Reverse Activations: Events in Your Audiences’ Living Rooms and Backyards – Event Marketer

Reverse Activations: Events in Your Audiences’ Living Rooms and Backyards – Event Marketer
Reverse Activations Conan O'Brien

Reverse Activations: Events in Your Audiences’ Living Rooms and Backyards

Today’s socially distant world has upended much of what we’re used to as consumers and businesses for now. Meetings and conferences are mostly virtual, but savvy marketers have tapped into at-home or reverse activations to amplify on-screen events and build buzz for new products and programs.

What reverse activations offer best is a highly personal connection between audiences and brands, because the brand is invited into sacred space. These experiences are rooted in surprise and delight and typically offer an unboxing of some kind to extend the engagement and provide sharable moments.

Take TBS and the launch of this year’s new Conan [O’Brien] Funko Pop! figures, which typically takes place at San Diego Comic-Con. “When we realized Comic-Con would be canceled, we had to find a way to fill that void and deliver comedy to our fans in a way that would be safe and uniquely funny,” says Alex S. Page, TBS | TNT | truTV brand marketing.

A special delivery to fans in its Pittsburgh market helped TBS deliver on that promise. Read on for more about TBS—and others—and how at-home activations can work for you.

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Take to the Skies

TBS’ “Conan” activation had buzz built in from the get-go. TBS knew it had to cut through the noise. It had to be remarkable. And it had to engage its “secondary market”—that is, those people typically at home while its “primary market” attended Comic-Con.

With the convention canceled and everyone at home, TBS put out a call to Pittsburgh area fans that would be at home for a special delivery: drones decked out with speakers blaring music and a message from Conan that airdropped crates chock full of this year’s figures, complete with his signature pompadour and styled as iconic movie characters. The entire surprise was captured on video and amplified on social for additional reach (Agency: Deeplocal, Pittsburgh).

TIP: Surprise and delight is key. Even if participants receive notice that something is coming, keep them in suspense. Don’t operate drones without a professional, and clear all routes with the FAA.

Reverse Activations Conan O'Brien Drone

TBS treated Comic-Con@Home viewers to drone drops of Conan O’Brien action figures.


Make it Personal

It doesn’t get much more up close and personal than planning a honeymoon. And when the pandemic put the kibosh on many of those amorous escapes, Chase Bank and Southwest Airlines teamed up to replicate them for five essential worker couples. Over the course of a few months, the brands got to know each couple, their love story and ideal honeymoon destination, then recreated a daylong backyard activation inspired by the experience they would have had—a camping trip, a taste of Sonoma Valley, a Caribbean oasis and more. The couples also received airline miles for travel when it is safe to do so, and the brands, by putting others first, reaped miles of social accolades (Agencies: MAS, Brooklyn, NY; FleishmanHillard).

TIP: Incorporate local vendors when possible to shorten delivery time, reduce expenses and support the local business community. And for content capture, think beyond your typical channels. The honeymoon activations garnered attention in Brides magazine, as well as a live broadcast on local news. The footage was later used for direct web advertising of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program.

Chase Southwest popups_Photo by Rachel Rodgers

Chase and Southwest personalized essential workers’ honeymoon plans with backyard activations built to mirror their ideal destinations—like a Caribbean oasis.


Fill a Void

Halloween typically finds beauty influencers popping up in pumpkin patches and filling social media feeds with shimmering backgrounds, their faces tricked out in eye shadow, mascara and lipstick for all kinds of effect. But with most pumpkin patches not open last year, e.l.f. answered the call by bringing the pumpkin patch and those coveted beauty products to influencers across L.A. What could be more fun than a VW bus in your driveway, awning opened, surrounded by pumpkins and free product and displays inside, sanitized, safe and all sprayed down, to lift one’s Halloween spirit. Even better: the influencers’ collective reach of more than 12 million, and the more than 78 Instagram stories posted from the activation (Agency: Duncan Channon, San Francisco).

TIP: Most influencers and media members you share a long-term relationship with will gladly offer up their home addresses. In other cases, you can capture mailing information at event registration. To reach wider audiences, send out a call over social media or have participants opt in via a contest or microsite.

elf halloween 2020_1

When influencers couldn’t make it to pumpkin patches for Halloween, e.l.f. brought the classic fall experience—and its holiday-inspired products—to them.


Year of the Kit: Unboxing Goes Mainstream with Packages That Pop

Marketing boxes have long been a strategy used by brands to elicit media and influencer attention. This year, event marketers embraced the tactic to put a tangible spin on virtual events and experiences for attendees. But more than swag bags or sample boxes of goodies, the best kits deliver premium assets that bring to life an on-screen event, like a virtual event, a TV series, even football signing day.

Some, like FX Networks’ Fargo pie kit, gave fans an actual taste of the show. Kenya Hardaway Green, svp-integrated promotions, multi-platform marketing, at FX explains, “To highlight the diverse perspectives that contributed to the show, we developed the Fargo Flavors custom pie mailer in collaboration with several chefs whose unique recipes and stories reflect the diversity of Fargo.”

Ahhhh… nothing like a good ol’ American pecan pie to pique a person’s interest. Follows is a taste of Fargo’s and other innovative kits and tips.


What better way to represent Fargo’s themes of immigration and assimilation and drive tune-in and engagement for the show than the quintessential American pie. But when the pandemic put a hold on in-person activations, what was originally to be a Pop-Up Pie Shop became a pie kit experience. Five master chefs from diverse ethnic backgrounds put their unique spin on the pies, which were hand-delivered to media and influencers, along with a branded apron, tea towel, recipe card and other assets, including information about the fourth installment of the show.

Fans could register to win a pie on a custom program microsite, Paid media, buzz from social influencers and social posts amplified the campaign, achieving a tasty 1.1 million impressions and 869,000 total reach (Agency: BMF, New York City).


  • Fortunately, there are no special rules for shipping food—just be sure to work with a vendor that has the proper state health permits. Food is not as regulated as alcohol is.
  • Registration form fields should be featured as “dropdown” or “select” style for custom orders, rather than fill-in-the-blank.
  • Do a test ship: Send something to a colleague or friend in a city across the country and see how the kit and food hold up.



mail kits buffalo wild wings TBSWith glamorous red-carpet events and fancy premieres out the window, TBS paired up with Buffalo Wild Wings to deliver a super cool tailgate kit for influencers, studio execs and stars of “The Big Show” missing out on all the fun. On the big night, couriers coordinated with BWWs around the country to hand deliver a Go-Big Bundle of fresh, hot wings along with a custom-branded plastic cooler that contained a beer pong kit, sauce packets, a fun cut-off Go Big Show t-shirt, beer koozie in the shape of a fist and a thank you note with tune-in messaging. People shared their deliveries on social and the show’s host Bert Kreischer unveiled the box live on Instagram. The fun continued throughout the season with surprise and delight deliveries of the premiums for fans of the show (Agency: Mirrored Media, Santa Monica, CA).

TIP: Hire a reliable courier, and map out delivery locations in advance. The team in this case knew exactly how many couriers it would have to trail the delivery people so that both the wings and the kits arrived together.



Faced with how to transform its NewFronts moment into an engaging, new virtual experience, YouTube created a “personal primetime” for each attendee, delivering more than 2,000 guest experience boxes, each customized to that participant’s personal interests and choices. The “Brandcast Delivered” kits contained personalized videos, printed pieces and swag (DIY pizza, books, socks) related to five content categories: learning and education, comedy and entertainment, lifestyle, food, and sports.

“The unboxing moment stood out as a strong piece of our overall communication and experience strategy, garnered social attention and served as the ‘pre-show’ talking point for our sales teams to engage their clients,” says Nikki Garvey, head of ads and YouTube Events + Experiences.

There were 209,952 different box combinations, each built individually, with the recipient’s name on the box. Makeup artist and YouTube creator Patrick Starr shared his unboxing video with his 4.6 million viewers, and influencers D-Sharp, Kris London and the Physics Girl also filmed unboxing videos (Agency: MAS, Brooklyn, NY).

TIP: If you have a high box count and many possible combinations, you may need to set up a fully functioning fulfillment center. YouTube’s busy bees packed an average of 270 boxes per hour for 9.25 hours straight on the final day. Taking into account a slow start and a 30-minute breakfast break, it was closer to 400 per hour for the last two hours. And this was on a day with a 4 a.m. call time.



mail kits B&G foodsMuch of the fun of attending B&G Foods’ national sales conference is sampling the veggies, snacks and goodies from brands like Green Giant, Ortega and Bear Creek soups. That, plus all the corporate news and culture. But this year, when the conference went virtual, B&G packed all that into national sales kits, each containing 28 components that correlated to special moments throughout the event. Attendees were asked not to open them until the appropriate time, say for a conference call bingo game made of key words from leadership presentations or the Green Giant brand box, which contained new product, collateral cards and instructions to follow along with the innovation kitchen chef, then share the result on YouTube. The kits engaged virtual attendees throughout the week with a consistent drumbeat tied to what was happening onscreen (Agency: HMT Associates, Cleveland, OH).

TIP: Weight matters. Marble charcuterie platters would have been a classy addition to B&G’s kits, but the extra weight was a budget buster. Make sure you know what you need to include, size things up accordingly and make sure it fits in the box and within your budget.



Leave it to a university to come up with this smart way to thank donors and sponsors of its football program. On this past February’s football signing day, donors received kits (BetterTogetherBoxes) filled with game day-oriented novelties and snacks, but that wasn’t all. A QR code on the box linked to the sponsor’s website or the signing eventing event itself, providing an additional touch point for the team’s supporters and a way for the university to track the level of engagement taking place (Vendor: Crêpes à Latte, Vernon, IL).

TIP: QR codes are more effective than emailing a link as a way to track engagement and provide a tactile touchpoint to the kit and brand experience.


This story appeared in the March 2021 issue

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