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Let’s take a look at some trends we’re seeing and what the impact might be for brands attempting experiential marketing in 2020 and beyond.

Change and the “new normal” are words of the moment. From wearing masks in shops to standing a metre apart in queues, to booking tables in the pub, this “new normal” is certainly a thing of the present. This change has impacted experiential marketing in a way unlike other channels, disciplines or forms of media. With budgets reduced to zero, brands have had to rethink what experiential is in the new era. The use of technology has accelerated at a dizzying pace and this has led to a number of emerging ‘trends’, that will undoubtedly shape the future of experiential marketing.

Social purpose is everything

Gone are the days of experiential activation to purely promote a brand and provide a gateway for sampling. Brands during Covid are now using this discipline to give back. And rightly, so. Whether that’s boosting the economy or supporting local communities, there’s a strong meaning and intent behind their activation.

Jägermeister took to the streets with their musical mobile bars. Popping up in people’s back gardens and supporting the on-trade by visiting pubs and bars – in an effort to drive custom.

To help enhance local community spaces, drive inspiration and facilitate positive change, Adidas partnered with Foot Locker to create colourful murals. The initiative brought communities together through sport during these strange times, putting the people are the heart of the activation.

Virtual Experiences are here to stay

With social distancing still very much part of our daily lives, technology has had to evolve at light speed to keep up. As such, virtual experiences have been catapulted to the fore. Bringing consumers closer to a brand through exclusive content, virtual classes and mass “get-togethers” are just a few of the great ways we’ve seen brands connect through technology.

Microsoft helped bring fans back to the courts (virtually through Teams) for the National Basketball Association, through video boards surrounding the court.

Ardbeg, Scottish Whiskey, has taken to the screens to host a cocktail and BBQ food pairing experience, teamed with a DJ, for viewers in an effort to bring new, younger drinkers to the whiskey category.

BrewDog opened their own Online Bar to bring communities of people together, just as they would in their normal establishment. The events included beer tasting, homebrewing masterclasses, pub quizzes, live music and comedy shows. Throughout the sessions, there was Q&A opportunities, giveaways and exclusive merchandise available from the BrewDog online shop – cleverly encouraging purchase there and then.

With the rise of innovation and tech utilisation in experiential, we expect to see more brands use these tools to engage with consumers. What will be interesting to see is how these are adapted when live events are permitted again (i.e. sampling in-store, festival activation, sports sponsorship opportunities, etc).

A word of caution though as there’s likely a significant financial cost, to begin with, that could affect ROI. But this will lessen over time as we anticipate solutions popping up throughout the industry.

A Twist on the Old

We’ve started to see brands looking to the past to help shape the future in new and creative ways. We’ve seen the fast-paced re-emergence of drive-in cinemas, local fetes or shows, socially distanced festivals and many more. All merging innovation with what we remember from the past.

Haagan Daz recently sponsored a floating cinema in Paris, where over 30 boats gathered together (at a social distance) to watch the big screen on the water, with a number of deckchairs on the banking nearby. An Instagrammer’s heaven!

And to support those affected by the cancelled Notting Hill Carnival, Papa John’s hired should-be performers to put on a mini carnival for each delivery, driving colourful content for their social channels.

The Rise of Staycations

A long-established home for experiential activation has been the Highstreet due, in part, to its sustained footfall. With its continued struggles, escalated by Covid, brands are looking for other places to engage with their audiences. Driven by 14 day quarantine periods and a general fear for travelling, could the trend of UK ‘staycations’ be the answer?

Rather than looking to traditional high footfall areas, brands could look instead at tourist hotspots such as seaside towns, national trust properties, outdoor activity centres, etc. If the location’s right, the experience can be tailored to deliver an incredibly immersive brand experience from sampling to AR to social-distanced, Instagramable installations.

One example of this, albeit in London, is Hotels.com and the beach they are creating to show the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League for those who have missed out on their beach holiday. A relatively simple idea but one that can be easily replicated on beaches across the UK.

In summary

Overall, the face of experiential marketing has undoubtedly changed due to Covid-19. Whilst it may not be quite clear what experiential marketing will look like, it’s clear that consumers will always respond to immersive experiences that often drive unrivalled emotional connections. The brands that test and innovate now, are the ones that we think will lead what this looks like in 2021 and beyond.