7 Inspiring and Outrageous Experiential Marketing examples

There is no small experiential marketing. The very definition says, “go big or go home.” Here are a few examples of just how big some companies are willing to go to reach their audience and make an impact. From unexpected gifts to pop-up hotels, see how some brands made a big impression.

Experiential marketing combines a cool marketing campaign with a heightened, often thrilling, experience. Advertisers and marketers used to tell customers how products and services would make them feel. Now, they’re showing them and sometimes on a grand, outrageous scale. Studies have shown that events make people more likely to buy. Even at exorbitant, one-time costs, these ventures often pay off because they create an indelible impression and skyrocket engagement. Here are some examples of zany experiential marketing that worked.

Santa Claus’ Intern, WestJet Airlines

In an amazing pairing of technology, the holiday spirit, and social media, in 2013 WestJet asked passengers boarding a flight from southern Ontario to Calgary what they wanted for Christmas. Little did the passengers realize their answers were being recorded.

While they flew through the skies unaware, over 150 of the WestJet “elves” visited local stores procuring the gifts. When the flight landed four hours later, their gifts were awaiting them at baggage claim. Passengers were overjoyed.

The airline released a video of the merriment and said once it reached 200,000 views it would donate flights to Ronald McDonald House Charities to families of critically-ill children. As of this writing, the video has received 45,071,901 views.

The London Eye as a Political Pie Chart

In 2015, the London Eye donned colorful lights in accordance with the percentage of mentions of the seven mainstream political parties vying to win the general election. The campaign used Facebook data on conversations about the election to transform the Eye into one of the least boring pie charts ever.

It not only provided a visual on the conversations that had occurred, but enticed people who wanted to “move the dial” on their party to post more about it on the social hub.

Fun with Volkswagen

Volkswagen wondered, could you get people to do what was right by making it fun? This concept evolved into The Fun Theory and contest, which yielded several (albeit indirect) experiential marketing efforts that were then shared with the world with a touch of Volkswagen branding. The videos have been shared millions of times on YouTube. One of the most famous content entries was the piano stairs, an effort to get people to use the stairs over the escalator, by creating steps that played a musical note as you walked on them.

While this is not direct experiential marketing of someone trying to sell something or allowing people to test a product or service, it’s effective in its way to reach a mass audience and tie the concept of fun and “doing right” to a brand. In these cases the experience is in the watching and sharing. The Volkswagen piano stairs video has received 22,284,401 views as of this writing.

Bringing the Story to Life (or Death)

It’s not the first time the world of a book has been brought to life (you could even make a case for Harry Potter’s World at Universal Orlando being an example of experiential marketing), but it was interesting to see a publisher being behind it. HarperCollins, publisher of the Monogram Murders, the first-ever continuation of Agatha Christie’s work, created a pop-up hotel event through the Ritz Hotel in London to celebrate the book launch. According to Laura Di Guiseppe, Agatha Christie brand manager for HarperCollins, they sought “…to develop an interactive narrative culminating in an immersive theatre event.”

Like the other examples in this article, they also used a social media hook. They partnered with sites like Trivago to post fictional reviews of the Bloxham hotel, the setting for the book. The Bloxham even has its own website, which revealed clues as to the inexplicable goings-on.

The book sold over 500,000 copies within its first year of publication.

“Replay” with Gatorade

The theme of wanting a “do over” is popular in movies and books, and now sports. In 2009, Gatorade partnered with US ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day Los Angeles to replay a high school football game between rivals (Easton, Pennsylvania versus Phillipsburg, New Jersey) that ended in a tie 15 years earlier. They gave the teams a chance to take on one another (again) and broadcast the results in online webisodes, that became a TV series.

Gatorade, which is owned by PespiCo, wanted to challenge the idea of what it is to be an athlete with these former athletes now in their thirties. 10,000 tickets to the rematch sold out 90-minutes. In the region where the first game was replayed, Gatorade sales increased by 63%. They have since done three seasons of the show in the US and a version in Australia.

Spin that Wheel with Zappos

On the worst day of US travel (the day before Thanksgiving) Zappos partnered with JetBlue and turned a baggage claim carousel into a “Wheel of Fortune”-style prize wheel. Travelers received the prize associated with wherever their luggage landed on the wheel. They used the hashtag #TravelHappy. The video received 10,027 views as of this writing.

Zappos makes it part of their corporate mission to find ways to delight their customers at unexpected times. The year before this they paid tolls for many lucky drivers in Massachusetts over the holidays.

Spend the Night with A&E

Large conferences like South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas are bastions of experiential marketing so it’s usually difficult to pick one best. However, A&E’s the Bates Motel (a television show prequel to the movie Psycho) is in a class of its own. A&E built a fully operational replica of the Bates Motel. Guests could stay, enjoy all the hospitality of a traditional roadside motel, and some not-so-traditional “fun,” creating a night to remember. Doubtful many guests showered that evening.

In Conclusion

Generating a spectacular experiential event takes immense creativity, an ability to construct a different reality (if even for a few hours), and tie it in to social media. That last part is critical because the experience is very short lived, but the notoriety it achieves and the engagement opportunities it can create are what increase the return on the initial investment. Without a way to harness the traction, you’re just throwing a very expensive party.