When people think of event marketing, they think of one or two things. There are the conferences, tradeshows and sponsored exhibitions that call to mind people in business casual attire mingling around a showroom floor in-between sessions and networking breaks. And then there is something entirely different. Then there is driving an Aston Martin across a frozen in a way that would make James Bond blush. Then there’s escaping a cold dungeon in Castle Black to promote the next season of Game of Thrones. Then there’s experiential marketing.
So, what is experiential marketing?
Experiential marketing is all about direct engagement with consumers and creatively interacting with them in a memorable way. It’s also known as engagement marketing, live marketing or participation marketing, and is often lumped into event marketing—even if it’s a far-cry away from traditional conferences.
Though some experiential strategies involve live events as we typically think of them, others can be one-off installations that only last for a few hours. Whatever the format may be, experiential marketing has proven to boost event ROI and is a crucial strategy for marketing executives. To offer a better sense of how this tactic can make an impact, check out this list of 20 outstanding examples of experiential marketing.
Table of Contents
- Volkswagen - Piano Staircase
- LeanCuisine - #WeighThis
- 3D Oreos
- Smirnoff Comic Book Party
- HBO Escape Rooms
- Gatorade Combine
- VICE + Delta Launchpad Events
- Jet Blue - The Ultimate Icebreaker
- Zappos: Google Cupcake Ambush
- Stratos - Red Bull
- Aston Martin On Ice
- Sensodyne's Great Sensitivity Test
- Doc McStuffin's Check Up
- Google Impact Challenge: Bay Area
- Delta - Stillness In Motion
- Coca Cola - Small World Machines
- Budweiser Beer Garage
- American Express - 2014 US Open
- Misereor - Social Swipe
- Gilmore Girls - Luke's Diner Pop-ups
Photo Source: KJ Vogelius
Though known for being a car company, Volkswagen has been known for extending their brand beyond the automotive industry. One way they were able to do so was by creating a concept called “the fun theory” in which they attempt to pivot people’s behavior by adding an element of fun. For this experiential marketing example, the Volkswagen team cleverly created “piano” stairs in a subway stop in Germany, right next to the escalator. This led commuters to choose the stairs, playing their own tunes as they went up and down each step. As a result, 66% more people chose the stairs as opposed to the escalator.
On the surface, it may seem very odd for a car company to use musical steps as a marketing tactic. However, the reason this experiential strategy worked so well was because it resonated with a simple human emotion: having fun. When a company is able to associate their brand with an emotion as pure as fun, they’ve already won over the customer.
Main takeaway: The experiential strategy does not always have to involve the product. As long as the result is a powerfully positive brand association, the strategy is worth it every time.
Photo source: EventMarketer.com
“If you’re going to weigh something, weigh what matters.” With this tagline, Lean Cuisine launched a heartwarming experiential event right in the middle of Grand Central Station in New York City. As a company that makes frozen dinners, Lean Cuisine’s messaging focuses mostly on weight loss. And although health is very important, consumers can easily feel overwhelmed with messaging that solely measures a person based on their outward appearance. Lean Cuisine was acutely aware of this and for this experiential campaign, chose to focus on a different type of “weight.”
For this campaign, the company set up an installation in the middle of Grand Central where a professional sign-painter would write down the way in which people wanted to “weigh” themselves. In other words, passersby were asked how they wanted to weigh themselves, separate from their physical weight. One woman wanted to be weighed by the amount of love she gave to her children. Another wanted her weight to be the work ethic she showed by returning to college. This feel-good campaign quickly went viral, garnering over 204 million impressions.
Main takeaway: Take your product out of the spotlight and put your customers front and center. A campaign focusing on the customer is always a win.
Photo source: Kalahari Meetings
As one of the most recognizable cookies in the world, Oreos carry much tradition in its brand. Thus, some people may have been hesitant to combine Oreos with cutting edge technology to create an experiential marketing experience. The clash between the classic Oreo and the unexplored capabilities of the 3D printer may not have made sense to some. But in the end, the combination worked beautifully.
During SXSW festival in 2014, Oreos’ parent company, Mondelez International, came up with the idea of combining Twitter, 3D printing, and the classic Oreo cookie all into one experiential strategy. People would be able to receive a uniquely flavored Oreo cookie (made by the 3D printer) that would be determined by which flavors were trending on Twitter during that very moment. Mondelez International described the experience as “deliciously hyper-personalized and customized snacks based on real-time data collection.” Putting a modern tech twist to a classic cookie was a great way to capture the attention of SXSW attendees.
Main Takeaway: Consider industries that your brand/product would normally be unassociated with and think of creative ways to join forces.
Photo source: BizBash
Nothing is more experiential than a fully immersive entertainment experience. In other words, an awesome party. Smirnoff decided to create a comic book-themed industry party, inviting guests to entire a whole different world. The venue was decorated with full-sized graphic comic illustrations that stayed consistent with the overarching story. All brand ambassadors were dressed as characters from the illustrations, maintaining the fantasy throughout the night.
From beginning to end, the theme of the party stayed consistent and all attendees were immersed in a comic book universe. By keeping a red color scheme and having bartenders dress like fictional characters, Smirnoff created a rather memorable experience that really showed off their creativity as well as their brand.
Main Takeaway: Fully commit to the experiential strategy and make sure all other stakeholders have bought in as well. This ensures an immersive and memorable experience for consumers.
Photo source: The Verge
Escape The Room is a popular game in which a group of people are locked inside a particular room and must solve a set of clues in order to escape. Escape The Room has become incredibly popular over the last few years with different versions of itself spawning all across the United States. Riding this momentum, HBO created a mega Escape The Room experience at SXSW 2017, combining three separate rooms into one huge mystery. Each room was a recreated set of a popular HBO show. The three shows were Veep, Silicon Valley, and of course, Game of Thrones.
This experiential marketing tactic proved to be very successful because it forced attendees to be fully engaged. Given that HBO is known for its incredible shows, recreating the sets of these shows for fans to literally be a part of was an ingenious way of bringing these fictional narratives to life.
Main Takeaway: Be mindful of popular trends and think of ways to incorporate them into your experiential marketing strategy. Think about what’s resonating with your audience.
Photo Source: Mountain Trout Photography
Gatorade is a brand that is closely associated with athletes. So, why not create an experience where consumers are transformed into athletes? At SXSW 2017, Gatorade offered a complete athletic experience in the form of a combine. A combine is an athletic examination that rookie athletes must go through before entering the professional league. Gatorade had the brilliant idea of creating a combine for consumers and testing their overall athletic abilities.
From Xbox Kinect to Sparta Science, Gatorade worked with with a number of other companies to make this possible. The combine consisted of several stations that tested various abilities such as reflexes, jumping ability, and flexibility. The results of each test were accurate and data-rich so that participants could actually take this knowledge and incorporate it into their lives, whether it be their workout routines our diets. This made consumers feel like true professional athletes which is what the Gatorade brand is all about.
Main Takeaway: In addition to being entertaining, experiential marketing is all the more impactful when it offers something of actual value to the consumer, whether it be a free product or newfound knowledge.
Photo source: Ad Age
Sometimes, there’s no need for fancy setups or high-tech machines to create a memorable experiential marketing event. Sometimes, a good partner and a solid vision is all you need. In need of tapping into the younger demographic of travelers, Delta Airlines partnered up with Vice media to create a series of entrepreneurial events on the topics of film, music, and food. These events took place in Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle.
Each event was meant to teach aspiring entrepreneurs the ways they can find success in the fields of film, music, and food. Each city had its own focal topic and created events around that topic. By partnering with Vice, Delta was able to put together authentic events that resonated with their target demographic, thus bringing in a younger customer base.
Main Takeaway: Partnerships can be very impactful as long as they are strategic. Keep in mind your target audience and if applicable, brainstorm different event marketing partnerships that can help you bring in that demographic.
Photo source: Eventmarketer.com
In the dead of winter, there’s nothing more enticing than a trip to a warm and sunny destination. JetBlue knew this all too well and devised a clever way of promoting their new direct flights from New York to Palm Springs. They placed a number of summer accessories inside a six-foot by six-foot ice block and told New Yorkers that anything was up for grabs. People had to use whatever they had on their person to chip away at the ice to claim their prize. Prizes included summer accessories such beach attire, golf clubs, and, of course, free tickets to Palm Springs.
This activation was done in partnership with the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, helping to bring more tourism to the beautiful California city. A full social media campaign was executed in tandem with the experiential strategy and the result was great online buzz for JetBlue.
Main Takeaway: Consumers always love free things. Add another layer by gamifying the experience and creating a vibrant social media campaign around the experiential strategy.
Photo source: EMS Magazine
As shown by the above examples, partnerships can play a significant role in successful experiential campaigns. In some cases, even unintentional partnerships can have a meaningful impact. In 2015, Zappos thought of an extremely clever way to capitalize on a Google’s own experiential campaign. Google was giving out cupcakes to anyone who shared a picture using their photo app. Zappos brilliantly took advantage of the opportunity by setting up their own “free stuff” giveaway that required simple one-time donation—a cupcake. Zappos set up a mysterious cardboard box right next to Google’s cupcake truck and each time someone would offer their cupcake to the box, the box would return cool gear such as a watch, gloves, and of course, shoes.
Main Takeaway: As long as it is in good taste, think of ways to capitalize on other companies’ experiential campaigns to amplify the effects of your own campaign.
Photo source: Inquisitr
The Red Bull brand has long been associated with risk-taking and bold actions. Nothing could be riskier and bolder than setting the world record for the highest parachute jump. In 2012, Red Bull set to take this world record along with professional skydiver Felix Baumgartner. This stunt was a widely anticipated event that resulted in a resounding success. Felix broke the world record, dropping from an altitude of 128,000 feet.
This event was a prime example of how a brand not only fully embraced its identity but pushed it to its most extreme limits. The video of this record-breaking stunt has garnered over 3 million views and has been recognized as one of the greatest stunts in freefall history. There is a lot that can be learned from Red Bull’s bold endeavors.
Main Takeaway: Never be afraid to think big and push the boundaries. Experiential marketing is meant to leave an impression so constantly push yourself and test the limits of your creativity.
Photo Source: Autoweb.com
The Aston Martin has long been an iconic car, largely in part due to the legendary car chase scenes that in many James Bond movie. And if one had the chance to drive this luxury vehicle like a secret agent, why wouldn’t they? In 2014, up in the Colorado Rockies, a handful of lucky Aston Martin owners were given the opportunity to drive different Aston atop of slick winter ice, skidding and sliding like Agent 007.
This test drive experience included a braking loop, a slalom course, skid pad, and a full race circuit. All parts of the course were supervised by professional drivers in an enclosed yet amply spacious setting. Although only a handful of Aston Martin owners were able to drive on the ice, the experience was shared across multiple social media channels and lifted Aston Martin’s brand visibility. The campaign proved so successful that they’ve continued to execute this experiential strategy every subsequent year.
Main Takeaway: By creating an exclusive experiential experience and following up with a strong social media campaign, the strategy can still reach a wide audience and achieve the lift in brand equity that you are aiming for.
Photo source: marketingbynaomi.blogspot.com
Sensodyne was looking to launch one of its newest products, the Sensodyne Complete Protection, in a way that was memorably delightful. Working together with the UK-based marketing agency Hotcow, Sensodyne decided to create an all-day experience in Potters Field Park in London that involved games, samples, and a public class on oral hygiene.
The setup in Potters Field consisted of three separate zones in which Londoners could engage in multiple experiences. Zone 1, The Sensitivity Zone, offered a ten minute dental sensitivity check-up by professional dentists. Participants could also win prizes by playing the “How Sensitive Are You?” buzzer game which consisted of guiding a metal ring through winding metal wires without having the two touch. Zone 2 was set up with a 13-foot tall molar, providing a great opportunity for attendees to take photos and share them on social media. And finally, Zone 3 was an attempt to break the Guinness world record for the world’s largest oral hygiene lesson. 232 people partook in the public lesson and everyone walked away with more knowledge on the subject of dental hygiene.
This extensive experiential strategy achieved 150 media mentions which resulted in a reach of over 4 million. Over 6,000 Sensodyne samples were distributed and 200 dental sensitivity checks were conducted. The strategy proved to be successful campaign that significantly increased brand awareness.
Main Takeaway: Remember that an experiential campaign can consist of multiple forms of engagement. Don’t restrict yourself to only one channel of interaction with consumers.
Photo source: Kelseyads.com
Doc McStuffin is a popular Disney Jr. television show that is geared towards children, ages 2-10. The show revolves around a 6 year old girl named Doc who heals toys from her own backyard clinic. The team at Disney Jr. decided to recreate this same scenario of healing toys for the millions of fans who watch the show every day, giving them the chance to be in Doc’s shoes.
This experiential campaign consisted of a nationwide tour of Doc McStuffin check-up clinics, travelling to 20 cities and setting up in retail stores such as Tesco’s, Smyths, and Toys R Us. Children were invited to conduct 10 minute check-ups on larger-than-life sized teddy bears who were in need of a diagnosis. While waiting their turn to play doctor, children were given Doc McStuffin toys to play with along with coloring books and puzzles. After each child completed their diagnosis, they were awarded a Doc McStuffins certificate and given a free “Doc Is In The House” door hanger. This creative campaign resulted in a 5.3% increase in propensity to purchase, interacting with over 7,700 children in the process. 87% said they would recommend Doc McStuffin to other parents.
Main Takeaway: For experiential campaigns that are targeting children, make sure you include as many opportunities to “play” as possible while also keeping in mind the parents’ experience as well. The goal should be to make both of them happy.
Photo Source: Trisparker
Not all experiential campaigns are meant to sell something. In 2015, Google awarded $5.5 million dollars to 10 nonprofits that were dedicated to building a better community for the San Francisco Bay area. But before awarding the grants, Google decided to let the Bay area citizens have a say in which cause should be placed at the forefront of this campaign. After all, the ones who live in the community should have the loudest voice.
In order to have Bay Area members participate in the process, Google set up interactive posters all over San Francisco which served as public voting booths. Each poster displayed all 10 nonprofits and the main cause each was trying to address. Bay area community members simply had to press the one they thought was most important and the poster would record their vote.
In the end, the top six nonprofits each received a $500,000 grant and the remaining four were awarded $250,000 each. This campaign proved to be widely successful in not only driving financial support, but more importantly, driving awareness towards the local issues of the Bay Area community.
Main Takeaway: When applicable, try to include the voice and opinions of the audience you are trying to target. This creates a feeling of shared ownership and mutual engagement that results in a much more memorable experience.
Photo Source: Travel Weekly
It is oftentimes too easy to be caught up in the hustle and bustle of the daily schedule, especially if you’re someone who travels often. Delta knew that many of their flyers frequently operated out of a hurried mindset and thus wanted to emphasize the importance of slowing down. This was a brilliant way for Delta to starkly contrast the hectic busyness that airlines are often associated with.
At the 2015 TED Conference, Delta created an incredibly intricate and immersive experience that encouraged individuals to actively practice stillness. Attendees were given an orb and upon entering a glass room, placed the orb on top of a small pedestal in front of their seat. They would then sit down and place their hands on top of biometric sensors that would sync the lights with the individual’s heart rate. The orb on the pedestal would then capture the lowest recorded heart rate, pulsing as a calming light.
After the soothing experience, attendees would be given the orb as a gift which served them as a reminder to slow down when they felt in a hurry. Attendees were encouraged to share their experience on social media and were provided photos to do so. The Stillness In Motion campaign resulted in 9.3 million Twitter impressions for Delta.
Main Takeaway: Be incredibly intentional with the emotion you want your consumers to walk away with after the experience.
Photo source: Design Taxi
Sometimes, experiential marketing can go way beyond the product. When executed thoughtfully, experiential campaigns can directly address and make an impact on global issues that have ongoing for years. In 2013, Coca-Cola set out to do just that by creating “small world machines” in both India and Pakistan. The hope was that through virtual interaction, the fractured relationship between the two countries could be set aside for a moment and genuine human connection can take place.
These high-tech vending machines were placed in two locations: Lahore, Pakistan and New Delhi, India. They were each set up inside bustling shopping malls where shoppers could pass by and partake in the experience. The vending machines had built-in cameras that allowed for face-to-face live interactions. The objective would be to work together with the person on the screen to achieve cooperative tasks such as mirroring each other’s movements and tracing images on the screen.
The campaign was incredibly successful and received many positive reactions from the press. But more importantly, it proved that even a soda company can make bold attempts in bringing about positive change through their marketing strategies.
Main Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to tackle larger issues through the campaign. Beyond elevating brand awareness, this will be a public affirmation of your company’s values, which is just as important.
Photo source: Anheuser-busch
During 2016 SXSW, Anheuser Busch’s experiential campaign consisted of a full-on beer garage that involved all things Budweiser. From a comfortable lounge to a bar with Budweiser beer on tap, the garage was full of multiple sections that created an entertaining atmosphere. The most popular part of the beer garage was the 4-D immersive virtual experience that put participants through a tour of the Budweiser brewing plants.
Using Oculus VR headsets, participants were given a full tour of the brewing plant, engaging all five of their senses. When entering the refrigerator, cold air was blown into the room for a realistic effect. When the virtual tour took them to the hops room, Budweiser employees would hold a jar of hops under the participant’s nose so they could understand what the room actually smells like. This entire experience helped participants become more aware of the Budweiser brew process, developing a deeper connection with the product than simply a choice of beer at their local bar.
Main Takeaway: When you can, engage as many of the senses as possible for a thoroughly immersive experience.
Photo Source: BizBash
In an attempt to become more digital and social savvy, American Express created a complete digital experience at the 2014 U.S. Open that allowed fans to engage in multiple ways. The U.S. Open American Express Fan Experience was filled with numerous activities that kept participants entertained in more way than one.
All attendees who entered the AmEx experience were given RFID-enabled wristbands that captured fans’ on-site experiences into a personalized email. One part of the onsite experience included a 180-degree rally cam which featured a video camera and backdrop of Arthur Ashe stadium, allowing fans to take pictures and upload them to social media. Additionally, there was a life size hologram of tennis champion Sloane Stephen with whom AmEx card member could pose for pictures with. Finally, the on-site setup included a text cafe that served as a digital hub of sorts, allowing attendees to charge their phones while watching a live newsfeed aggregator of US Open fan buzz from all over the world.
Director of sports marketing at American Express, Michele Carr, was particularly proud of the company’s complete embrace of the mobile and digital spaces, which is crucial for AmEx’s future success. “We had to raise the bar on how we adapted our consumer engagement opportunities, “ she stated. “We really gave [digital and mobile] a facelift this year.” Campaigns like these are why American Express continue to be one of the leading credit card brands.
Main Takeaway: Experiential campaigns should always be easily shareable to magnify the potential of brand visibility.
Photo Source: Kolle-Rebbe
One of the many obstacles for charitable organizations who are trying to collect donations for their cause is that their target audience frequently does not understand how their dollar makes a difference. The lack of transparency with the donation process oftentimes causes people to hesitate before offering their money. Misereor, the German international development charity, very much understood this problem and thought of a brilliant way to address it.
Teaming up with German ad agency Kolle-Rebbe, Misereor created the world’s first interactive display that was able to accept credit card donations. The screen, which had a credit card swipe down the middle, displayed one of two images: a loaf of bread and a child’s hands that were tied up. When donors ran their card through the swipe, they would either be “slicing” a piece of bread of “untying” a child’s hands. The slicing of the bread signified a daily meal for a family in Peru. The cutting of the ropes meant that imprisoned children in the Philippines would be that much closer to freedom.
This highly interactive design was effective because it literally showed how the donor’s dollar was making an impact, directly addressing the lack of transparency that many charities struggle to solve.
Main Takeaway: If your campaign involves asking something from participants, make sure they know exactly why and how their contribution will make an impact on your objective.
Photo source: Las Vegas-Review Journal
As HBO demonstrated above, there are few things more exciting than entering the world of your favorite television show. But it’s especially exciting your favorite show has been on a 9-year hiatus. The team behind the comeback season of the Gilmore Girls had this in mind when they decided to recreate over 200 “Luke’s Diners” all across the United States.
Luke’s Diner was one of the main settings on the show where the main characters often met with one another. At each Luke’s Diner pop-up, customers had the chance to receive a free cup of coffee as well as a “fun surprise under their custom Gilmore Girls coffee sleeve.” The event lasted from from 7am - 12pm on October 5th, 2016. On that particular fall day, Luke’s Diner was an actual real place in over 200 different locations and in all 50 states. The campaign also included an authentic website for the town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, which was the fictional town in which the show was based in.
Making a fictional town into a real place was a surely a memorable experience for longtime Gilmore Girls fans, bringing back waves of nostalgia that only further persuaded them to tune in on Netflix for the comeback season release.
Main Takeaway: Bringing back feelings of nostalgia is a strong way to emotionally connect with your audience. As long as it is relevant with the product/service you are promoting, try adding a pinch of nostalgia in the experiential recipe.back to top
As a quick recap, here a look at some of the main lessons we learned from these stunning experiential marketing examples.
- The experiential strategy does not always have to involve the product. As long as the result is a powerfully positive brand association, the strategy is worth it every time.
- Be mindful of the pop culture trends and think of ways to incorporate them into your experiential strategy.
- Experiential marketing is all the more impactful when it offers something of actual value to the consumer, whether it be a free product or newfound knowledge.
- Never be afraid to think big and push the boundaries. Experiential marketing is meant to leave an impression so constantly push yourself and test the limits of your creativity.
- Remember that an experiential campaign can consist of multiple forms of engagement. Don’t restrict yourself to only one channel of interaction with consumers.