The COVID-19 pandemic has forced brands to postpone or cancel in-person events for the foreseeable future, so marketers are adapting their experiential strategy to connect with people in self-isolation.
“Pivoting” is the buzzword experts have pushed the past few weeks, and brands are beginning to show what that means with stunts and digital experiences that don’t require consumers to leave home. In fact, they encourage staying home.
Deb Gabor, CEO of brand strategy consultancy Sol Marketing, said brands can be successful right now if they focus on connecting with established fans in interesting ways rather than trying to acquire new customers through selling products. Sensitivity to what their fans might be going through—and the state of the world in general—should also be top of mind, she said.
“Brands absolutely must show regard for humanity and acknowledge what is going on right now,” she said. “But they don’t have to do it with a doom and gloom mindset.”
Taking a well-known concert series digital
Bud Light has continued to evolve its Dive Bar Tour since launching the concert series in 2016, bringing the activation to festivals like Governors Ball, SXSW and Firefly. To draw attention to the importance of social distancing and raise funds for the American Red Cross, the Anheuser-Busch label took the activation virtual for the first time.
The brand kicked off the Bud Light Dive Bar Tour: Home Edition on March 20 with country singer Jake Owen, who performed on Instagram Live. The following night, the brand tapped pop-rock band OneRepublic to perform live on its Facebook and Instagram Live channels. Fans that tuned in could make special requests and donate to the American Red Cross.
“The Dive Bar Tour was created to bring people together over Bud Lights, and our new Home Edition will do that virtually while supporting causes that are so important to us and our talent partners,” said Shana Barry, director of experiential for Bud Light, in a statement.
Bud Light worked with agency 3PM, Weber Shandwick and Synergy Productions to produce the virtual programs, with more performances planned in the future. According to the brand, Owen’s show attracted around 8,000 viewers on Instagram and OneRepublic’s concert drew over 330,000 on Instagram and Facebook.
As an extra incentive to stay home, Bud Light has also partnered with alcohol delivery app Drizly to offer $5 off to first-time purchasers.
Enticing fans with pizza
Esports is one of the few industries that could boom as a result of COVID-19 (minus in-person league competition tours). Call of Duty: Warzone, which Activision debuted on March 11, drew 6 million players in the first 24 hours of its release, breaking the franchise’s previous record of 2.4 million users in 24 hours.
Knowing fans would most likely be secluded and playing the game in the following weeks, Activision teamed up with Fooji, an experiential tech company that offers on-demand delivery services for brand campaigns, to send pizzas in branded Call of Duty boxes.
On March 20, Call of Duty encouraged fans to tweet #FreeCallOfDuty, the pizza emoji and #CODPromo for a chance to win free deliveries. The promotion delivered 1,500 pizzas to fans in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. Activision partnered with local pizzerias to supply the products, including Paul’s in New York and Bongiorno’s in Chicago. For those not in key markets, the brand also awarded 1,500 DoorDash gift cards.
“As brands pivot their strategies, we believe there is still a significant need for experiential activations and fan engagement,” said Erik Zamudio, co-founder and chief brand officer of Fooji. “We’re uniquely positioned to offer experiential promotions without requiring brands to have a physical presence at an event.”
Zamudio said the daylong promotion drew more than 50,000 tweets.
Building brand connection with a virtual pajama party
Belle Bar Organic, a DTC hair and beauty brand for women of color, virtually engaged with its customer base as all parties involved were in self-isolation. On March 23, the founders—sisters Tianna and Solange Bell and their mom, Annette—hosted an interactive livestream from their home for a group of fans that RSVPed through electronic invites.
The beauty brand partnered with agency TH Experiential and The Call List, an interactive video platform for ecommerce brands, to produce the digital event to connect with fans at home. The founders used the virtual meet and greet to share stories about their family life and offered self-care and beauty tips using their products. Viewers could participate in a live two-way Q&A with the founders and answer pop-up survey questions focused on product feedback.
Nicole Falco, director of creative strategy for TH Experiential, said the event was meant to foster brand love rather than directly promote products to purchase.
“We wanted to tie this to the joy and goodwill a brand [and the] audience can share together,” Falco said. “When everyone is shut-in, the founders are making themselves available to them. This was for a segment of their community, but the idea is this will build on itself as they receive consumer insights.”
TH Experiential reported 25% of attendees engaged in live questions during the stream while 80% stayed on for the full duration.