A New Year in an experiential world dampened by COVID is a quieter landscape. But, it need not be any less bold. While big-budget, high-traffic events are off—for now—mobile, multi-channel experiences are in. And in the midst of the first few phases of vaccine distribution, brands have been cleverly stretching their wings with campaigns that meet consumers where they are to enhance their new routines while feeding the marketing channels.
If you’re ready to grab the bull by the horns (we’re looking at you, 2021), these campaigns should inspire the fight in you.
THE OPPORTUNITY: A road trip with hyper-local stops—and a high-profile package onboard.
Over the years, road trips have helped automakers tell consumer lifestyle stories on the open road, demonstrating features and dipping into local markets on a convenient schedule. And it so happens this classic tactic, that is customizable from every direction, is COVID-friendly, too.
As Official Sponsor of the 2021 New Year’s Eve Countdown in New York City’s Times Square, Kia decided to get a 5,500-mile start in leveraging the high-profile platform to promote the new Kia Sorento SUV. The brand towed the “2021” numerals that would light up the sky when the ball dropped on a cross-country road trip that began at Kia’s headquarters in Irvine, CA, and made stops at local dealerships in 15 states along the way.
Once in New York City, the Kia Sorento made its debut during Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest on ABC. And the best part: The brand hosted front-line workers and their families in Times Square to ring in the New Year. All groups were shuttled to and from the festivities by a fleet of Sorento SUVs. The entire program followed CDC and social distancing protocols.
THE OPPORTUNITY: Merchandising moments that bring activation elements into homes.
Multisensory moments are one of the ways brands can “activate” within the homes of consumers during lockdowns and social distancing. Think: Arby’s #MeatSweats giveaway several years ago. Over the last few months, the industry has executed a diverse range of experiential packaging and products designed to lift spirits and make social media funnies.
For the holidays, IKEA offered consumers a free “Gingerbread Höme” kit that included cookie cutters and instructions to furnish their gingerbread homes with edible versions of iconic IKEA furniture. The options included downloading flat design plans for the furniture and using those to trace and cut cookie dough—as well as assembly instructions (this is, of course, IKEA). Or, consumers could download 3D printing files at home to create cookie cutters do the job for them. Consumers were then invited to share their creations on social media with #IKEAHoliday.
BABE Wine, the canned wine beverage acquired by Anheuser-Busch in 2019, has been busy this year. The brand launched a mobile manicure truck last summer that was CDC-fantastic (complete with a clear partition featuring armholes for masked consumers to receive their manicures and brand ambassadors in head-to-toe PPE). And in time for the NFL season kick off in 2020, the brand joined other brands who have created messaging-based scented candles for the home. BABE Wine partnered with Ryan Porter’s Candler on stadium-inspired scents like “Jockstrap,” “Nacho” and “Grass.” When lighted, as it was as if viewers were back in the stadium seats cheering for the teams they love.
THE OPPORTUNITY: Going where the consumers are—the takeout line.
Since 1991, White Castle has offered lovers an annual romantic dinner at its restaurants for Valentine’s Day, but with indoor dining bans and other regulations due to COVID-19, the brand is pivoting the iconic program for its 30th year anniversary to meet consumers where they are in a socially distanced manner: the takeout line. The brand is transforming 300 restaurants into classic drive-ins dubbed “Slider Lover’s Point,” complete with carhop service. Parking spaces are reserved via OpenTable, and a Spotify playlist will add to the entertainment. And did we mention it’s the 100th birthday of White Castle? Love is in the air.
THE OPPORTUNITY: Giving consumers the power to conduct sampling for you.
Sending e-gifts has been one of the ways socially distanced friends and families have shared some love since COVID-19 struck, and among brands that have capitalized on the movement is Taco Bell. In time for National Taco Day on Oct. 4, the brand launched the Taco Gifter e-gifting service that allowed fans to gift its most iconic menu item via the Taco Bell app or website. This “permanent addition” to the app and site allows “fans to share their love of tacos anytime, for any occasion or no occasion at all.”
Food delivery has experienced a renaissance in the last year, and brands are spotting opportunity to enhance it. And in rolling out the program, Taco Bell gave away a free taco to the first 10,000 people to use the service. Now that’s a cheesy gift—of the good kind.
THE OPPORTUNITY: A stunt-worthy storyline aligned with a news event.
News events are often a catalyst for some of the most relevant and creative of experiential programs. Remember the Total Solar Eclipse in 2017? In response to news of an asteroid scheduled to graze Earth on Nov. 2, 2020—which had little chance of impacting life on Earth but offered plenty of opportunity for a timely stunt—Oreo ensured its cookies would always be available “for all humankind” by building out a doomsday cookie vault.
Down the street from Norway’s Svaldbard Global Seed Vault, a safeguard against the extinction of plant life on Earth, Oreo built its own Global Oreo Vault. The (very real) vault contains the Oreo recipe and a stockpile of cookies wrapped in mylar, which can withstand temperatures from negative 80 degrees to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and is impervious to chemical reactions, moisture and air. Snacking is saved.