Experiential Marketing and Event Trends for 2019


Experiential Marketing Trends

Brands are really leaning in to the “experiential” aspect of experiential marketing, and frankly, we’re all benefiting from the fun (but sometimes wacky) results.

Brands Expanding Beyond Their Brand

It’s possible that most people remember the IHOb campaign, where IHOP briefly turned its “P” upside down and changed its name to the International House of Burgers to promote its new Ultimate Steakburgers, as a failed experiment, due to some negative reactions on social media. But that’s the way experiments work.

Plus, success in experiential marketing is primarily driven by the “any press is good press” philosophy. By that metric, IHOb was a success. According to an article on Food Newsfeed, “more than 20,000 stories were written about the name change. The campaign produced more than 36 billion earned media impressions. Social media mentions of IHOP produced a potential reach of more than 4 billion people.” Burger sales increased by four times the amount before the campaign and remained consistent after it ended.

IHOP also expanded into other areas last year. In conjunction with Keegan Ales, the brand created “IHOPS Pumpkin Pancake Stout,” a beer brewed using the brand’s pumpkin spice pancake mix.  And IHOP wasn’t the only brand to slap its name on a pint. Planters Nuts teamed with Noon Whistle Brewing Company to create “Mr. IPA-Nut,” an ale created with peanuts in the mix.

Expect this trend to continue throughout 2019, as brands (and their creative agencies) stretch their imaginations so we can bask in these limited-run, brand-related creations.


Photo Credit: Amelie Company

Brands Will Make it a Big Production

The average cost of an ad airing during the 2019 Super Bowl was $5.24 million. So, instead of spending all of that money for a single airing, Skittles decided to spend all of that money on a one-time-only Broadway stage production titled “Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical.”

Yes, Skittles really counterprogrammed the Super Bowl with a Broadway production based on eating Skittles. The show featured Michael C. Hall (who starred in “Six Feet Under” and “Dexter” and has performed in several Broadway productions), was written by two Broadway veterans (Will Eno and Nathaniel Lawlor), directed by another (Sarah Benson), and featured songs titled “Advertising Ruins Everything,” “This Might Have Been a Bad Idea,” and “This Definitely Was a Bad Idea.” There’s even a cast album available (one of the tracks is Michael C. Hall eating Skittles for four minutes).

Despite the titles of those songs, this was a fun idea. Not only did proceeds from the ticket sales go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, but it was a solid way for someone in New York who didn’t care about the Super Bowl to spend 45 minutes.

Experiential marketing will continue to get bigger in 2019, as brands try to top one another and fight for social media space. Whether that’s a one-time-only Broadway production or incorporating the latest, cutting-edge technology, brands with the budget and time will attempt to make a big splash in 2019.

Experiences for All

When it began, experiential marketing was primarily aimed at the millennial generation, but more and more marketers are gearing their activations toward “perennials.” These are people who share the millennial’s love of experiences but do not fall into that defined age range.

Meaningful engagement is valued across demographics. That’s why marketers are looking beyond age and demographics and increasingly paying attention to psychographics. Psychographics are a measure of consumer’s attitudes and interests. Experience designers will continue to focus on the needs of their consumers and worry less about catering to a specific age bracket.

…But How Would It Play in Austin?

The annual SXSW festival is the gold standard for experiential activations. Case in point, in 2017, HBO created an entire western town to promote the second season of “Westworld” – an entire town!

While most brands do not have the budget, personnel, or patience to build a town, that won’t stop them from thinking big. Even marketers who are not attending SXSW will ask themselves how an activation would theatrically play at the festival and revise their strategy accordingly.

Remember, a SXSW mindset doesn’t mean going big, it means thinking big. Picture this activation that occurred one year in Austin. To promote its photo app, Google created a food truck that gave out free cupcakes. However, the only way to get one was to take a photo using the Google app.


Photo Credit: AdWeek

As a line grew to receive their treat, a white box branded with the Zappos logo walked (well, the person inside the box) near the line and stopped. The box had two slots: one labeled “Insert Cupcake” and the other labeled “Be Happier.”

That was all the instruction people were given. Those who were willing to give up their cupcake were rewarded with merchandise ranging from sunglasses to watches to gift cards for free shoes.

This team-up between Google and Zappos (for the record, neither brand has copped to this being prearranged) was not extraordinarily lavish or all that costly. (Heck, on the Zappos side, the budget was for just a couple hundred dollars in merchandise and a large box.). Yet the crowd really enjoyed the playfulness of the activation, and it made a lasting impression.

Live Event Trends

Many of the top trends from 2018 will continue through 2019 – and for the same reasons: to ensure that every aspect of a live event is an unforgettable experience.

Unique Venues

Attendees are placing a premium on experiences. This is why event planners are converting abandoned factories and airline hangers into functioning spaces. Or, for those who want to combine people’s desire to learn and create with their event, a planner may turn to an art gallery or museum. Historical venues, with their unique stories and culture, are also extremely popular options. Even out of the way locations, like caves and castles,

Also, because these venues weren’t designed for events, organizers must use the available space in new and imaginative ways to encourage attendee interaction and networking.

An Increased Focus on Cybersecurity

Live events are an attractive target for hackers. Registration sites, event apps, and databases are full of the exact juicy information that nefarious individuals and organizations strive to acquire: names, addresses, social security numbers, credit card info, etc.

As more data breaches make headlines, consumers are increasingly wary of how companies are securing their personal information. That’s why protecting the data gathered at events is essential. It is also the responsibility of event organizers. Organizers and their IT teams will need to ensure they are following all legal regulations and best practices help maintain data security.

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Strengthening cybersecurity for events was a primary focus last year, and it will continue to be throughout 2019 and beyond.

Ensuring Diversity

Event planners have always wanted as broad an audience as possible to attend their events, but now that drive for diversity will extend to speakers, panels, and sponsors, as well. This will also be a motivating factor for sponsors, as well. Companies are going to stop putting their money into an event unless they are assured that women and people of color will play an important – and visible – role.

Last year’s GitHub Universe is a solid example. GitHub is an online platform for project management and open source collaboration. So, it wanted to replicate its product’s openness, inclusiveness, and creativity in its annual event. This inclusivity was exemplified in several different aspects:

  • A scholarship program was created to provide free tickets for those who might not have the economic means to attend.

  • The show provided a variety of meals, including vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free.

  • Bathrooms were gender neutral.

  • The venue was ADA compliant.

  • All talks had closed captioning.

  • Child play areas and parent rooms with private pumping stations were provided.

Diversity will now be a driving force for events.

To discover how we can help you keep up with – and stay ahead of – these upcoming trends, give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9433.