior Director-Multiplatform Marketing, PBS

Promoting its new show “Spy in the Ocean, A Nature Miniseries,” PBS transported VidCon Baltimore attendees to the ocean floor to explore the setting of the four-part documentary that premiered last month. From Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, attendees were drawn into PBS’s booth by a huge video wall backdrop playing clips from the series, greenery and rock features, and overhead lighting that splashed the space with a blue hue.

Nine animatronic marine animals—including a hermit crab, octopus, manatee, dolphin and shark—were on display with “Nature” handlers on-site to demonstrate how the show’s spy cameras, disguised as sea life, secretly recorded behavior in the wild. With a remote control, attendees could maneuver the robotic creatures themselves while learning about the ocean animals and their habitats.

The team behind the “Nature” series was involved in the activation’s brainstorming and development process, even flying out producers, in addition to the animatronics’ handlers, to chat with attendees and go behind the scenes.

nat-geo_disney_teaserMore Ocean-inspired Strategies:

Coming to the East Coast for the first time in Baltimore, VidCon offered PBS the perfect opportunity to tap into a growing audience segment: Digital creators and their media-savvy fans in the 14- to 20-year-old age group.

“We knew it had just such a fun, family-friendly, younger content approach that we wanted to do something that would really bring the joy that we felt in watching the show to life for people on the ground,” says Sloan Carroll, senior director-multiplatform marketing at PBS. “We felt like [VidCon Baltimore] was just a really strong fit with what we anticipated the audience to be and with how they like to interact with creators and creations.”

Carroll says over the years, PBS has fine-tuned its influencer campaigns to ensure the team is collaborating with creators who are brand-safe and have a following that may be new to, or unfamiliar with, the brand. For VidCon Baltimore, PBS engaged TikTokers Mamadou Ndiaye (known as Casual Geographic with 16.1 million followers) and TrashCaulin (with 2.2 million followers), as well as Joe Hanson, host of “Be Smart,” a science education show from PBS Digital Studios. The three influencers were on-site at different points throughout the weekend, sharing posts of their experiences interacting with the animatronic spy creatures.

PBS_VidCon Baltimore_2023_closeup booth entrance

A vivid video wall located at the entrance of the booth played teaser clips from the new documentary.

Post-event, the brand leveraged its VidCon Baltimore influencer content to promote the series on its Oct. 25 premiere date and throughout its four-week run. PBS staff members also spoke with VidCon attendees, who donned branded foam crab hats, in “Crab on the Street” video interviews about their time in the booth and what they loved about PBS.

“It was a great opportunity to get in touch with the VidCon audience, knowing that they are kind of bridging this gap for us between PBS Kids, which is for younger folks, and then more of the general audience of PBS who is a bit older, and helping them realize that there is still so much at PBS for folks in this tween to young adult age, and definitely from a multi-generational perspective, as well,” Carroll says. “Having parents with their kids come together and interact with the PBS brand helps reignite their love and push them past nostalgia to see how we’re relevant to them today.”

The biggest highlights of the program, according to Carroll, were shark plushies wearing little PBS hoodies that brand ambassadors gave away when attendees interacted with the booth and posted about it on social media or downloaded the PBS app. “That was a lesson learned: There are never enough plushies,” she says.

Activating at VidCon Baltimore was PBS’s second go this year at adding an experiential element to a new show’s marketing campaign. Its first was a three-day pop-up in downtown Santa Monica, CA, in March for the premiere of period drama “Marie Antoinette.” Carroll says VidCon offered more of a tailored audience that was coming for a specific event, versus the “Marie Antoinette” pop-up that relied on engaging passersby who were shopping at the Third Street Promenade.

“We’re PBS, so our resources are a little tighter than some of our commercial network friends, but we’re always looking for what feels like a magic fit,” she says. “I think being at VidCon made us really excited about the prospect of building a stronger presence at various types of [fan] cons in the future—just build that consistency and the expectation that PBS is part of that community. That’s definitely something we’re going to look at in 2024.” Agency: MAP360 Collective.


More Scenes from the Booth:

Photo credit: MAP360 Collective

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