How Brands Are Making Pop-Up Shops More Interactive and Instagrammable Than Ever

And what marketers can learn from the stunts

"M&M’s engaged their customers and made them feel a part of the decision-making process," Sunny Jenkins, evp of HL Group said of M&M's pop-up success. Raquel Beauchamp
Headshot of Katie Richards

From Taco Bell’s movie theater to Tushy and Poo-Pourri’s “Poop-Up” shop featuring a toilet bowl ball pit, the concept of pop-up shops has morphed from an experimental exercise to a bona fide experiential brand extension.

Just this year, Away, Brandless, Casper, Coach, Diesel, M&M’s, Tushy, Poo-Pourri, Taco Bell, Target, Snickers and so many more have created temporary spaces to showcase new products, boost brand awareness or simply introduce a brand to the world.

While a myriad of brands from traditional CPG to ecommerce are signing on, experts note the decision to open a temporary space should not be entered into lightly.

“If you go to a regular store, you are more surprised if you get something experiential and immersive, but today when someone goes to a pop-up they walk in expecting something more,” Melissa Gonzalez, founder of retail strategy and pop-up architectural firm Lion’esque Group, said. “You want to to think through how you are going to deliver that and know what your goals are.”

What exactly does that entail? For Target and the Museum of Ice Cream, that meant offering more than just a cool spot for Instagram pics (although that never hurts). Inside the co-branded Pint Shop, the two brands not only provided free samples of seven new flavors (and a chance to buy said ice creams), but also a special, interactive tasting room experience where attendees could get a more in-depth look at how ice cream is made. Since opening day, on June 6, fans have tagged #ThePintShop on Instagram nearly 3,000 times.

For a longstanding brand in need of a PR bump, like Diesel, a pop-up can mean a chance to reintroduce the brand to the world and showcase its creativity. Diesel worked with Publicis Italy and Publicis New York to open a pop-up store filled with allegedly counterfeit Diesel apparel on New York’s knock-off block—Canal Street. Garments were stitched with “Deisel” logos and appeared to be knockoffs. Diesel was behind the stunt and not only used it to make a comment on the resale economy, but also to make a powerful statement during New York Fashion Week. Diesel’s “knock-off” line sold out in 24 hours, and the stunt won multiple gold Lions in Cannes.

"Diesel is probably one of the most ripped-off brands of all times and they had the courage to blow out the idea of embracing flaws and imperfections and take it straight to Canal Street," Andy Bird, CCO, Publicis New York, explained.
Dianna McDougall

For some, the pop-up still can simply be a way to rekindle brand love, especially for CPG brands that don’t have their own stores or ecommerce platforms to interact with consumers.

Mars Wrigley Confectionery created pop-ups for Dove, M&M’s and Snickers, promoting a series of new limited-edition flavors—in the case of M&M’s and Snickers. That helped Mars “grow affinity for our brands with fans in a much different way,” explained Tanya Berman, vp, chocolate, Mars Wrigley Confectionery.

Pop-ups can also get your product in the hands of consumers who haven’t had a chance to taste or experience it yet. M&M’s was able to bring in 3,000 attendees to its flavor experience event in New York—where consumers could sample three new crispy flavors and vote for their favorite. Mars distributed 30,000 samples in three days.

But pop-ups may not be the right strategy for all brands. “I’m not sure I believe brands should just do a pop-up unless it is a critical component of their approach to their consumers and you are seeing a lot of smart online brands that started with temporary locations,” Manish Vora, co-founder of the Museum of Ice Cream, explained.

One tip Gonzalez has learned over the course of her work in the pop-up world is “the importance of staffing and brand ambassadors,” she said. “Make sure that there is proper allocation in the budget for staff.” For Target and the Museum of Ice Cream, staffing played a huge part early in the pop-up experience. Thousands of customers started opening freezers at the event, each day, to take their photos in front of the brightly colored ice cream pints. The ice cream, as it does, started to melt.

"The Pint Shop is an Insta-worthy experience that allowed Target and The Museum of Ice Cream to garner 22,000 followers in one short summer," Jenkins explained of the Museum of Ice Cream and Target's stellar pop-up.
Yuliya Kim

The two brands had to retrain the pop-up shop staff—aptly titled “Shopsicles”—to “prevent people from opening the freezers, while still allowing them to take the photos in front of the freezers and then only removing the ice cream when they are buying,” Vora added.

This story first appeared in the July 23, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.