Pop art: how to engage millennial consumers with pop-up concepts

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Photo: YouTube/Adrienne Young
Photo: YouTube/Adrienne Young

Brands that understand young consumers' motivations for embracing limited-time engagements can reap the rewards, says Cassandra's senior director for insights.

The temporary pop-up is now a mainstay of marketing. While the concept started with practical purposes, such as serving as a means to test a retail market or for online-only brands to drive offline awareness, it has evolved rapidly such that pop-ups are now sought after experiences, with customers lining up to attend. Brands that understand young consumers’ motivations for embracing these limited-time engagements can reap the rewards.

Whether focused on delivering a retail opportunity to drive sales or providing a creative cultural exploration, modern pop-ups create a sense of urgency for millennial consumers in particular. Even as the average length of a pop-up engagement has stretched from mere days to now a few months, they capitalize on FOMO. The Museum of Ice Cream and Color Factory have become infamous for selling out tickets in a matter of minutes, but consumers’ chances are also limited to take a turn through retail-driven experiences like Everlane’s shoe park or The X, a women’s training space by Adidas. Consumers are carving out time to ensure they get the chance to explore these branded activations, and in a time of fractured attention spans and an explosion of brands from which to choose, driving such response from a consumer has substantial value. 

With such ROI, it follows that brands and businesses in all categories are taking advantage of the concept. For entertainment properties, pop-up spaces feel like a reward for fans, letting them immerse themselves in a world that they have often witnessed but never experienced, such as Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment or Luke’s Diner from "Gilmore Girls."

While such an opportunity can revive dormant fandom for the relaunch of nostalgic properties, pop-ups can also help consumers feel more connected to their current idols, such as those who count themselves among the squad that explored the Taylor Swift Experience. In fact, 65 percent of U.S. young people aged 14 to 34 like it when there are physical spaces tied to entertainment properties or personalities. Even though consumers today have more access to their favorite entertainment titles and stars than ever before, they relish the chance to demonstrate their dedication and get one step closer to their idols. 

Even less "exciting" brands can capitalize on immersive pop-ups to give their brands more tangible personality and drive fandom. Method created a temporary "Wash & Bold" launderette that not only connected well with the soap brand’s purpose of cleaning, but also showcased its personality through brightly colored displays, a "museum of modern mess," and scented suds. Pop-ups can help brands that offer largely functional products to showcase their attitude and flair to develop a more emotional relationship with consumers. 

To make the most of a pop-up concept, brands should plan to take their show on the road. The vast majority of pop-ups launch in large coastal cities, leaving a huge portion of the buying public to simply watch from the sidelines while others have all the fun. Rather than overlooking those in the middle of the country, brands need to look for ways to spread the love, either by creating a pop-up tour or by entrusting their biggest fans and influencer partners to carry their pop-up concepts to their local markets. While pop-ups are great at driving conversation and awareness about a brand, it’s the experience a consumer has at a pop-up event that has the greatest effect on their consideration of the brand when it comes time to purchase. 

Finally, while Instagram bait may get young consumers in the door, don’t ignore the key in-person opportunity to drive brand love and loyalty. The pop-up cycle starts offline when visitors first immerse themselves in a special environment, translates online as they share the experience digital, but then transitions back offline when they walk out the door. Young people have begun to push back from deep digital immersion, looking to rekindle their tactile connection with the world: 64 percent of 14- to 34-year-olds wish live events were more participatory, and brands can be a key part of feeding this need through pop-ups. Capitalize on the residual effect of the physical experience with a tangible takeaway—perhaps one visitors create themselves as part of the pop-up—that not only complements their digital photos but solidifies their connection with the brand.

Melanie Shreffler is Senior Director, Insights at Cassandra.