2016 is fading away fast. It was an exciting and interesting year for the experiential marketing industry, as more brands embraced the power of live events and seasoned veterans refined their approaches beyond paying a big check to sponsor a festival, with a focus on smaller, more focused and personalized experiences.
Some brands, like Comedy Central, took it a step further - choosing to produce their own events rather than activate at someone else's.
In 2016, the social media "share-ability" of an event mattered more than the number of bodies packed in a room. Brands worked to make it easy for consumers to share content, photos, GIFs, and live experiences in the digital world with clearly designated hashtags, messaging, and incentives for sharing.
Virtual reality became the hot tech of the year with the release of Occulus Rift's newest headset. By giving consumers access to such a sought-after piece of the future, they were able to communicate their messaging and share their products with consumers who would have otherwise never been given the opportunity.
Check out our list of the hottest experiential activations of 2016, featuring "sharability," VR, and everything in between:
Mr. Robot Ferris Wheel at SXSW
If you made it through the crowds at this year's SXSW Interactive, you saw a 100-foot ferris wheel designed to look like Coney Island's Wonder Wheel. The four-day activation, recreated key moments and sets from the show, like the F Society hacker den on Coney Island, to immerse fans in the Mr. Robot world. Alexandra Shapiro, EVP of Marketing and Digital for USA Network, said the activation was designed in part to spark conversation on social media.
Gilmore Girls and Netflix's Luke's Diner Pop Ups
Photo courtesy: Netflix Instagram
Netflix threw Gilmore Girls a birthday bash to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the show's premiere. From 7am until noon (and while supplies lasted), customers could get free coffee in a custom Luke's cup. Each cup contained Gilmore Girls quotes about coffee, including lines from the upcoming revival which premiered Nov. 25 on Netflix and included an extra bonus gift from Netflix with three free months of the service for nonsubscribers.
The South Park 20 Experience at SDCC
What, you thought we'd make an entire list and not include ourselves? The South Park 20 Experience at Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade Park, included 20 life-size scenes that allowed fans to jump into some of the most memorable moments in South Park history and share the results on social media. There was also the Coon & Friends Experience from Ubisoft to promote the launch of the new video game South Park: The Fractured But Whole. The world's most foul-mouthed fourth graders also hosted a Hulu viewing lounge screening marathon of all 19 seasons alongside a South Park art gallery with pieces from 20 artists.
Doritos "Rock the Vote" Campaign
In a partnership with Rock the Vote, the Frito-Lay brand addressed the fact that the youth vote in America has decreased by double digits since 1964. As part of the campaign, people could register on a microsite and send a bag of the flavorless chips to someone not registered to vote. Doritos also created a vending machine, seen in this video, which offered a choice of Doritos Nacho Cheese or Cool Ranch (red or blue packs), but with an interactive screen that first asked people if they were registered to vote. Those who answered "no" were dispensed a bag of the flavorless chips, with the message that if you don't vote, you get no choice.
American Horror Story: Fearless VR Experience at SDCC
Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for FX
The American Horror Story: Fearless virtual-reality experience, built to promote the show's sixth season, gave some clues as to what's to come for the FX show. Participants were placed on a hospital-like exam table and covered in a white sheet. The experience then had a nightmarish first-person view of a hospital patient being transported through a maze of dangerous situations, including plunging several feet and being buried alive, all while being provoked by characters such as a nurse with bleeding eyes and a creepy clown.
Refinery 29's 29 Rooms
The exhibit, in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, featured 29 fully art-directed rooms decked out in a different visual theme. Rooms were either designed by individual artists, brands (including Perrier, Ulta, Papyrus, Google, and Michael Kors), or collaberations between artists and brands. Artist Baron Von Fancy, Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson, singer Tinashe, actor Adrian Grenier, artistic director for Diesel Nicola Formichetti, RuPaul, makeup artist Ryan Burke, and interactive artist Daniel Rozinare were all featured in the event.
HGTV Lodge at CMA Fest
Okay, another one. (Sorry, we do cool shit...) Now in it’s 5th year, the Lodge has become a core brand strategy for HGTV, garnering new fans for the channel [and key talent] at every stop. The experience is rabidly shared across social media (over 50 million social impressions at CMA Fest in 2016) and has been covered by multiple high profile outlets including Rolling Stone, Billboard, AdWeek and USA Today.