The 7 Best Experiential Activations of 2017

Posted by Samantha Stallard on December 12, 2017
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To quote Donald Trump, 2017 was a HUUUUUUUUUGE year for experiential marketing. According to the Freeman Global Brand Experience Study, which was released in May by brand experience agency Freeman and data company SSI, one in three CMOs is expected to allocate between 21-50% of their budget to brand experience marketing over the next three to five years. Brands activated across the world this year both at big-ticket events like Comic-Con and SXSW as well as stand-alone experiences. Here are our seven favorite experiential activations from 2017...

1. Better Call Saul's Los Pollos Hermanos

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On the first weekend of SXSW, passersby arriving at 122 W. 5th Street found an oddly familiar sight—a full-scale replica of Los Pollos Hermanos, the infamous fried chicken chain, known for being a money laundering scheme for the super shady meth kingpin, Gus Fring on AMC’s Breaking Bad. Fring returned to TV in the much anticipated season 3 of the prequel series, Better Call Saul. Fans lined up in droves to see the sign-wielding chicken mascot, the beat-up Suzuki driven by Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk), and pop inside the full-scale replica for fries!

Built from the ground up in under three days, the Los Pollos Hermanos building was actually a tent that featured props straight from the Better Call Saul set, including a gumball machine, clock, and car. The restaurant, complete with free curly fries for patrons, appealed to Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fans alike, serving as the link between old and new. While photos of the activation quickly cropped up all over Instagram and Snapchat, AMC took the IRL brand experience online with the #LPHisHiring hashtag, which customers used to “apply” for a job (which was actually contest entry to an exclusive autograph signing with Odenkirk and Esposito to close out the activation on Sunday evening).

2. Frito-Lay's The Spotted Cheetah

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Frito-Lay teamed up with celebrity chef Anne Burrell to bring New Yorkers a fine-dining menu offering a full range of Cheeto-infused delights. The company opened up a pop-up restaurant, the Spotted Cheetah, in the trendy Tribeca area for three days only from Aug. 15 to 17. The project was a collaboration between Frito-Lay and Burrell, of Food Network fame. The menu offered items many Cheetoh-lovers may have dreamed about making at home like Cheetos meatballs, Cheetos-breaded fried green tomatoes, Cheetos-topped tacos, and even a Cheetos Sweetos-crusted cheesecake.

Tables at the limited-seating restaurant could be reserved online through Open Table, but sold out almost immediatley. A three-course meal at the Spotted Cheetah set diners back about $8 to $22. The idea to open an upscale Cheetos restaurant was inspired by recipes shared online by Cheetos-lovers, such as Cheetos sushi rolls, Cheetos bagels and cheesy Cheetos pizzas.

3. Westworld: The Experience at SDCC

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When it came time to promote Westworld, HBO took inspiration directly from the show itself. The series follows the misadventures of guests and their hosts inside an immersive, Wild West-themed experience in which everyone designs their own story and chooses to follow a unique path.

The activation wasn't about showing off technology, but instead depended on gorgeous sets, believable props, and talented actors to take fans on a journey of their own making into the world of Delos. Upon entering the experience, fans entered the stark, concrete rooms that greet park guests on the show, complete with host's in white dresses there to help fans plan their experiences and choose a weapon from the display case. 

After answering a series of personal and unsettling questions (How many of your dreams would you characterize as nightmares? If you had to lose a finger, which one would you pick?) fans were either given a black or white cowboy hat and ushered into a recreation of the show's saloon where "hosts" interacted with them, cocktails flowed, and a piano player kept spirits high.

4. The Daily Show Presents: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library

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The Daily Show honored our current president with The Daily Show Presents: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, the first of its kind, showcasing our Commander in Chief’s preferred vessel for communicating with the public, his Twitter feed. The library featured visual installations and a fully interactive, hands-on experience for hands of all sizes, giving patrons the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to memorialize and celebrate the many “unpresidented” moments of President Trump’s Twitter history.

Visitors also made their own Trump tweets with giant magnets on the exhibit's "#MAGA-netic Wall" and highlighted Trump's countless contradictory statements. Recorded audio statements from “verified survivors" recalled what it was like being on the receiving end of a Trump tirade. Additionally, visitors flocked to a mock-up of Emanuel Leutze's famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River, showing Trump on his phone.

With more than 15 activations throughout the space, visitors had plenty of room to move around and explore, taking photos to share with friends and on their social media pages. The event hashtag #DailyShowLibrary was shared almost 4,000 times, just on Twitter and Instagram, in the 72 hours the library was open. The event’s social shareability was picked up by news outlets around the world including featured coverage on CNN, MSNBC, The Los Angeles Times, Pop Sugar, Huffington Post, Time, Gothamist, USA Today, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, and even France 24.

5. Casper at SXSW

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Casper, the tech/mattress company, partnered with the Standard Hotel's One:Night app for a promotion in downtown Austin that turned out to be a bigger deal than planned for thanks to an unexpected winter snowstorm that cancelled most Northeast flights. Every day at 3 p.m., One:Night released 20 hotel rooms for $99 each, far below the going rate of $250–$1,200 a night. The rooms were outfitted with Casper mattresses, pillows, slippers, and car service from Tesla.

If you didn't want to leave, there were unofficial SXSW events at the property, plus virtual reality experiences and cocktails. Guests could even call the front desk to request a "real mom" to read a bedtime story and tuck them in. Casper also hosted free 45-minute "refresh rooms," complete with Casper mattresses, milk and cookies, a place to charge your devices and a warm shower. The promotion originally ran March 10 through 14, but when flight cancellations hit, the companies decided on a whim to extend the event. They also threw a party Tuesday night party for stranded attendees with rapper Warren G, who someone knew through a friend of a friend.

6. Broad City Life-Size Coloring Book at SDCC
Broad City kweens took over the San Diego Wine and Culinary Center during Comic-Con, turning it from a blank, empty space into a color explosion. The free experience invited fans to explore their creativity and paint the color-by-numbers walls, floors, windows, ceilings, and furniture. All of the designs were created by artist Mike Perry and featured in a Broad City coloring book that was released on Amazon in late August. After coloring the space (and themselves) fans got to spin the prize wheel to win free Broad City swag and get complimentary airbrush tattoos and nail designs. 
7. The Teen Vogue Summit
Photo courtesy: Teen Vogue

Featuring inspiring keynotes, hands-on workshops, and mentoring experiences, the Teen Vogue Summit began with a series of Meetups across the country and culminated in Los Angeles on December 1 and 2. Curated by the editors of Teen Vogue along three entrepreneurial-minded themes—activists, innovators, and creators—participants customized their own one-of-a-kind agendas. Sessions were offered on topics like civic leadership, grassroots organizing, STEAM careers, socially conscious brand-building, and more, leaving attendees activated and inspired to change the world. 

The Teen Vogue Summit experience began with a day of @Werk Immersions at some of L.A.'s most exciting and forward-thinking companies. Designed to immerse attendees in each organization's culture and feature its top creative leaders, participating companies included: Girlboss Media hosted by Sophia Amoruso, Giphy Studioshosted by CEO Samantha Scharff, Instagram, One Love + MAL\FOR GOOD, TOMS hosted by founder Blake Mycoskie, United Talent Agency, YouTube Space LA, and more. 72andSunny's Playa Vista campus served as the site for the second day, hosting a full day of live onstage conversations between icons and rising influencers, small group mentor sessions, roundtable discussions, a LIFEWTR interactive mural installation, and workshops.

Want to take your brand to an amazing event?

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Topics: brand experiences, creativity, experiential marketing

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