From Aperol’s "The Big Spritz Social" to Sipsmith’s "Juniper Manor" – try to pick somewhere to spend a summer’s evening in London and you can guarantee there’s a branded space vying for crowds alongside the capital’s top tables. So far, so summer. But this year, there’s no clamouring for tickets, no FOMO as the hottest experiences sell out instantly; brands have extended beyond the pop-up and are shifting towards creating longer-term installations and experiences.
Jessica Hargreaves, managing director of agency Pretty Green, explains: "When we have created pop-ups, those with a longer installation period consistently [bring] greater returns as consumers share their experience, encouraging others to come and enjoy, and the brand benefits from creating an asset that lives beyond a one-off campaign."
Experience-hungry consumers are fuelling the trend, Ben Knight, account director at Wasserman, says. The agency created Bombay Sapphire’s "The Grand Journey", which returned in 2017 with an extended run.
"The consumer demand for this type of experience is really strong. ‘The Grand Journey’ sold out in the space of two days, with extra sessions added, which also sold out instantly, so this isn’t a fleeting trend for brands to just jump on. This is something we expect to see throughout 2018 and evolving further in the future," he adds.
It’s not just the alcohol brands extending their licence to live – Ted Baker, the fashion retailer, created a five-week installation to launch its "Colour by numbers" collection to connect with consumers on "a deeper level".
Featuring the collection, yoga sessions, a walk-in nail clinic and styling workshops, it was the first time the brand had created a lengthier experience that was also shoppable.
Ted Baker marketing manager Irene Celli says: "We wanted a space where people could interact with the clothes and we could give them a memorable experience. With five or six weeks, we get the time to get the consumers to come back and really interact with them on a deeper level."
Scaling up a successful experience can be highly cost-effective, Kenny Hyslop, head of experiential at Pernod Ricard, argues. "We’re being asked by our management to deliver experiences at scale and the economics can really work if you keep the experience smaller, yet deliver it for longer. It isn’t as simple as scaling up one night – we are not an AEG or Live Nation – we’re not selling a concert, we’re selling blending masterclasses."
Indeed, the brand started its Chivas Regal "The Blend" activation back in 2016 with a week-long pop-up at the Truman Brewery in London. Two years on, "The Blend" is now running for an impressive four-month stint at Pernod Ricard’s Manchester venue, The Loft.
"The longer-term experience isn’t as expensive, as it doesn’t automatically scale up in length of time being three or four times as expensive. You can run the same smaller, intimate experience, but keep it open for longer. Getting sign-off internally is always going to be easier when the activation is live for weeks and you aren’t asking for a significant chunk of investment for a two-day event," Hyslop says.
According to Lee Avery, managing partner at Amplify, there is another compelling argument to support the rise of long-term brand experiences: sustainability. "Budgets may be a key factor, but consumers want to see their favourite brands behaving better," he says. "Being green is no longer a brand luxury, it’s a mandate. And one-off executions are hard to justify in terms of their environmental impact."
Avery adds: "Across the board, we should be looking at ways to give infrastructure, and our ideas and creativity, a longer shelf-life."
Does this shift signal the end of the pop-up? Hyslop says: "Pop-ups are expensive, plus short-term live activity puts so much pressure on the brand. If on day one it isn’t quite right, you only have a day left to rectify it. Long-term residencies allow you to evolve the event."
Another brand familiar with evolving and extending live campaigns is Cadbury. The Mondelez confectionery brand delighted its fondant-loving public in 2017 with a mobile "Hunter’s Lodge" touring the country as part of its "Creme Egg Hunting Season" integrated campaign.
When the brand unveiled this year’s immersive "Creme Egg Camp" at the cavernous venue Last Days of Shoreditch, it signalled a confidence in consumer demand for experiences and a desire for the brand to grow both its footfall and dwell time.
Aislinn Campbell, brand manager for Creme Egg at Mondelez, wanted to deliver a fully immersive camp that would bring "hunting season" to life on a larger scale and for a longer period. "We know that our Creme Egg fans are super-loyal and they love taking part in these really immersive experiences, so it’s important that we create these pop-up events for people to experience," she says.
This foray into the world of ticketed brand experiences follows a trend that has risen so dramatically that agencies with a long history of experiential work are having to adjust their model to meet demand. ID Experiential, for example, marked its 25th anniversary with a rebrand to focus on helping brands create experiences with a transactional element.
Managing director Paul Ephremsen says: "We made an active shift, as we see the future as experiences with a more transactional element, where brands are either selling products or encouraging consumers to buy an experience. Brands still get engagement, awareness, brand love – just with added revenue, making it a total no-brainer."
Furthermore, he argues, the internal pressure that brands face to justify spend is alleviated by the revenue return, while the creators of tactical experiential campaigns who have faced challenges in terms of proving measurable ROI in the past can now boast a more tangible result.
But the challenge to justify spend isn’t always about making an experience cost-neutral. Sometimes it is more important to have assurances on footfall and engagement, according to Hyslop.
"Monetising the experience ensures a commitment from the consumer to show up. The challenge is to make sure you get the right price point – not too cheap, nor too expensive," he says.
"This isn’t Legoland or Disney, but it allows us to get commitment from consumers and in turn to elongate the experience. It also means we’re competing with restaurants and entertainment – so we need to up our game."