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June 8, 2005
Pop-Up Stores: the New Marketing Trend of Temporary Brand Environments

When it comes to “What’s Hot?”, marketers are always seeking the next “big” thing. The trend du jour seems to be the temporary brand environment better known as the “pop-up.” All over the country brand environments are “popping up,” lasting anywhere from weeks to months intriguing as many people (and press) as possible before popping off again.

Why this sudden pop-up explosion? There are a number of reasons and all can be attributed to the challenges facing marketers in the modern world. First, the increasing concentration of retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy have created “grey” marketing environments where brands are limited to overdone sweepstakes and cookie-cutter point of sale material. Consumers have little reason to select one brand over another.

Another challenge marketers face is that traditional media no longer delivers as efficiently as it once did. In the “good old days,” companies would advertise during TV commercial breaks or would buy a select number of print ads and awareness and sales would jump. Today, media is fragmented into hundreds of digital cable stations and print outlets. Professionals are now finding it harder to get their message through to the appropriate audiences.

The last challenge marketers face is trust. In today’s post-Enron environment, distrust of corporations is at an all-time high. Any corporation can create a glossy ad that elicits interest but does the messaging in this ad truthfully represent the product shown?

Consumers are now bombarded by thousands of product messages per day, running the gambit from ads, to chat room infiltration, to product placement on The Apprentice. The increased volume of advertising messaging has led to a more resistant attitude to the way that people view marketing. From muting ads, to channel surfing to TiVo, people are opting out of advertising.

To combat this impasse, marketers are increasingly turning to what Seth Godin has termed “Permission Marketing.” It is about being more in tune with our target audience’s wants and needs, and marketing to them on their terms, instead of ours.

This is where pop-up environments come in. Based on the “Permission Marketing” platform, pop-ups allow consumers to experience a brand by choice. These stand-alone environments allow consumers to interact with the product for themselves, see it in a 360Õenvironment, and create a dialogue with the brand before deciding to adopt it for themselves.

Deemed one of the first successful pop-ups, “Song in the City” concept store in SoHo, New York paved the way for trend seekers. Launched in November 2003, the idea behind “Song in the City” was to let consumers experience Song’s unique in-flight offerings without flying at 35,000 feet. At the space, consumers could sit on airline seats and enjoy complimentary beverages, watch clouds fly past specially designed portholes, shop for kate spade travel accessories (she designed the Song uniform) or enjoy movies on demand while their kids sat along side them playing Xbox games. The store even managed to sell Song airline food in SoHo which was a first.

With the success of “Song in the City,” other major brands have followed suit. In 2004 Meow Mix Cafe served special meals for cats and “the owners that they tolerate” in New York City. The Crown Royal Barbershop gave customers two simultaneous buzzes in 2004, one on your head and the other from the whisky sampled within. The AQUOS Project, a downtown gallery space, allowed artists to integrate Sharp’s AQUOS TVs into their works of art. And New York City isn’t the only place where consumers find pop-ups; other pop-ups have been reported as far afield as London, Berlin, São Paulo and Milan.

If you are considering creating a pop-up store, here are a few tips to help you make the biggest splash. First, develop a strategic pop-up concept that will help you reach your target audience and tie in to their interests. Know where your audience lives, where they shop and what they eat. Incorporate these finds in your concept to further connect with your audience. Next be sure to follow the first rule in real estate – “Location, Location, Location.” There is no point creating an amazing experience if it is not a high-traffic spot. Similarly, just because you build it, it does not mean the people will come. Use PR and events to drive traffic and buzz. Last, be sure to follow all the local ordinances. Nothing kills buzz faster than a fire marshal shutting down your opening event!

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Jim Anstey believes in action. He's vice president/brand action director for Lime PR & Promotions. With global clients such as Coca-Cola, Revlon and Citibank, Jim knows how to make action happen all over the world through promotions, events, partnerships, guerrilla marketing, and sponsorships. LIME was responsible for the 'song in the city' pop-up space, as well as The AQUOS Project pop-up.

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