In its simplest form, experiential marketing is—quite literally—a moment maker. Brands around the world and the marketers that power them use live events to strike a chord, start a conversation and create a moment that won’t ever be forgotten.
For 15 years, our team has covered those moments. Your moments. Tens of thousands of them. And over those years we’ve seen it all: The amazing, game-changing programs; the little things that meant so much; the greatest hits and the biggest misses. No marketing sector has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time.
Only by looking back and embracing all of the moments can you begin to connect the dots back to the ones that most influenced the industry, this discipline and your job. For the first time ever, we’ve assembled them—the 100 moments that mattered the most. The campaigns that ignited a global trend. The gambles that paid off. The lessons we learned together. Those times we fell as one.
The first Camp Jeep and Mountain Dew’s DEWmocracy. Cisco’s virtual GSX and Google’s I/O. Coke at the Olympics and Amex at the US Open. Target on college quads and Ford on “American Idol.” We’ve been with you for all of it, kids. You may remember where you were when Cartoon Network accidentally made the entire city of Boston think bombs were going off. And you may wish you could forget where you were when Janet Jackson slipped a nipple in front of the entire world.
Whether you were with us then or you’re just tuning in with us now, these 100 moments will give you some perspective on 15 years of experiential marketing magic—what they were and why they mattered.
1) EM ISSUE #1
A young Dan Hanover and a young-ish Kerry Smith begin work on the first issue of Event Marketer in Smith’s basement in New Canaan, CT. Dan writes every word from the basement guest room and Kerry sells every ad from a desk pushed up against the bathroom. They work on used desks purchased from eBay, have a P.O. Box as the “corporate headquarters” and create the structure of the magazine on a bar napkin. The rest… is history.
2) GET A NIGHTLIFE
Adding more hours to every marketer’s potential daily engagement schedule, Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice unit leads a string of non-liquor brands quickly recognizing bars and nightclubs as sweet, sweet fertile ground for connecting with consumers after the sun goes down. The move allows marketers to connect and convert until the bartender yells, “Last Call!”
3) PROPRIETARY PROPERTIES
Vans uncorks the age of the wholly owned event when it rolls out the Warped Tour, which would go on to be the original model for brands looking to cut sponsorship cords and do their own thang. Many of today’s brand-owned festivals and large-scale consumer fan fests still have ties to the initial Warped site design, sponsorship structure, ticketing process and tour schedule.
4) GLOBAL CONSUMER CAMPAIGNS
Land Rover launches a global G4 Challenge across 16 countries executed via four legs and a finale in Las Vegas. It is one of the first truly global b-to-c experiential campaigns and sends a clear and present message to Madison Avenue that advertising isn’t the only form of marketing that could be heard ‘round the world. Just sayin’.
"Experiential marketing is about people interacting longer than a 30-second TV spot."
5) BRAND AMBASSADOR TRAINING
Without knowing it, LEGO ushers in the age of strategic brand training for event staffers when the toy giant kicks off the industry’s first multi-day immersive regimen for its mobile tour team at the Enfield, CT, headquarters. Marketers take notice and immediately begin putting a lot more muscle into making sure the brand ambassadors representing them at events are prepared, passionate, informed and excited.
6) MEASUREMENT DASHBOARDS
Chrysler uses one of the first documented event management dashboards to keep a handle on its 1,500 events. The portal, dcxevents.com, allows the car giant to standardize event approvals, vendor requests, communications, recaps and metrics.
Nintendo shows off what would years later become known as a pop-up when it opens the Cube Clubs, temporary environments designed inside vacant warehouses and retail spaces. The space welcomes consumers in to learn about the latest in gaming platforms, ask questions and then try the new GameCube console.
8) EXPERIENTIAL + HOLLYWOOD
Coors signs a historic seven-year partnership with Miramax Films that integrates the brand across entertainment properties, sponsorships and events. It is a noteworthy moment that shows the potential promise of combining experiential marketing and Hollywood. But alas, Coors would eventually terminate the deal four years early citing slumping sales—and, we assume, having to sit in meetings with Harvey Weinstein.
9) COMBO SPONSORSHIPS
Sponsors of properties like the NFL and the Oscars recognize that there is shared equity that could piggyback off each other. First example: Southwest Airlines and Hershey coactivate their NFL sponsorships with the airline tagged in candy packaging and the candy featured at 30,000 feet.
10) THE TOP 100 AGENCY IT LIST
As more and more agencies enter the event marketing landscape, clients begin to have trouble figuring out who does what. Never fear… EM is here. We launch the world’s first-ever editorial listing of the top 100 event agencies, originally called the RFP Shortlist. Fun fact: The first inaugural Top 100 list had 80 agencies—nobody noticed.
11) BLUE COLLAR TARGETS
Marketers take mobile tours into construction sites, garden nurseries and home improvement supply stores to get their products into the hands of blue collar consumers. First example: Dodge’s ride-and-drive for the new RAM that pops into construction sites during breaks with coffee for the crew and free rides in the new truck.
12) ON-AIR TO ON-SITE PRODUCT PLACEMENT
“American Idol” breaks new records with sponsorship deals with Coke and Ford spanning events, product placement and retail activation. Ford later pushes ties to the show into living rooms with Idol Ford Finale parties that turn consumers’ homes into branded experiences and their driveways into ride-and-drives for the new Fusion.
A decade before marketers would use location as a key element of experiential marketing strategy, the GPS craze first hits the mainstream with Geocaching, high-tech scavenger hunts that were red-hot across consumer and b-to-b events. Not only did Geocaching usher in an age of using scavenger hunts as event activities, but it showed the Fortune 1000 that knowing where somebody is could help deliver the perfect experience at the right time—and the right place.
14) MORALITY CLAUSES
Kobe Bryant’s rape accusation reignites the importance of morality clauses in corporate endorsement deals. Brands take a hard look at the “expected behavior” of the actors and celebs they are aligned with and add stronger language to deals about what is and is not behavior the brand expects. Many of these tighter, more restrictive clauses would end up being used in endorsements, event speaker deals, influencer partnerships and “The Today Show” anchor employment contracts.
15) TRADE SHOW EXPERIENCES
Marketers begin to wake up to the fact that most of their trade show exhibits look like shit. They begin to reimagine trade show activations using experience design, journey analysis, innovative material selection and greater focus on objectives, execution and results. The next incarnation of Tier 1 trade show exhibits are works of art, as beautiful visually as they are strategically.
16) CAMP JEEP
One of the most documented and discussed event programs of the last 15 years, the original owner-loyalty mega-experience showed us all that customer retention is just as important as customer acquisition. The then-annual summer event brought thousands of Jeep owners together to celebrate the brand, get muddy and talk about buying another Wrangler.
17) TWO-STORY TOURS
The Budweiser True Music Experience adds some vertical space to the thriving mobile marketing sector. The two-story double-expandable boasts hang space, live music, beer education and a music recording studio—it was one of the first campaigns to dabble in content generation years before it would become en vogue.
18) HOTEL-BASED TRIALS
Volkswagen inks a tie-in with Starwood’s W unit that parks its new $90,000 Phaeton sedan outside the hotels. Consumers check out the vehicles, learn more about the features and even grab the keys and take a spin. The Phaeton would bomb, but hotel events explode.
19) EVENTS AND NIPPLES
Mega-event producers get reminded about the importance of live event time delays, that anything that can go wrong will go wrong and how wardrobe malfunctions can go very, very wrong when Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake turn a Super Bowl halftime show into the world’s largest live stream of a nipple ring. On a nipple. On Janet Jackson.
20) EVENT MICROSITES
Digital audience development begins to get refined by Fortune 1000 marketers. General Motors implements one of the first fully online registration strategies for the 50th anniversary of the Corvette. For its milestone driver appreciation celebratory experience, the only way consumers can register to attend is through corvette50th.com.
21) BRANDED RELAYS
Coke rolls out a new campaign called the Olympic Torch Relay, a global initiative that uses the Olympic flame to light up branded events around the world. It would prove so engaging and successful that the beverage king would make it a permanent staple in the sponsorship activation portfolio.
22) ART EXPERIENCES
Art galleries become a distribution vehicle for branded content and product demos. Sharp commandeers gallery spaces in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, hosting film screenings, art events and music releases. The pop-up is used to convince Gotham’s top influencers to start talking about (and buying) the company’s new Aquos televisions.
“Some decisions that we make will never have a science to them, and in those cases we have to get really good about making a judgment.”
23) EMPLOYEES AS AMBASSADORS
Sometimes your best event staffer is your employee. Pepsi executes a massive one-day national sampling campaign for Sierra Mist that almost shuts down the company for the day—a whopping 13,000 PepsiCo employees from across the system become brand ambassadors, handing out 3.5 million 12-ounce cans of the soda across 200 markets.
24) FLEXIBLE FOOTPRINTS
General Motors shows the industry how important it is to design event footprints as flexible, modular experiences that can get scaled up or down based on venue size with the Rides, Vibes & Chrome road show. The tour takes product displays to dealerships and gives those dealers the power to adjust the size of the experience and the merchandise promoted within it.
25) CONTENT BECOMES KING
Marketers begin to see the value in generating content at events. Walt Disney’s SoapNet enlists 30 soap opera fans to be “Drama Queen Bees” and generate buzz in their social circles. The network provides “I Want to Be” video clips the Bees share on email to their friends. Elsewhere, Crayola recruits pre-teen girls in suburban markets to host House of Graffiti arts and crafts parties.
“At the end of the day we want people to walk away not knowing whether they just interacted with a PepsiCo employee or a contract worker.”
26) MONKEY DOPPELGÄNGER
Street marketing keeps getting less mild and more wild as marketers see huge spikes of exposure in a pre-social media world following stunts. A fleet of 50 actors in gorilla costumes runs in the L.A. Marathon to promote Nintendo’s new Donkey Kong video game. Who knew that guerrilla marketing would one day feature actual gorillas?
27) CHARMIN’S POTTY BREAK
Toilet paper brand Charmin offers a much needed oasis of, well, toilets to New Yorkers with its massive two-story pop-up store in Times Square. With its 20 sparkling clean restrooms, ample supply of bath tissue and other family-friendly engagements, it manages to connect with more than 10,000 attendees during its run. Average dwell time: more than 22 minutes a pop—or, poop. (We had to do it.)
28) DESTINATION: NYC’S LOWER EAST SIDE
Adidas kicks off what will eventually become a tidal wave of “underground” events in Manhattan’s gritty Lower East Side (don’t worry—you can’t afford to live there now). For this event, the shoe brand takes over a basement to promote and preview its 2006 adicolor collection. The pop-up draws more than 1,000 attendees over the course of its two-week run and makes marketers start thinking about smaller, more targeted events.
29) VIRTUAL TRADE SHOWS
Yeah, they look pretty low-tech in hindsight, but in 2006, almost everyone was excited about the idea of hosting a trade show—online. The cost savings! The access! The reach! Thanks to advances across instant messaging and VoIP, and higher broadband speeds, connecting on the virtual trade show floor became a real option for a wide variety of companies, including Ziff Davis Media, which jumped in early with a show for the IT security industry. Others would try it out, too, and realize that it wasn’t a half-bad add-on to the live event portfolio. Just not a feasible replacement.
“We’re putting more thought into high-touch events, looking at how we can drive the agenda in the marketplace.”
30) PUBLISHERS GO OFF THE PAGE
Esquire answers the question “What if you could live inside the brand?” with an activation that lets consumers literally live inside the brand. The venue: a 5,500-square-foot, $12 million showcase apartment in Manhattan decked out to represent the magazine reader’s most aspirational qualities, mixed in with advertisers who subtly absorbed their wares and services into the décor. One of the industry’s earliest iterations of the “brand house” concept.
31) PHOTO ACTIVATION GETS UPGRADED
The green-screen photo activation that was, until this point, the darling of the event industry gets an upgrade as brands start rolling out video green- screen activations that immerse attendees in simulated scenarios and then invite them to share their videos from a bank of branded kiosks (remember those?) During a mobile tour for HP, consumers pedal at a stationary bike to “ride” in a virtual Tour de France. At the Taste of Chicago, Chevy encourages consumers to email video postcards from the activation. (Facebook wouldn’t gain momentum for another year or two.)
32) BEHOLD: THE LED
LED screens hit the scene hard, popping up in all sorts of formats and functions as event marketers realize the visual impact and power these eye-popping displays have to stop people in their tracks—and then mesmerize them for a little while. Thinner, lighter and more flexible than their predecessors, this next generation of screens shows up first—where else—at the North American International Auto Show where Ford erects a 200-foot-tall curved LED into a modular wall system and Nissan uses it to create a “media cloud” that hovers above its stand.
33) THE SMARTPHONE ERA BEGINS
Yes, there were smartphones (remember T9 texting?), but there weren’t iPhones until June, which set the entire industry in a new direction as it began empowering attendees to snap their own photos and share or retrieve them on event websites. The Air Force is way ahead of the game with its Do Something Amazing tour that engages young adults through cutting-edge (at the time) texting, Bluetooth and QR code technologies.
Technology conferences are among the first to discover that attendees really dig it when they can crowdsource some of their own educational content—in the moment. Hence, the unconference is born, where attendees come together for impromptu “sessions” on topics they spitball and pick themselves. Disney is among some of the first big brands to try it out, at its Pooh Camp, a play on the term “Foo Camp,” an annual hacker event and unconference hosted by O’Reilly Media.
35) YOUTUBE TIE-INS
Events as viral video platforms won’t happen for a few more years, but in 2007, brands are starting to tap into YouTube in new ways. Like Intel, which invites CES attendees to star in their own Intel commercial using an actual Intel tv spot as inspiration. The program generates a respectable 20,000 views and makes more than a few marketers wonder what YouTube can do for their event’s reach and bottom line. (Flash forward: turns out, a lot.)
36) TRADE SHOW ATTRITION
GE Water trades in 270 of its 300 annual trade show activations for The World Water Tour—a series of three-day events that target executives across eight countries. It’s one of many brands starting to rethink their trade show portfolio and ask, “What if I could bring the brand to the customer?”
37) THE STOLI HOTEL
Stolichnaya vodka activates a 15,000-square-foot homage to its roots in the form of the Stoli Hotel. The pseudo-hotel (each “room” offers a different drink and ambience) goes on to win the Grand Ex in 2008, and ushers in a new era of proprietary “hotel” experiences.
38) CARTOON NETWORK BOMBS—LITERALLY
In an example of a good idea turned oh so bad, The Cartoon Network activates a guerrilla campaign across Boston for its “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” series that sets off a series of bomb threats all across Beantown. The offending items: electronic boxes that a little too closely resemble explosive devices. Boston authorities slap Turner Broadcasting and its agency Interference with $2 million in fines, prompting Turner’s evp Jim Samples to resign. Welcome to the new era of more tightly vetted guerrilla campaigns.
39) FLASH TREND: SECOND LIFE
Blink and you may have missed this one. Big brands including Starwood, Pontiac and Toyota are among the first to set up virtual shop in this online universe created by Linden Labs where real-world people can live as virtual ones. Jay-Z performs at a Pontiac-sponsored concert, which no doubt piques the interest of many event marketers who start snapping up “real estate” in the world. But despite its tech-savvy target audience, the site soon fades from the scene.
40) NAKED AND UNAFRAID
It was the campaign that was made for social media, before there was social media. Handmade cosmetics retailer LUSH reinforces its au naturel marketing message with a fleet of brand ambassadors dressed in nothing but aprons. The naked staffers pop up at retailers in 27 markets. Cops in a few cities make them put on clothes. For some reason, this one doesn’t spark a wave of copycat campaigns.
41) BUD CAMP
Whisking brand loyalists away to the mountains for a weekend of fun was a brand new concept in 2008, and one that Budweiser originated with its Bud Camp program. What happens at Bud Camp stays at Bud Camp, but from what we heard, 186 Canadian men were taken to a top-secret location where they cavorted for a few days with beers, babes and other manly pursuits.
42) THE GREAT RECESSION
The year starts out strong, and then BAM—the bottom falls out of the economy and everyone from Congress to President Obama seems to have something to say about the perceived (and let’s face it, real, in many cases) waste and excess at live events. Conventions cancel. Travel budgets are slashed. Marketing budgets are put on hold and the entire industry starts to work leaner, smarter and more virtually to keep the momentum going. The result: an industry that, just a few years later, makes huge strides in its ability to prove its own value. You know what they say—when God closes a door, she opens a window.
43) HELLO, SOCIAL MEDIA
In February, we introduce readers to Twitter and how early adopter brands like Cisco, Adobe, Nintendo and General Motors are testing the waters with the 140-character platform. Enterprising brand marketers take notice and start to think about how to track social impressions against events, and then map it all back to their event measurement strategy. Light bulbs go off everywhere.
44) TOTAL TAKEOVER
Remember Jolt cola? The “all the sugar and twice the caffeine” soda brand heads to Barrow, AK, where it promptly renames the city “Jolt” for the day to celebrate Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year. The brand takes over the town with sampling activities, photo activations and a midnight softball tournament.
45) CONSUMER ‘NEED STATES’
Event marketers are getting savvier about how they can create more meaningful connections by giving attendees something they need, in the exact moment they need it most. Zest activates an outdoor shower village at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, CO, to help muddy, dirty adventure-seekers clean up at the end of the day.
46) THE FIESTA MOVEMENT
Ford goes all in on a new campaign to reintroduce the Fiesta to American audiences and changes the game entirely in the process. The Fiesta Movement lends 100 influencers a brand new Fiesta for six months and asks that they post all of their adventures online. It is the longest test-drive program in history, and the first time a brand fully leverages the power of social media (primarily Facebook in this case) to create a groundswell of awareness for a product. Marketers realize the most authentic voice isn’t their own.
47) BACK IN BLACK
LEGO gives the industry hope as it says, “Economy? Eshmonomy!” and launches a brand new program called the LEGO Experience Tour. It is the first major experiential initiative for the brand in six years, and a sign of things to come as the brand—one of the originators of the experiential discipline—expands its portfolio of products and its schedule of consumer activations.
48) TREND: LESS IS MORE
Economic woes still have the industry reeling, forcing many brands to scale back. This manifests itself most visibly at trade shows where booths get smaller and smarter, and marketers begin streamlining their environments and displays to reflect only their most relevant and impactful products and services. The age of dumping everything you have into the booth and hoping people buy something is over. The age of more thoughtful and targeted booth experiences begins. And all is right in the world.
49) FLASH MOBS GO BIG
It’s the next phase of guerrilla marketing, where unsuspecting consumers in a public place are surprised and delighted when people around them start dancing in what becomes a choreographed routine. T-Mobile’s flash mob in London jump-starts the trend, while simultaneously jump-starting the viral video trend in the process. AMC follows up with a “Mad Men” mob in Grand Central Terminal that has actors standing frozen in place. Both campaigns show what can happen when brands empower passersby to capture and share content on their own phones, and programs start being promptly built with viral sharing in mind.
50) NOSTALGIC EXPERIENCES
Canadian Club whisky rolls out one of the first nostalgia-based experiences with its “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It” campaign that activated at bars with shoe-shiners and lessons on how to tie a Windsor knot. Hipsters start growing beards and canning pickles almost instinctively.
“You hand over control of the relationship because they have the ability to opt in and opt out.”
51) CISCO GSX GOES VIRTUAL
It is the campaign that forced us to create a “Best Virtual Event” category in our annual Ex Awards program. In a ballsy move, even by today’s standards, Cisco transforms its annual sales conference into a 100-percent online Global Sales Experience. The event has since gone back to the real world, but the smart thinking behind the event still informs some of the best hybrid event strategies at Cisco—and beyond.
52) GAME CHANGER
Nerf decides that the best way to get kids (and adults) playing with its spongy products is to create a gaming league that uses—its products. The Nerf Dart Tag league is born and travels to 15 markets. The League may be no more today, but the “create your own sports property” strategy still stands the test of time.
53) THE WINTER OLYMPICS
From Coca-Cola’s massive experience to the long lines around Panasonic’s full-HD 3D theater, event sponsorships at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver are technically clean and artistically beautiful. Yahoo! invites fans into its editorial coverage of the action. Bell Canada, the event’s largest sponsor, dials up a fan experience for the world. Other sponsors, Visa and McDonald’s among them, get the excitement going with activations even before the games began. It is a gold-medal experience all the way around.
54) AUGMENTED REALITY HITS THE SCENE
AR still seems a little “Star Trekky” to the uninitiated, but it is making inroads into event marketing. Statoil, the Norwegian energy company, is one of the first to deploy computer-generated imagery to replicate the features of its oil rig and sub-sea platform. Even ceo Helge Lund, beamed in from a BBC studio in London, gets in on the action. And the world has never been the same since.
55) TOSTITOS’ RACE TO THE SUPER BOWL
Tostitos fans are among the first to witness the power of Facebook as a social media platform in this cross-country competition that pitted six rabid Ohio State fans against six University of Texas rivals. The teams embark from New York City on a five-day dash filled with challenges. Facebook serves as a hub for the program and the social media excitement it generates.
56) THE RISE OF THE MOBILE APP
2010 is a big year for the mobile app, which starts getting more popular, even in b-to-b markets. Conference and trade show organizers begin to see the beauty of having all collateral and content reside within the app, besides some fun and games. What could be next? Data capture and lead-gen aren’t far behind. And soon, marketers find the investment in mobile apps more than pays for itself.
57) TEXTING BECOMES A THING
With more people using cell phones as an all-in-one, catchall web and communication device, text-based campaigns are becoming more prevalent. But event marketers soon find out that entails a lot more than blasting out a few texts to exhibitors and attendees. They soon learn how to partner up, what “opt in” and “opt out” means and yes, how to be succinct and track and measure.
58) SUSTAINABLE BRANDS
Toyota’s Green Initiative Tour makes green cool. The multi-pronged six-month program launches in October to increase reach and awareness for its hybrid vehicles. The tour is an extension of Toyota’s philanthropic efforts in the areas of environmental education and stewardship.
59) THE VIRTUAL EVENT
Virtual and hybrid meetings gain momentum as they become a critical part of the live event strategy, assuaging marketers’ fears that they would cannibalize entire portfolios of live events. Examples: Met Life for the first time makes a virtual event a significant part of a push to connect with advisors, and pulls it off without a hitch. Compuware takes its global user conference virtual, and sees attendance double.
60) GAMING GOES LIVE
Activision unveils its eagerly anticipated Modern Warfare 3 in one of the biggest events of 2011—Call of Duty XP—taking a multi-billion dollar digital franchise into the real world via experiential. The brand takes over hangars and outdoor spaces across 12 acres at the Hughes Cargo Building in Playa Vista, CA, recreating three gameplay areas and a driving course, a zip line, Burger Town and so much more. Game. Changer.
61) MOUNTAIN DEW’S DEWMOCRACY
2011’s Grand Ex put Mountain Dew’s biggest fans in complete control of its experiential marketing and gives rise to crowdsourcing in the event business. The effort kicks off in July of 2010 and for the next 12 months leverages Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and live engagements to shape new Dew flavors and the actual marketing mix. Let’s just call it grassroots marketing on steroids, Dew-style.
62) THE FACEBOOK-BASED EVENT
Smirnoff leverages the power of Facebook to reach revelers around the globe through its Nightlife Exchange Project, by now in its second year. And to shake things up a bit, this year it introduces the one and only Madonna into the mix. The goal—to get 10 million people in 50 countries to swap nightlife experiences and host 50 parties simultaneously around the world. That’s pretty big, people.
63) FOOD TRUCKS
These mobile dining and engagement platforms remain a hit with fans, especially as they shift into social media gear, utilizing platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to keep consumers up to date on stops and what’s on the menu. Pizza brand Freschetta, which sponsors Natasha Bedingfield’s summer music tour, equips brand ambassadors with iPads to encourage sampling, then enables fans to go online to review the pies and enter a sweepstakes. Tasty.
64) BEHAVIOR-TRACKING TECHNOLOGY
This new tech is on the rise among event and trade show marketers deploying tools like GPS, RFID, QR codes and smart phones to track prospects and customers at multiple points along the journey, while making the live experience fun and engaging for them. And for the marketers then and now, it is all about keeping the engagements going after the event, and continuing until the next one.
65) AMEX TAKES IT UP A NOTCH
American Express, a 19-year US Open tennis tournament sponsor, activates its largest on-site and in-market activation ever at Flushing Meadows with a 2,500-square-foot fan experience, and it’s only gotten better and better ever since. A Court Curator interactive touch screen creates individual itineraries for fans; a serve analyzing tool and gifts with purchase add to the fun.
66) GREEN EVENTS
CES, on a mission to go green and offset its carbon footprint, ups the ante by producing badge holders for more than 150,000 attendees from repurposed vinyl banners, and recaptures more than 63,000 square feet of vinyl and magnetic banners and signs for the following year’s event. The trade show cuts print production for show materials by half and showcases renewable energies products in a special tech zone.
67) PAPERLESS EVENTS
Speaking of sustainable, Hallmark in June goes paperless during its Gold Crown Retail Summit. The 102-year-old brand estimates that more than half of its 600 attendees had never used an Apple iPad before the summit, making the jump to digital a bold, if not a little risky, move. But Hallmark pulls it off, giving free iPads, pre-loaded with an event app, to every attendee.
“We really protect the ecosystem at TED, and work with partners as curators to create the right kind of experience that makes them a party of the TED community.”
68) EXPERIENCE-DRIVEN CONTENT
The world’s first automobile brand (that would be Ford, folks) rolls another first out of Detroit, this time as the brand behind the first-ever reality show created by an advertiser, driven by consumers and broadcast on network tv. The program, “ Escape Routes,” is a six-part televised series of “Amazing Race”-style challenges that has six pairs of best friends vying for a redesigned 2013 Ford Escape and $100,000. Seriously, who wouldn’t find that riveting?
Cisco upgrades the industry standard smartphone strategy this summer with the Cisco Cloud Mobile Trivia Game, which in June provides attendees at its annual Cisco Live! user conference a fun and organic way to experience the event. Even more fun—the in-depth analytics report that is used to craft more efficient event experiences.
70) FORD’S KEYS TO THE FUTURE
Ford deploys a Blue Oval Card as a key to an enhanced experience at the 2012 North American Auto Show in Detroit. The key, inspired by the auto maker’s blue oval trademark, unlocks a vision of what might be in store for new vehicle technologies for groups of 12 people who go through five stations, then ascend up a 20-foot-tall elevator that rises to “the Cloud,” where they view a 360-degree film showcasing the future of in-vehicle technology.
71) THE CROWDSOURCED EVENT SPACE
Coca-Cola produces another stellar moment with its 2012 Summer Olympics activation, a global campaign dubbed Move to the Beat. The standout element: the façade of Coke’s Beatbox pavilion, which consists of sensor technology and speakers cranking “Anywhere in the World,” its custom song. Sound effects are embedded in 40 of its 230 plastic membrane-type pillows, turning the structure into a customizable mixing station. As attendees squeeze and wave their hands across the cushions, they change the song and the experience, in essence controlling the architecture and the engagement.
72) INTEL’S UNFORGETTABLE TREE
Who can forget Intel’s Ultrabook Tree at CES—a massive and stunning structure with a gleaming silver trunk and “branches” spiraling out of its canopy with “leaves” made from 180 of the brand’s Ultrabook convertibles? Attendees could walk under the tree to a tablet station, create blooms by tapping on the screen, then fling them off the screen and into the treetop above. Talk about engagement.
73) A FRESH TAKE ON THE DEMO
Intel in May launches its largest consumer tour ever. The six-month, eight-country “Experience Intel. Look Inside” experience is housed in a two-story, white, marshmallow-like inflatable structure that serves as its hub. First stop—New York City’s Gansevoort Plaza, where visitors receive Ultrabooks, which are untethered, to use throughout the space in creative experiences, games and culturally relevant performances.
74) LIVE-STREAMED CONCERTS
Bud Light’s 50|50|1 concerts bring the power of live music and the fun of tipping back a Bud Light to fans in all 50 states on a single day, Aug. 1. Fans download the Bud Light Music First app to score prizes and 50|50|1 concert tickets throughout the summer. Concerts in five markets are live-streamed on the Bud Light Music First MySpace hub. The event draws 2.5 million live streams and one million unique live streams, the biggest for any A-B brand.
75) THE ‘CREATED FOR VIRAL’ EVENT
WestJet wraps up the year with a Christmas Miracle for the record books. More than a mere one-time stunt, this program turns a surprise-and-delight experience for 250 consumers into a social media sensation that exceeds all p.r., awareness and perception goals as more than 150 volunteer “WestJetters” dressed as Santa’s helpers purchase and wrap personalized gifts for passengers aboard two flights. Online video of the experience leads to a record-breaking viral result, proving that event content is a viable buzz generator.
76) THE SHOPPABLE POP-UP
Target amps up efforts to connect with the college collective and change its perception among millennials as a place where their moms shop, scoring a Grand Ex in the process with Bullseye University Live, a 360-degree experiential campaign that is part digital, part physical, part reality show and total marketing genius. It starts with a Bullseye University dorm erected on-campus at UCLA and inhabited by YouTube personalities and grows from there with live-streaming, Target merchandise and, of course, shopping opportunities.
Samsung’s Feist Holographic event, designed to hype its new Galaxy S4 phone and position the brand as a technology leader, does just that via a three-city simulcast that leverages holograms to make images appear in 3D form. The highlight—a choreographed holographic musical performance by Canadian music artist Feist, which creates a “wow” moment shared among attendees.
78) EDM MAKES NOISE
Electronic dance music goes from underground to mainstream, and EDM festivals become big business, creating a $20 billion industry. Concert promoters like SFX, Live Nation and AEG get in on the game, buying up festival properties and facilitating partnerships with brands like Anheuser- Busch, Motorola and Heineken.
79) MULTISENSORY EXPERIENCES
Brands begin activating events that engage multiple senses to help deepen the emotional impact of their live experiences on consumers. A prime example: Glade pops up in New York City with a multisensory space featuring five unique experience rooms inspired by its fragrances. From bubble machines to sand-covered floors, attendees are invited to interact with and interpret the brand for themselves as messaging throughout the pop-up asks, “What Will You Feel?”
“Women have always had key roles in event marketing. But I think event marketing is truly coed. It is about creating memorable experiences.”
80) SOCIAL CURRENCY
Pay-to-play gets an upgrade as brands begin asking consumers to trade a tweet, like or mention in exchange for an experience they can’t buy or order for themselves. British frozen food brand Birds Eye leads the march with a pop-up restaurant dubbed “The Picture House,” where diners pay by simply posting a photo of their meal to Instagram using #BirdsEyeInspirations.
81) TWITTER VENDING MACHINES
Piggybacking on the uptick in social currency, brands turn to Twitter-enabled vending machines that create interactive experiences in exchange for social posts. For its annual flip-flop sale, Old Navy plants Twitter vending machines that dispense flip-flops in 36 high-traffic locations. Consumers log into Twitter from a tablet attached to the machine and fill in answers to statements like: “The best place to wear flip-flops is _______.” The machine detects a unique tweet code and voila! The footwear is dispensed on the spot.
“If it’s not remarkable, it will be invisible.”
82) BUD LIGHT IS UP FOR WHATEVER
In one of the most immersive campaigns the industry had ever seen, Bud Light combines content, social currency and surprise and delight with a true city takeover, transforming Crested Butte, CO, into Whatever, USA, a fictional town that literally brings to life the brand’s Up For Whatever marketing platform aimed at on-the-go millennials. Storefronts and restaurants are painted in signature Bud Light blue, drones deliver cold brews and engagements are delivered one-by-one, inspiring future experiential strategies everywhere. It is still being studied.
83) WORLD RECORD PROJECTION MAPPING
Dam, Freightliner! The truck manufacturer literally takes product launches to new heights, introducing its self-driving Inspiration Truck with a projection mapping experience on the Hoover Dam that shatters the Guinness World Record for highest light output projection. The brand leverages the iconic structure to display an audiovisual presentation highlighting the history of the company and its milestones.
84) TARGET’S LIVE COMMERCIAL
Target’s first-of-its-kind live recording of a four-minute Imagine Dragons concert during the 2015 Grammys transforms a television broadcast into an experience just as compelling as the live version. The money-can’t-buy program thrills thousands of diehard Imagine Dragons fans, who, when cameras roll, ultimately become part of the show. At the end of the performance, tv viewers watch as attendees’ LED wristbands combine to form a human Target bull’s-eye.
85) STREAMING OVER SOCIAL
Anyone with a smartphone becomes a live content producer as streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope go mainstream, earning attention from event marketers aiming to boost their social strategy and leverage events as content. Backed by social media behemoth Twitter, Periscope ultimately wipes out its furry competitor.
86) TV SHOW POP-UPS
Sitcom fans rejoice as some of television’s most popular series are brought to life through pop-ups featuring replica sets. Hulu gives “Seinfeld” enthusiasts something to yada, yada, yada about with a “Seinfeld: The Apartment” experience in New York City. Brand ambassadors guide consumers through series-themed engagements—including a photo activation where fans replicate the famous George Costanza Valentine’s Day photo shoot.
87) AMEX ELEVATES SPONSORSHIPS…AGAIN
One of the longest-running sports sponsorships in the industry becomes one of the leading sports sponsorships in the industry when it unleashes a series of technology-fueled “firsts” at the US Open. The sponsorship includes the first-ever hydrointeractive tennis experience, which projects real-time on-court action onto a massive water wall, as well as haptic responsive racquets paired with HTC Vive VR headsets that allow fans to return a serve to CGI versions of Maria Sharapova.
88) THE UFC LIVE-WIRES VEGAS
Burgeoning sports property the Ultimate Fighting Championship during International Fight Week blitzes Las Vegas with one of the biggest experiential tech nets ever dropped by a single brand. The result is a citywide, live-wired experience in which fans tap their RFID-enabled badges, wristbands and QR codes to participate in activations, earn UFC Rewards points, instantly share their experiences on social media and rub shoulders with their favorite UFC stars all across Sin City.
89) USER-TRIGGERED EXPERIENCES
Brands play their cards close to the chest as user-triggered experiences gain momentum. Absolut’s Electrik House becomes a blueprint for the trend. The experience features cutting-edge wearables that the brand uses to measure the collective energy of attendees. A new engagement is unlocked each time their energy levels reach a new peak. Miraculously, no one blows a fuse.
90) AR GOES MAINSTREAM
After years of brands trying (and failing) to bring augmented reality to the mainstream, Niantic Labs hits the jackpot with Pokémon Go. The augmented reality-based mobile app takes the world by storm, earning more downloads in its first week than any other app in history. Players literally cause traffic accidents in a quest to catch AR “monsters” in real-world locations.
91) ESCAPE THE ROOM
Escape Room experiences, originally created by entrepreneur Victor Blake, take a branded turn. Companies transform simple storylines into intricate puzzles that must be solved in order for participants to—you guessed it—escape the room. Ford levels up the trend with the first-ever drivable escape room, which highlights key technology inside the new Ford Escape.
“B-to-b events are more important than ever. Attendee expectations are higher, and exhibitors are more focused on results, and as a result, show organizers need to become more strategic.”
92) ADVENTURE INFLUENCERS
Companies begin designing events for thrill-seeking social media influencers to help showcase the bolder, more playful side of their brands. Toyota blazes the trail with Hotel Tacoma, a three-day experience in the desert offering influencers a chance to engage in everything from mountain biking and rock climbing to hair-raising ATV rides. Toyota describes it as the “most badass off-road playground/festival/ weekend ever.”
93) AUTOMAKER CHILL SPACES
Cadillac and Lincoln are among the first in a wave of automakers who create designated chill spaces for consumers. Neither showrooms nor retail environments, the luxurious venues offer immersive brand storytelling opportunities for automakers aiming to engage customers in a relaxed, low-pressure setting. Consumers everywhere agree it beats fighting for a table at Starbucks.
94) NETFLIX CAFÉ TAKEOVER
As fangirls everywhere anxiously await the reboot of the cult classic “Gilmore Girls,” Netflix fans the flames, transforming more than 200 local coffee shops across the country into Luke’s Diner, the TV series’ fictional “hangout.” Participating shops are provided signage, branded coffee cup sleeves, flannel shirts and baseball caps for staff (a nod to Luke’s apparel in the series), as well as funds to supply free coffee from 7 a.m. to noon. Industry insiders select the program as the People’s Choice campaign of the year at Event Marketer’s Ex Awards ceremony.
As the line between business and consumer events continues to blur, brands begin to transform their b-to-b affairs into interactive experiences that resemble Burning Man more than the standard conference. Airbnb blows the trend wide open at its annual hosting conference, Airbnb Open. Hosts from 100 countries travel to Los Angeles for three days of sessions featuring Airbnb experts, keynotes, panels and nightlife activities across 17 primary venues and dozens of others around downtown L.A.
96) THE TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE
A total solar eclipse is on its way, and everyone wants to be where the sun don’t shine. The “Path of Totality,” where the eclipse will be most visible, is a 70-mile wide swath across the U.S. Consumers and brands alike lose their minds. More than 100 parties, festivals and concerts are slated to celebrate the phenomenon, and brands lead the way, activating everything from virtual reality live streams of the skies to stargazing experiences. Solar eclipse viewing glasses sell out nationwide.
“Content is no longer king. Context is. I don’t need a meeting for content. I can Google or YouTube anything I need to learn today. I do need the meeting environment, however, for context.”
97) TINY HOUSES
“Go big or go home” takes on new meaning as the tiny house trend grips the industry. First popular among homeowners looking to downsize or reduce their environmental footprint, the small homes vary in size from 100- to less than 500-square-feet. They’re quick and easy to build and transport—and brands take note. SPAM, NESTEA and Google are among those leveraging the trend for events ranging from sampling activations to tech showcases. Event marketers learn it’s a small world after all.
98) SNAP SPECTACLES
User-generated content becomes a snap as the smart glasses, which allow the wearer to create circular video, pick up momentum in events—before later losing almost all of it. Trolli leads the way with a “Beardsketball” experience for hoops fans at a Houston Rockets game. Consumers clad in Spectacles face off against a digital version of NBA star James Harden on a faux basketball court. The experience is instantly shared with their Snapchat followers. And the crowd goes wild.
Personalization is the name of the game and event measurement has never been more important. Enter: biometrics, a field that encompasses the measurement and statistical analysis of physical and behavioral characteristics. Brands begin leveraging the tech to gauge attendee emotion. Acura’s 90-second Mood Roads activation takes Sundance by storm, as participants are equipped with 30 biometric sensors that measure 24 integration points. Each attendee experiences a customized journey in real time as landscape, color, music and speed all change based on their mood.
100) THE END OF LEGO KIDSFEST
It’s the end of an era. LEGO’s seven-year-old KidsFest program, which attracted more than a million attendees in the U.S. and Canada over the years and served as one of the industry’s longest-running experiential programs, comes to an end. Ever the experiential brand, LEGO says it is “careful not to fall in love with an event just because it has always worked.” The brand’s World of Creativity tour is born shortly thereafter, ushering in a new era of kid-friendly events.