Experiential marketing: The pop-up phenomenon

Hendrick's Gin: ran a 'Refined Courtship Clinic' in Covent Garden
Hendrick's Gin: ran a 'Refined Courtship Clinic' in Covent Garden

From Comme des Garcons to EA Games and Hendrick's Gin, pop-up shops are springing up on high streets across the country. Nicola Clark asks how brands can ensure the bubble doesn't burst.

The marketing world is in the midst of a pop-up frenzy.

Over the past 12 months, a growing number of brands has turned to pop-up activity to provide a burst of PR activity and another reason for consumers to interact with their brand.

Blink and one might miss them, though, leading experts to urge marketers to do more to ensure the effect of these events is felt long after the shutters come down.

The pop-up phenomenon has a long history. Fashion brand Comme des Garcons was one of the first to adopt the tactic, when it opened a guerrilla store in Berlin in 2004. Its pop-up shops are open for a year and located away from city centres. The brand has also opened stores in Beirut's Achrafieh district, downtown Los Angeles and the West End of Glasgow.

The strategy allows brands to tap into new markets at low cost, as rents are cheap and the 'concept store' strategy creates a buzz without investing in advertising.

Owen Cato, creative director of retail agency Live & Breathe, says pop-up shops are an excellent way to deliver a brand experience. He points out that, unlike experiential activity, they have a sense of permanence, as they are generally around for longer, and a sense of purpose, as many of them sell product. However, there is a question over their reach, as they engage only those consumers who actually visit.

The economic downturn has increased the appeal of pop-up stores. In London, Camden council has its own pop-up shop scheme that makes use of empty commercial property to offer reduced-cost space to businesses, artists and community groups. The scheme not only reduces the negative visual impact of empty property, but showcases them to potential tenants.

In the nine months from June 2009, the pop-up scheme supported 35 exhibitions, events and retail experiences across seven premises. These ranged from a group show put on by young fashion designers to ad agency Ogilvy opening a drop-in shop for brand and marketing advice.

Jeremy Rucker, head of Hotel Retail, experiential agency RPM's pop-up and retail division, says the growth of pop-up activity is partly in response to the levels of empty retail space on high streets. 'With so many brands turning to online-only channels, pop-up activity helps bring excitement back to the high street,' he adds.

Increasing longevity

The big question for brands is how to drive investment beyond the life span of the pop-up store and the PR generated at that time. 'Data capture is fundamental, but creating engaging ways for the brand to interact with the consumer that can a develop a life of their own should be considered,' says Cato. 'Extending activity in the pop-up store online and into social-media activity would work well.'

Claire Stokes, managing director of experiential agency The Circle Agency, adds: 'Previously, when brands have talked about experiential, it has been all about being in the live space. Now it is about building new digital layers to ensure the halo effect of any given event stretches beyond just one single event.' For example, when EA Games promoted its key Christmas video-game releases in shopping centres, it encouraged consumers to 'check in' to win titles. More than 3000 consumers took part, promoting the event far beyond the boundaries of the event venue.

However, industry experts warn against investing in digital at the expense of the core event. Trevor Hardy, founder of creative agency The Assembly, contends that pop-up activity should be viewed as another marketing channel. 'The more sensory and multichannel the experience, the better it becomes,' he adds. 'The risk is that interactive and social media may dilute the experience - 100% of the efforts should be dedicated to ensuring the experience is the best it can be.'

However, the fact that even retail brands with a consistent high-street presence are turning to pop-up activity perhaps suggests that brands should be creating the excitement of a pop-up shop in their existing retail space every day. Hardy argues that this is not possible, as the 'focus is on getting the maximum return per square foot'.

Caroline Wurfbain, client services director at experiential agency Jack Morton Worldwide, predicts that more brands will launch pop-up activity over the next 12 months. 'The challenge is that if ideas don't change, there is a risk that the market will become saturated and consumers will get bored,' she adds.

Many of the most successful pop-up launches and events of recent years have not been the work of commercial brands, but independent chefs and artists. As a result, a raft of brands has attempted to mimic the halo effect of organic movements such as Hidden Kitchen, a private supper club that serves 16 people a seasonal 10-course tasting menu paired with wines. However, if these brands fail to offer consumers a compelling reason to interact with them, their experiential strategy risks being dangerously insubstantial.


GEMMA LOVELOCK, TLC Marketing Worldwide

Why is the pop-up phenomenon going from strength to strength? First, there is a purely commercial reason. The recession has left many premises empty, which means space, often in desirable areas, can be snapped up on a short-term lease for next to nothing.

Popping up in a new location also allows brands to gauge whether a particular street or shopping centre works. The price of a pop-up includes invaluable market research.

It's about more than cheap space, though. As brands can move from area to area at carefully chosen times, their appearance creates a buzz that retailers based permanently in one spot can't match. Pop-ups are key in preventing consumer boredom.

As well as the enhanced visibility that pop-ups generate, they are also basically experiential, enabling consumers to interact with brands in ways they may not otherwise. Equally, they allow brands to portray themselves in ways consumers may not previously have seen.


We asked Riana Gallagher, brand manager for Hendrick's Gin at First Drinks, how pop-up activity can build a brand

- Why is using a pop-up the best way in which to engage with consumers?

With its rose-petal and cucumber infusions, Hendrick's Gin is unlike any other premium white spirit, which is why we engage our drinkers with unusual activities. By running events such as the Hendrick's Refined Courtship Clinic, we are able to meet audiences first-hand, furnish them with a sample of our gin and, we hope, make an impression that they will remember and talk to their friends about. The relationship formed is far greater than any other form of marketing, as consumers are being addressed in a personal way, rather than through a media channel.

- How does Hendrick's Gin ensure that the legacy of the pop-up event lasts longer than the pop-up itself?

We have a relationship-marketing programme in place that allows us to continue the conversation with people who have already engaged with Hendrick's at our events. The Hendrick's website, effective data capture and subsequent digital media relations are at the heart of this. Hendrick's has lots of passionate fans and, by making sure we have contact details for them, we are able to keep the lines of communications open. This is often via digital media, including Twitter, to make sure they are invited to other Hendrick's events, rewarded for their loyalty and feel a valued part of the growing Hendrick's family.

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