Has a socially distanced world rendered experiential marketing redundant, or has the lockdown only emphasised the importance of real life events as milestones in consumers’ lives?

Over the last seven months, the pandemic has tested the financial and creative agility of both brands and agencies. Budgets were slashed, layoffs were made and we were told to keep our distance from everyone and everything.

In the last several weeks, social distancing regulations have made the slow turn around in returning to pre-pandemic levels. While it will be some time until large scale festivals like Coachella, Comic-Con and SXSW are back, we are now seeing brands take a pragmatic approach to experiential marketing.

Analyzing the Marketplace

The significance of being able to operate again extends beyond keeping people employed and agencies functional – Real life connections don’t happen in a virtual space. What makes experiential, experiential, is it’s human contact that helps deepen connections in ways that other media platforms never will.

There is plenty of data suggesting that consumers have not been any more loyal during the lockdown. Research shows that 36% of consumers have tried a new brand since March and 73% of those consumers plan to incorporate the brands into their new socially distanced routines.

Leading companies have recognized this and struck at the chance to make an impact right away. Whether it has been virtual, physical or a combination of both – engaging with audiences beyond the realm of traditional media is still proven to be effective… even during a pandemic.

Experiential During the Pandemic Highlights

Pepsi Tailgate in a Box

Pepsi launched a sweepstakes that delivered “Tailgate in a Box” kits to football fans looking to keep the pregame experience alive despite limited in-person gatherings in most states. Through a social sweepstakes, fans were awarded a 16-square-foot tailgating box equipped with a projector, cornhole set and Pepsi swag.

Babe Rosé Manicure

Over the summer, Babe Wine drove through New York and serviced North Brooklynite’s hands with free manicures using a custom fabricated Covid compliant truck. Headed by Instagram’s The Fat Jewish, this activation appeared to be the first live event since the pandemic lockdowns started back in March.


Amex and Resy Drive Through

Reservation software platform Resy, in collaboration with American Express, hosted a drive through dining event in Hollywood that featured several well known Los Angeles chefs and restaurants.

Amex Gold members had early access online to sign up for the exclusive event. On arrival ( inside personal vehicles) guests were guided “tent to tent” by a personal waiter. Through the car window, they were then served a 10-course meal over the night.

The Future of Experiential

Despite 2020, it’s more evident than ever that (many) quarantined consumers are craving connections, human interaction and live experiences. As we have noted, many progressive brands are already adopting a hybrid based approach to their experiential marketing campaigns – developing safe on-the-ground events for select audiences and creating a digital  version for online audiences.

“Firms that cut ad spend during a recession typically see sales and income fall by 20-30 percent over the next two years as a result.” – Adweek

Many classic marketing theories believe it’s more profitable to be different than it is to be better. When you take away advertising and marketing, storytelling becomes increasingly harder. Advertising during an economic downturn (when competitors are not) allows progressive brands to enter the audience consideration set with less clutter and higher bang for the same advertising dollars!