What Pizza Marathons, Instagram Museums, #WakandaForever Teach Us About Human Connection

Opinion: Spending on events and experiences has grown nearly four times faster than spending on things

A 20-person ‘Pizza Marathon’ in Buenos Aires is now up to 1,500 people every year minhee park/iStock

Which would you rather buy: a whirlwind trip to Paris, or a shopping spree at Saks? A night out with friends, or a new pair of shoes? A connection, or a couch?

Since 2014, spending on events and experiences has grown nearly four times faster than spending on things, with millennials (part of the largest “spending cohort” in the world) leading the charge. And while millennials are outspending baby boomers and Generation X, 78 percent of all Americans went to some kind of live event in 2017.

While in-person experiences seem to be under attack by digital escapism, the reality is that live events have been around for thousands of years, and they are more compelling now than ever. In an age when mobile and internet usage is skyrocketing, people of all ages and background are seeking experiences that get them out from behind the screen and into the real world.

At Eventbrite, we power millions of events around the world every year, which means that our platform gives rise to some seriously interesting, utterly original and sometimes soul-filling, joyful real-world escapes.

In the U.K., “morning raves” are drawing throngs of mindfulness-seeking city workers. In Argentina, people are hosting fake wedding parties, including professional actors playing the wedding party. In Germany, classical concerts put on for newborns and toddlers are literally music to their parents’ ears. And in the U.S., goat yoga classes are all the rage, with more than 2,000 events related to this fitness craze taking place on our platform over the past year.

We have a relentless commitment to serving event creators of all kinds—whether they’re bringing together 25 followers or 100,000 fans—so that people can connect and have these transformative moments. But you don’t have to be in the events industry to appreciate and learn from these surprising gatherings. In fact, successful events can be instructive for anyone who’s in the business of human connection.

Tap into their competitive spirit

People thrive on competition, especially when their pride is at stake. In 2012, a group of friends in Argentina set out to settle a classic dispute: Who knew the best pizzeria in all of Buenos Aires? They decided to settle the question with a 20-person “Pizza Marathon,” touring each participant’s favorite joint. But when the restaurants in question caught wind, this friendly debate quickly escalated into a full-blown battle. More pizzerias wanted in on the marathon, and more “runners” wanted in on the tour.

Three years later, some 600 people participated in the now-annual marathon, and the 1,000-person waitlist was full. Today, the event hosts 1,500 people every year who gather to take part in pizza sampling from all over the city. The pizzerias get great publicity, and the participants get to burn carbs between bites. Everybody wins.

Play to the desire for social capital

A new wave of events that put a distinctly grown-up spin on childlike fun is sweeping the globe. In the U.S., we’ve witnessed the rise of immensely popular “Instagram museums” like the Museum of Ice Cream and Color Factory that serve up delicious, carefree interactions. Adult ball pits are all the rage in the U.K. And everything from pop-up Lego bars to Harry Potter-inspired boozy brunches to the world’s largest bouncy castle are appealing to the young at heart in Australia.

For all of these, visual appeal is integral to their success. Why? Because pictures, stories and snaps are the ultimate social capital. The quest for likes and followers requires a constant stream of new content, and 72 percent of millennials believe that the picture they post of an experience is as important as the experience itself.

So, embrace it. Give your audience something they can capture and share. After all, if you can be part of their social connection, that’s free (and authentic) advertising for your brand.

Think inside the box (office)

Technology today makes it possible for anyone to create a movement, event or live experience around any topic, passion, curiosity or cause. One prime example is superhero movies: Not only are they breaking box-office records this year, but they’re inspiring passionate fans to throw parties and gatherings of their own.

In the U.S., we’ve seen a wave of unofficial premiere events and screenings—about 1,000 premiere-related events were hosted on Eventbrite’s platform for 2018’s Black Panther. You probably saw #WakandaForever trending in your Twitter feed, or the Wakanda-inspired style that dominated New York Fashion Week.

It’s a lesson for anyone in marketing or advertising, in and out of the events space: Leverage significant cultural moments to bring people together. Figure out what will make your audience feel special. Don’t worry about what they buy: Think about who they want to be and tap into those passion points. Understand the world they want to live in and bring that world to life.

Brian Irving is chief brand officer at event-management and ticketing platform Eventbrite.