Comic-Con Brand Activations We Love and You Will Too

Experiential Marketing

Are you looking for a globally popular event to host your brand activation? An event filled with passionate fans that receive worldwide media coverage and social media attention? Comic-Con brand activations give companies the chance to interact with devotees of comic books, anime, video games, cosplay, and more. There are plenty of creative ways your brand can join in on the conversation.

So, let’s take a closer look at a few examples that captured the spirit of this pop culture destination.

Taco Bell 2032

Inside the experiential marketing world, Taco Bell reigns supreme with creative and innovative events. There’s “The Bell,” Taco Bell’s hotel and resort in Palm Springs, Calif. Or the QSR chain’s “#BajaBlessed” mobile hair salon. But at San Diego Comic-Con in 2018 provided attendees a glimpse of the future with “Taco Bell 2032.” Inspired by the 25th anniversary of the Sylvester Stallone film “Demolition Man,” where Taco Bell is the lone survivor of the “fast-food wars,” the brand imagined what the Taco Bell of the future would look like.

The three-day Comic-Con brand activation featured an out-of-this-world exterior and dynamic LED neon art inside. Of course, the food got a galactic makeover, like “Bubbly with Baja Bursts” and futuristic “Crunchwrap Supreme,” served by actual robots!

Shake Shack and “Bob’s Burgers”

Another popular San Diego Comic-Con brand activation featured a delicious partnership between Fox’s “Bob’s Burgers” and Shake Shack. For an exclusive event celebrating the 150th episode of the hit show, fans were picked up in a branded bus and taken to a nearby Shake Shack decorated with artwork and props from “Bob’s Burgers.” 

From a replica of the cartoon’s iconic dining counter, you could order Shake Shack’s “Burger of the Day,” called the “Can I have your slaw-tograph.” This decked-out cheeseburger was topped with BBQ pulled pork, jalapeños, pickles, and scallion coleslaw.

SpongeBob Appreciation Day

In 2019, Nickelodeon celebrated the 20th anniversary of– arguably– its most popular show. Of course, we’re talking about “SpongeBob SquarePants.” And, the network went big for the milestone occasion. At New York Comic-Con, Nickelodeon erected a larger-than-life Comic-Con brand activation experience with a replica of SpongeBob’s hometown of Bikini Bottom.

Inside, fans could hang out in life-sized replicas of “The Krusty Krab,” “The Chum Bucket,” and “Mrs. Puff’s Boating School.” But that wasn’t all. Attendees built their own “Krabby Patties” and snag branded merchandise like T-shirts, socks, toys, and a ‘90s-style fanny pack.

NYCC 2019 SpongeBob Appreciation Day

HBO’s AR “Watchmen” Experience

“Watchmen” is based on the 1959 graphic novel about a nuclear physicist who transforms into superhero Doctor Manhattan. When HBO announced “Watchmen” as a limited series in 2019, the network gave fans the chance to become Doctor Manhattan themselves through augmented reality. 

At that year’s San Diego Comic-Con, private booths were set up to give participants a two-minute AR experience. After a brief narration of Doctor Manhattan’s origin story, a countdown to their AR transformation appeared. And at the end of the experience, fans saw the results via email.

Watchmen Comic Con Activation

Starz Takes “Outlander” Fans Back to the 18th Century

In the weeks leading up to its season four premiere, Starz’s hit show “Outlander” transported fans back in time to the 1700s– when the show takes place– at New York Comic-Con in 2018. Visitors could step into an authentic recreation of Claire and Jaime’s cabin and peruse props from the show. Fans also received branded swag from the Comic-Con brand activation, from custom leather luggage tags to specially-made fragrances.

Comic-Con Brand Activations Create Memorable Moments To Win Over Fans

Avid fans come to Comic-Con to get exclusive scoops from their favorite brands, preview new releases, and meet the actors who play their favorite characters. This fandom has inspired companies to get in on the action, but it takes more than just renting a booth. The most successful Comic-Con brand activations go above-and-beyond, launching interactive, multi-sensory experiences. When attendees can immerse themselves, brands allow themselves to stand out and be the star of the show.

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How to Win Over Anti-Advertising Audiences in 2021

Experiential Marketing

Let’s start with a bold statement: people don’t like ads. Or rather: people don’t like ads that over-promise or are disingenuous. If you haven’t noticed, there’s a barrage of advertising that’s dramatic, shameless, or both. In 2021, consumers are marketing-aware and anti-advertising. “What’s anti-advertising,” you ask? Well, let’s take a look and find out what tactics you can use to win over media-conscious audiences.

Why Is Anti-Advertising Effective?

Understanding what anti-advertising is isn’t rocket science; it’s what it sounds like. They’re self-deprecating or poke fun at the concept of marketing and ads themselves. Some even tell consumers specifically not to buy a brand’s product.

Sounds counter-productive, no? For many people, however, anti-advertising is like a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated environment. When brands are self-aware and acknowledge what they’re trying to do (i.e., sell their products, increases sales, gain new followers on social media, etc.), consumers appreciate their frankness. 

So, this counter-message is a powerful message in itself. And it works, especially with savvy Millennials and Gen Zers. 

But, why is anti-advertising effective? The bottom line is consumers value trust in a brand above all else. Anti-advertising is a novel strategy to building trust between brands and their customers by being honest. And that honesty is refreshing. Anti-advertising allows brands to cut through the noise that makes audiences want to take notice.

Three Brands That Did Anti-Advertising Right

1. Volkswagen Sets the Anti-Ad Trend

It may seem quaint by today’s standards, but Volkswagen’s 1959 “Think Small” campaign redefined how automakers advertise cars to the public. Sixty years ago, ads were flashy and full-color, depicting the perfect driver, living the perfect life, in the perfect car. 

So, what did Volkswagen do? They focused on black-and-white simplicity, with anti-advertising featuring a single image of the VW Beetle with self-deprecating taglines like “Lemon,” “And if you run out of gas, it’s easy to push,” and “Heard any Volkswagen jokes lately?”

The campaign was so successful, it cemented the VW Beetle as the quintessential car of the 1960s and is widely regarded today as the ad that changed advertising.

Volkswagen Anti-Advertising Campaign

2. Patagonia Tells Holiday Shoppers Not To Buy Its Products

If you’re a marketer and pitched a concept where you tell your customers not to buy your products… on Black Friday… you’d probably be looking for a new job. But, outdoor apparel company Patagonia did just that. 

In 2011, they took out an ad in the New York Times titled “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” But they weren’t trying to commit brand suicide. Patagonia’s goal was to address a more significant issue: society’s increasing environmental footprint. And the message of their anti-advertising was simple: consume less, but only the best. It was a call-to-action for holiday shoppers to think twice before buying gifts and only purchase high-quality products built to last.

Patagonia Anti-Advertising Don't Buy This Jacket

3. Doritos Nixes Its Logo

Have you ever heard of a brand ditching its logo and replacing it with… nothing? Neither had we until 2019, when Doritos created the ultimate anti-advertising campaign. In its anti-advertising commercial, titled “Another Level,” various shots of abstract triangles are shown as Gen Zers hold up blank bags of Doritos. You’re probably wondering why Doritos would do that? It was a bold move for a brand that felt its product is so iconic; it needed no introduction. Or logo.


Three Things You Should Know About Anti-Advertising

We’ve talked about what anti-advertising is, what it isn’t, why it works, and brands that found success. But, there are three golden rules you should follow if you want to create an anti-advertising campaign:

  1. Live IRL: If your audience can’t imagine themselves using your product in real-world situations, you’re already losing the ad game. So, be upfront with your customers, break the fourth wall, and allow the mundane frustrations of life to sell your product that offers tangible solutions. 
  2. Why so serious?: When your anti-advertising gives a wink and a nod to its audience, it lets them in on the secret… or joke. You don’t always have to take yourself so seriously. Have fun, be playful, and endear your brand to consumers. 
  3. The “No B.S.” rule: Say what you mean, and mean what you say with less filler. In 2018, protein bar company RxBar tapped Ice-T to tell it like it is in a spot that kicked off with the rapper/actor saying, “I’m famous, and this is a commercial.” Like the brand’s use of labeling its simple, all-natural ingredients on the front of its packaging, it made its message clear: “Real Delicious. No B.S.” 

Be the Disruptor With Anti-Advertising

The most important thing to remember about anti-advertising is that it takes acute awareness about what’s going on in consumers’ minds. Think about your own experiences as a customer. Which ads worked? Which didn’t? And why? When you understand marketing from the other end of the funnel, you’re more likely to prove you know what people want. 

So, be self-aware, be cheeky, and be bold. But always make sure you’re genuine. When your brand can strike the perfect balance, your anti-advertising message is sure to disrupt and influence audiences in all the right ways. 

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How To Leverage Experiential Marketing Research

Experiential Marketing

Consumers receive a steady stream of marketing messages every day. Experiential marketing offers a uniquely personal way to engage customers, turning into customer advocacy for your brand. People are savvier today than ever before and adept at filtering out marketing tactics that fall flat. Let’s take a closer look at why experiential marketing research is essential and how to incorporate it for a successful marketing strategy.

Experiential Marketing Research

Why Is Experiential Marketing Research Important?

In the most classic sense, traditional marketing is dead. Billboards? Consumer drive right past them. Commercials? Who needs them when people can stream instead. Magazine ads? Everyone’s online. Experiential marketing focuses on connecting consumers with brand experiences rather than directly with a product. In that regard, consumers are no longer passive receivers of brand messaging. They’re now actively engaged, and experiential marketing offers a window into the soul of a brand with thoughtful and meaningful engagement. 

So, why is experiential marketing research necessary? There are four reasons:

  1. It helps provide insights and information that will help refine your marketing strategy for the better.
  2. It offers a deeper understanding of who your customers are, as well as your competitors. 
  3. Research helps you understand who’s buying what you’re selling, who’s not, and why. 
  4. Taking a 30,000 ft. view of your industry’s environment identifies new business opportunities.

Breaking Down Experiential Marketing Research

Experiential marketing research is rooted in data, and it needs to be if it’s going to be effective. But, how do you make your campaign data-driven? Here are a few tips to help guide you:

Personalize Campaigns to Boost Sales

When brands understand customer trends, they have a much better chance of striking when the iron’s hot. Not only does personalization have an emotional impact, but it also encourages positive engagement. For example, Versace used data-driven research and found its customers mostly purchased items like wallets and sunglasses. To attract more people to buy its clothing, the luxury fashion company created marketing campaigns to attract high-end shoppers. That helped to deliver a 35% jump in online sales and a 300% average order increase. 

Continuously Engage With Consumers

Your customers crave experiences and information that’s either useful or interesting to them. When you use experiential marketing research, your content is more streamlined. That allows your brand to engage with your customers in a relevant, timely, and meaningful way. Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, GrubHub and Time magazine partnered with a compelling social media poll to pique its customers’ interest. Based on company data about the number of times customers ordered particular items in 214 congressional districts, poll respondents found out whether their dietary preferences meant they were more likely to be Republican or Democrat. 

Invest in the Right Tools

Unless you’re a marketing whiz, you’ll need help assembling your experiential marketing research. But, there are a variety of resources at your disposal. CrazyEgg’s maps can help you boost conversion rates. Capsulink lets you explore your audience’s geographical location and what that means for your online presence. And Survey Anyplace’s creative quizzes and surveys can provide you with innovative ways to receive post-campaign feedback. 

The Benefits of Experiential Marketing Research Are Endless

At its core, experiential marketing research is about understanding as much as you can about your customers. When you can predict their behaviors and their needs, you’ll know them as well as they know themselves. 

The benefits of experiential marketing research outweigh the effort ten-fold. It helps craft the right messages at the right time and in an organic way. It improves customer experiences because you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. And it even optimizes your budget. Data-driven marketing allows you to strategically plan how and when you’ll engage with consumers because you’ll know what they want. 

Experiential marketing research changes the way you do business. Even the best marketers can’t perform miracles. So, if it’s improvements and success you’re after, planning for them is the way to go. With clearly defined goals and the facts to back them up, you’ll see immediate results.

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Guerrilla Marketing Stunts That Still Work in 2021

Experiential Marketing

Guerrilla marketing means reaching your audience through experimental and unexpected campaigns, like pop-up shops. They surprise and delight audiences in exciting ways to promote a brand, product, or service. Guerrilla marketing stunts help your brand go viral on social media, fit any budget, and leverage partnerships so you can target your ideal audience more easily. And these advantages translate into increased awareness.   

With the right approach, marketers can launch a brand’s visibility into the stratosphere. But in a way, that isn’t a gimmick. So, let’s take a look at the world of guerrilla marketing and 5 stunts that still work wonders for brands in 2021.

What Is a Guerrilla Marketing Stunt?

Guerrilla marketing thrives on the element of surprise. High-energy and imaginative, these tactics rely less on big-budgets, and more on personal interactions to make an indelible impression. The best guerrilla marketing stunts cause a positive emotional reaction in audiences to create new customers. 

We can sum up guerrilla marketing with three key takeaways:

  • Guerrilla marketing uses unorthodox strategies to increase sales or entice consumers to a brand and its products or services. 
  • These stunts are low-cost and utilize personal communications. 
  • Guerrilla marketing stunts have risen in popularity thanks to social media that help amplify messaging specific to target audiences.

The Pros and Cons of Guerrilla Marketing

Before you read on, it’s essential to know guerrilla marketing stunts aren’t for everyone. There are advantages and disadvantages. Take these pros and cons into consideration before moving forward with a guerrilla marketing campaign:

Pros of Guerrilla Marketing

  • It’s budget-friendly versus traditional marketing and advertising.
  • It focuses on creative thinking and imagination rather than how much is spent.
  • It relies on word-of-mouth advertising, one of the most potent brand awareness tools in experiential marketing. 
  • The right guerrilla marketing stunts can boost publicity.

Cons of Guerrilla Marketing

  • Messages can be muddled and easily misunderstood without clarity.
  • Guerrilla marketing stunts are susceptible to unforeseen obstacles that may undermine a campaign, like bad weather. 
  • If a guerrilla marketing event falls flat, it may be subject to a potential backlash by savvy audiences.

5 Types of Guerrilla Marketing Stunts and Successful Examples

1. Event Ambush Marketing: Samsung vs. Apple.

There’s always a debate raging between fans of Apple’s iOS mobile devices and Samsung’s Android products. But, how did this heated competition start? In 2011, as Apple prepared to launch the anticipated iPhone S4, Samsung decided to crash the party. At Apple’s prestigious storefront in Sydney, Samsung erected a pop-up store of its next door. While Apple devotees stood in line, waiting patiently to get their hands on the new $700 iPhone, Samsung sold its Galaxy SII for $1.50. While many resisted Samsung’s offer, Samsung’s tactic paid off; many more walked away with a brand-new — and much cheaper — Galaxy SII.

Samsung Pop Up Sydney

2. Buzz Marketing: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Even if you were didn’t know the mega-viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was an example of buzz marketing, you undoubtedly heard of it. Why? Because it’s one of the famous word-of-mouth marketing campaigns ever. The ALS Foundation’s clever fundraising campaign challenged audiences to pour a bucket of ice water over their heads and post reactions on social media while nominating a friend to do the same. Celebrities like Dwane Johnson, Will Smith, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, and others participated in the challenge for free. The tactic was so successful; the ALS Foundation raised a staggering $115 million in the process. 

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

3. Sensory Marketing: Johnnie Walker’s ‘Whiskey-Infused’ Fashion Line

In 2014, Customers of the famous U.K. clothing manufacturer Harris Tweed Hebrides were in for a treat upon taking a whiff of its latest product line. With help from Scotch whiskey brand Johnnie Walker, Harris Tweed Hebrides created a whiskey-infused line of Harris Tweed fabric for sale. Guerrilla marketing stunts using the senses allowed both brands aimed to create subconscious and inherent brand recognition. Meaning, when consumers take a sip of Johnnie Walker, they’re reminded of Harris Tweed Hebrides. And vice versa. Research shows that brands attract more customers better when they connect with their senses.

Johnnie Walker Guerrilla Marketing Example

4. Stealth Marketing: FedEx’s Starring Role in ‘Cast Away’

Very few brands have the marketing budget to participate in a Hollywood blockbuster featuring one of the world’s most famous actors. But, FedEx’s starring role in the 2000 film “Cast Away” is one of the most recognizable stealth marketing examples. It involves guerrilla marketing stunts that are less about generating immediate revenue and more about creating awareness and interest. FedEx is heavily featured throughout the film as Hanks’ character (a FedEx executive) struggles to survive on a deserted island. Even the movie’s final scene, where Hanks delivers the letter that kept him going, subtly reminds audiences that through rain, sleet, snow, or even four years lost in the middle of the Pacific, FedEx still delivers.

FedEx Guerrilla Marketing Example

5. Street Team Marketing: Twitter Scores a Winning Goal

In 2019, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won its record-setting fourth World Cup. Twitter aimed to capitalize on the team’s monumental success by promoting women’s soccer in the U.S. The social media platform’s #StartWithThem campaign raised awareness for the brand and support for women’s sports. Launching a three-day street team marketing tour in New York City, Twitter turned a branded food truck into an interactive experience with free food and prizes. Guerrilla marketing stunts that use engaging ambassadors and offer complimentary gifts or branded swag are always a good rule of thumb when courting potential customers.

Guerilla Marketing Examples Twitter

Use Guerrilla Marketing Stunts to Your Advantage

Guerrilla marketing is a clever alternative to old-school marketing and advertising tactics. If executed well, they are a compelling method for attracting customers. Because of its ingenuity and creativity, guerrilla marketing stunts are low-cost yet can produce high rewards. So, if you’re looking for a strategy to win over audiences and get ahead of your competition, a well-executed guerrilla marketing campaign will help you get there.

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Brand Activation Rules You Don’t Want To Break

Experiential Marketing

You want to reach more customers who’ll buy into your brand’s message. But, how do you break through the noise and capture a slice of the market share? Consider investing in a brand activation strategy. But, there are ironclad rules to successful brand activation. So, before you hit the ground running, let’s take a look at the top 4 that will ensure you develop an effective brand activation campaign.

What Is a Brand Activation and Why Is It Important?

Brand activation is the process of making your brand known to consumers by increasing awareness and engagement through experiences. But, brand activations differ from general branding strategies. Of course, reaching more people is the focus of most marketing systems. But, brand activations center around a single event or campaign.

Brand activations don’t only apply to new brands and start-ups. All businesses should evolve to meet changing times and consumer behaviors. Incredible brand activations know who their customers are, what they want, and align with their tastes. 

Brand activations are essential because they bring your brand to life. According to Event Marketer, 98% of consumers feel more inclined to purchase a brand’s products or services after attending an event.

Bloomingdales WW84 Brand Activation

1. Knowing Which Brand Activation Is Right for You

There are many types of brand activations at your disposal. Here are three of the most common:

  • Experiential marketing events are emotionally-based and build strong relationships between brands and consumers. Why? Because brands engage audiences with experiences. They let people try a product, ask questions, or entice them with multi-sensory moments. 
  • Product sampling events are tried-and-true. Consumers enjoy trying products first without the risk of buying them. But, keep in mind that there are right ways and wrong ways to pull off promotions. Brand ambassadors shouldn’t be pushy or over-eager. Choose your tactics wisely and tailor them to your target audiences’ habits.
  • The most popular brand activations are in-store campaigns. Customers can interact inside a brand’s natural environment. It’s an excellent strategy for restaurants and retail brands where products are the main attraction. Customers can experience your inventory while seeing up-close how you treat your customers.

2. Understanding the Three Pillars of Brand Activation

Developing your campaign means a lot more than throwing it together with a lot of bells and whistles. It takes sticking with crucial features that distinguish brands from their competition:

  1. Your customers drive demand for your brand. Awareness of consumer trends is vital if you want to tap into their desires and increase your viability.  
  2. Launching a campaign takes nuance, and timing is part of that. Reaching target audiences at the right time and the right place makes your brand activation organic and less staged. 
  3. Lose the expectation that consumers need you. In competitive marketplaces, there’s always someone else to steal them away. Think about why your customers should believe in your brand above others.

3. Analyzing the Right Metrics

Brand activations build loyalty. The catch is knowing if your mission struck real emotions with your target audience. How do you go about measuring that kind of success? It’s all about using the right metrics. Here are some that you’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Your campaign should start with determining if it’s relevant. Does it reflect your brand’s message and core values?
  • Consumer reach measures how many people your campaign will touch. Is it a mobile tour across the U.S.? A worldwide guerilla marketing campaign? Or is it a one-time event that’s limited to your immediate area?
  • The bottom line is the benefits of your campaign should outweigh the costs. Return on investment doesn’t mean measuring in terms of sales. Think about what investment means to your brand and its goals. 
  • Brands should want to maximize what a brand activation can do for it. Think about its long-term potential. Can your campaign reap additional rewards later on down the road?
  • The best way to reach audiences is to offer them something they won’t get elsewhere. How unique is your event? Does it get consumers, influencers, or media talking? Examining social media engagement and feedback surveys will help you figure this out. 

4. Respect Your Customers (and Listen to What They Have To Say)

Throughout this post, we have come back to the importance of customer perception. Because brand activations make-or-break your success. They should feel like an extension of your brand. One thing they should never feel like is a publicity stunt.

Consumers are savvy, and they can tell when they’re being pandered. Respect your customers, and they’ll respect you. And always plan your brand activation with them in mind. It should be engaging and exciting, but never off-message or off-brand.

That’s where feedback comes in. Engagement is a two-way street. As much as you want your customers to understand you, you need to understand them as well. Surveying your audience during and after your event will give you a better idea of whether your brand activation achieved its desired effect.

Follow These Rules, and Your Brand Activation Will See Success

If brand building were a race, it would be a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and dedication to turn a brand into a success. But, brand activations can help you get there. They boost your business with engaging experiences that foster relationships, drive awareness, and reshape perceptions. 

An integral part of any brand strategy, these types of campaigns will increase your chances for success and establish deep connections with your customers when done right by following these rules.

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