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How Brands Will Create Stand-Out Experiential Campaigns in a Post-COVID World

Thanks to the pandemic, experiential marketers have had to get pretty creative during the last 18 months. They’ve been forced to put the brakes on in-person promotional experiences like events, product showcases and pop-up activations and quickly adapt to delivering virtual experiences instead.

But virtual brand experiences will not simply go by the way-side once live events pick up again. These new ways of engaging with consumers will continue to live on well after the pandemic is over.

Savvy marketers know that hybrid experiences are here to stay.

So what are these forward-thinking brands doing to create buzz, drive awareness and build engagement? We’ve taken a look at the players who have their finger on the pulse of a post-COVID-world and how they’ll shape the future of experiential marketing. 

1) HBO Max

There’s no doubt many of us were stuck to our couches watching A LOT of TV during the pandemic. But HBO knew that in order to revitalize TV audiences, they needed to create a truly engaging and immersive experience to promote their shows.

Their solution was The Orbit, an experience that uses machine-learning technology to allow users to explore HBO Max’s content library. For this brand experience that debuted at SXSW 2021, shoppers stood in front of a large interactive wall and browsed the library by using gestures, speech and facial expressions. Clips from their favourite shows magically appeared to match their body movements, facial expressions or their favourite spoken phrases.

Why HBO MAX is leading the way

“As the world starts to venture out again to safely and responsibly seek interaction with peers, compelling ideas and new information, we hope The Orbit satisfies their appetite,” says David Schwarz, founding partner of Hush, HBO Max’s experience design agency. “While much has been virtualized in the last year, we firmly believe that creating refined, inspiring experiences that engage the five senses will be the great differentiator for how modern explorers will choose to rediscover the world around them.”

2) TikTok

TikTok has exploded in popularity since the pandemic began, igniting dance crazes, questionable challenges and shooting influencers into meteoric fame.

The video-sharing social media platform wanted to keep music-lovers engaged during the pandemic with something we’ve all been sorely missing: live musical experiences.

In August 2020, they launched The Weeknd Experience, an interactive extended reality (XR) broadcast hosted by The Weeknd and live-streamed on TikTok. The virtual event achieved more than 2 million total unique views thanks to awe-inspiring visuals, including the Canadian singer performing in digital avatar form. The uber-creative performer led fans through a hallucinatory XR world and the experience allowed fans to vote in the comments to direct the visual experience of the concert. What’s more, the event raised over $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative through merchandise sales.

Why TikTok is leading the way

“This partnership allowed for limitless, virtual opportunities for The Weeknd and his fans. By combining our technology with his team’s creativity, we’ve created a truly unique, interactive experience that demonstrates the huge potential of this new medium,” said Adam Arrigo, CEO of Wave, an interactive virtual concert promoter who helped create the event. “TikTok served as the perfect platform to host this virtual event, as it is home for the next generation of concert-goers – young passionate music lovers.”

3) American Express

Another experience consumers had to do without during the pandemic was dining out. US credit card giant American Express had the ambitious goal of developing a safe and engaging multi-restaurant event to help diners experience the joy of a real-life dining experience again.

Working with restaurant reservation software company Resy, AmEx partnered with 10 of LA’s hottest restaurants to produce never-before-seen dishes served in a drive-thru format at The Hollywood Palladium. Guests could go from restaurant to restaurant (all located in tents) and sample unique dishes from the comfort of their car. It was a way to provide a safe dining experience outside of a restaurant but also – crucially – outside of a diner’s home.

Why American Express is leading the way

“We’ve learned that what makes for an engaging virtual and/or in-person experience is ever-changing,” said Rachel Stocks, Executive VP of Global Premium Products & Benefits at American Express. “We feel that the merge of the physical with the virtual experience is here to stay, and customers have come to expect and appreciate a multitude of options to satisfy their comfort level in the channel of their choice.”

4) Rent the Runway

What will we wear when the pandemic is over? After a year and a half of sweatpants and leisurewear, it’s a question on everyone’s mind.

With eCommerce dominating the retail scene during the pandemic, live experiences for retail brands were forced to focus less on conversions and more on transforming casual visitors into brand advocates and advocates into evangelists. The long-term goal is ultimately to turn those evangelists into customers who eventually influence those in their circle.

Designer apparel renting platform Rent The Runway teamed up with Social Studies, an event rental company, to launch a cross-country retail road trip, transforming a Texino van into a mobile pop-up shopping experience. Shoppers could peruse Rent the Runway inventory and reserve pieces for upcoming events, as well as gain access to special discounts and the opportunity to nominate individuals who were greatly affected by the pandemic to win an entertaining kit.

The Social Studies x Rent the Runway Tour was supported by out-of-home advertising with billboards and direct mail campaigns. The goal of the campaign was to connect more intimately with local communities.

Why Rent the Runway is leading the way 

“This partnership was designed to celebrate a return to gathering and travelling at a time when consumers are valuing access over ownership more than ever before,” explained Samantha Storch Malloy, Director of Partnerships at Rent the Runway. “After over a year at home, we’ve never been more ready to celebrate and collectively embrace fashion at its most fabulous this summer.”

5) Heineken 

What many of us probably missed the most during the pandemic lockdowns was getting a nice salon-fresh haircut—that and socializing with our friends.

Beer brand Heineken decided to help us out on both fronts this summer with their Fresh Looks campaign. Teaming up with a downtown Toronto bar RendezViews and barbershop Glassbox, the experience allowed consumers to socialize responsibly while they enjoyed a free haircut and a free pint of Heineken. This in-person experience complemented Heineken’s global campaigns promoting digital hangouts where consumers were encouraged to share a beer with friends online.

Why Heineken is leading the way

As part of its “socialize responsibly” message, the brand found a creative way to answer two high-demand consumer needs at once. “Fresh Looks gives people an opportunity to tap into something they’ve been missing most during lockdowns, a pint on a patio, and a haircut,” says Sasha Romano Lopez, Senior Marketing Manager for Heineken at Molson Coors. “An experience like this is the perfect time to lean on the ways we can safely see people again, whether it’s over a fresh pint or fresh hair, as consumers are comfortable with patios and wanting desperately to get their hair cut after 18 months of ‘letting the flow go’.”

It’s been repeated time and time that there’s no going back to the way things were. Even as the world opens up again, live experiences will continue to have lower attendance, take place primarily outdoors and be more spaced out to align with social distancing guidelines. Forward-thinking brand marketers will have to innovate and anticipate how consumers will change their habits in order to help build stronger relationships as we look collectively towards the marketing landscape post-COVID-19.

At MOUSE Marketing, we have 18-years of experience connecting brands with consumers in meaningful ways using the latest experiential marketing trends. Through integrated marketing campaigns, digital content, and experiential marketing, we have helped develop and grow several top brands, including Johnson & Johnson, Mark Anthony Group, RE/MAX, Hudson’s Bay, Shoppers Drug Mart, Cronos Group, FGF Brands, Molson-Coors, and Pepsi, to name a few. If you need help creating a truly memorable brand experience, feel free to reach out.