We, as an industry, talk a lot about the 'experience generation', with statistics revealing 72% of millennials plan to increase spending on brands that provide a lasting impression and an opportunity to connect. So, it's no wonder we're all stepping up our game when it comes to activating in the physical world, particularly when it comes to pop-ups.
Over the past few years the term ‘pop-up’ has become somewhat catch-all, used by marketeers and agencies as shorthand for any physical activation.
So when is a pop-up a pop-up, and when is it a ‘branded activation’? Here are three ways to tell...
1. Does It Pop-Down As Quickly As It Popped-Up?
We don’t know who coined the phrase ‘pop-up’, but we can see where they were coming from: it’s an activation that pops up, and like all things that go up, it then comes down.
A branded activation space might be open to many, in a high-visibility, high-footfall area, for weeks at a time (e.g. city centre sampling), but a pop-up is limited, often hidden and gone-before-you-know-it.
Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ album launch back in 2016 was a great example of a well-timed pop-up. 66 Charlotte Street became one of only four pop-up shops worldwide to stock copies of the record and accompanying magazine, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. A lucky 400 (out of over 1,000 fans who queued at the newsagents from 2am) managed to score a copy. And for the rest of the world, the pop-up had gone before anybody had woken up for breakfast.
And if we’re talking established brands, we loved Alexander Wang’s pop-up store in the form of a heavy-goods-vehicle, that was gone as fast as the first social posts were starting to get views and likes.
There’s a real temptation to keep activations open for longer, after all, you’ve put all this budget and craft into creating something incredible. But the goal of a pop-up is to never be permanent. Pop-ups are quick-fire and high-impact, and if done well, will live across social feeds for days and weeks thereafter.
If you’re looking for something longer term, The House of Peroni for example, then you’re looking at a ‘residency’.
2. Is it brand guideline exempt?
With a branded-activation, the clue is in the title - it’s branded, very clearly. If your plans include laying out deck chairs and giving away freebie sunglasses with your logo on it, you’re definitely talking about a branded activation space. And there’s nothing wrong with this. Aperol Spritz do it incredibly well.
Or, if you’re sponsoring a flagship event – the F1 or Fashion Week for example, then the chances are you’ll want to stick to brand guidelines. You’ve dedicated all that budget for the visibility, there wouldn’t be much point hiding or disguising yourself as something else. Who could imagine Wimbledon without a Pimm’s garden?
So, where branded activation spaces are a physical manifestation of your brand guidelines, pop-ups are often the complete opposite – they are guideline exempt.
Thinking about some of our favourite brand pop-ups, there’s often some kind of tension at play. A luxury brand activating in a surprising location, such as a car park (e.g. Anya Hindmarch x Selfridges).
Or a high-end label creating something truly lo-fi, such as Christian Dior’s ‘Lady Dior’ pub which popped-up for one night only.
There were no logos in sight - instead, a traditional pub sign, created especially for the normcore activation, and inside, a level of polish that would usually sit outside their day-to-day brand guidelines.
As you may have garnered, more often than not, pop-ups come disguised as something else. Fast food outlets are the de rigueur vehicle for fashion and sport brands wanting to reach a street-smart, culture-first audience. Last year, Diesel signed a brand partnership deal with a kebab shop in Berlin, taking a swipe at the state of ludicrous collaborations in the fashion industry.
Meanwhile, adidas shut down a chicken shop in Hackney to celebrate the launch of their new Glitch boots.
Re-branding the entire shop for a takeaway takeover, every familiar touch-point was taken care of – from staff uniforms, to wet wipes, napkins, bags and menus - making the experience feel like a legitimate takeaway.
The new boots were served out of specially designed chicken box style packaging (fodder for any hypebeast’s Instagram feed).
Think about what you are trying to achieve with your budget – if you’re looking for something buzz-worthy, unignorable and highly targeted at influencers and tastemakers then you’re on the right path for a pop-up.
When it comes to activating outside your brand guidelines, please be brave. Your consumer will get it. Others may not, but are you talking to them on this occasion?
3. Is It Exclusive & Providing Exclusive Content?
Exclusivity expectations are at a peak when it comes to pop-ups. The Converse One Star Hotel provided their highly curated guestlist access to exclusive panels, performances and Instagrammable experiences.
If you’re trying to capture the attention of the hype-hungry, seen-it-all-before consumer, then an exclusive pop-up, filled with cultural and social currency, might be what you’re looking for.
However, if you’re looking for blanket mass, getting as many samples in the hands of consumers in a new market, for example, then street teams and train station activations sound more like your thing.
There’s a legitimate time and place for branded activations, and they can be done with an incredible amount of creativity, but please, don’t call them a pop-up.
SEEN is compiled by LOVE’s Head of Culture, Kat Towers. Want to say hello, ask questions or challenge her cultural knowledge? Get in touch - email@example.com