Nine Experiential Predictions for 2019
1. AOR’s Land Grab- Every passing year, a handful of select marketers are contracting with an experiential “agency-of-record.” Up until now, AOR status was assigned primarily to creative ad agencies, media agencies, PR firms, and digital agencies. Ad agencies winning account AOR status continues to dominate the advertising trades and feeds as “news.” But now experiential joins the fray as it matures as a business. Large shops which have an experiential division are lobbying to be named as AOR with clients in order to lock up the account. This could mean a major shift in the experiential landscape as, currently, the space is dominated by smaller players (like my own shop) who service a large number of marketers without AOR walls blocking our path. If Experiential AOR momentum builds, be ready for some nasty fights.
2. D-2-Could Be an Experiential Goldmine- Everlane, Casper, Warby Parker & many more direct-to-consumer businesses have thrown traditional and e-commerce forecasting for a loop. In 2019, look for these types of players to turn to experiential to promote their businesses. They are flush with cash and in a major rush to get word out to consumers. Sure, they will rely on generic media to a large degree but these disrupters will find themselves investing in experiential marketing in big ways. D-to-C doesn’t need passive, forgettable “impressions.” What they seek is true consumer engagement with their business plus a major presence at key industry and cultural happenings. I foresee major spending and you just need to look at SXSW, Comic Con, and the like for the proof.
3. Retail Goes Super Experiential- I lived in in SoHo for years. And as luxury brands took over the neighborhood I used to wonder “do they really sell enough of this stuff to pay this rent?” I learned the answer was “sometimes yes but usually no.” Big brands will take a loss on a high-profile retail location if it helps with PR, profile, marketing, etc. Well, get ready for the next level of retail loss with advent of super experiential stores. Nike’s new flagship “House of Innovation” on 5th Avenue will not make money, directly, but it is the true sign of retailers embracing super experiential to wow consumers. Luxury brands already think this way but I’m expecting retail, as a wide sector, to try to create cultural destinations, not just stores.
4 Sports, Sports, Sports- You can take all the most popular sitcoms and the streamed shows and the heart-tugging dramas, stack them as high as you can, and they still will look like a little duck swimming around with the mammoth shark known as live sports. If you search “top shows 2018,” you will get various results but a lot of mentions of conventional TV programs like Big Bang Theory, Roseanne, etc. Instead, search “top broadcasts 2018.” Then you will get a very different view of the TV landscape—a much better indicator of appointment viewing and cultural moments. Of the Top 50 broadcasts of 2018, 44 were sports! And of the Top 100, sports counted for 86! Love it or hate it, we are a nation obsessed with sports. For the past 3 years I have been predicting sports will be a dominant force in the coming year, and I see no reason to back off that theory yet again. How it will impact experiential marketing? That’s easy—each and every major sporting event has a large advertiser/sponsor village and fan engagements now at the stadiums and arenas. You ever been to a Super Bowl city the week before the game? It’s basically one massive experiential marketing festival. Get ready for even more this year.
5. Innovation Teams Feel Pressure- Like the infamous CMO, Innovation Teams are a new thing that didn’t exist back in the day. Once the honeymoon period is over (which is about now), pressure sets in to produce because they are sitting on the P&L as a major cost bucket. So while the explosion of Innovation Teams has already happened, now they are tasked with justifying their existence to the CFO’s and cost-cutting teams. While I love the formation of these teams, I fear they will get squeezed if they don’t prove they can help move the needle. Good luck with that once the internal champion has moved along.
6. Silicon Valley Stops Copying Hollywood- It is no secret that, for years, smart Ivy League grads have been washing up on the shores of Los Angeles to play the Hollywood game. Following that movement was the Silicon Valley tech push into LaLa Land. But now with the explosion of capital and content from Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, etc. comes a new turn: a pivot away from Hollywood business modeling. And that means new ways to promote these endless new streams of film and programming. Cinema has the history but small screen players have all the momentum. As they rewire conventional consumer media behavior, they will also cause serious change in how to market themselves. Generic TV ads showing a trailer for the big summer blockbuster is no longer a sure play. Thankfully. Be on the lookout for new promo tactics from the new entertainment powerhouses.
7. Influencers Come Offline- One can debate the value of “influencers” forever. Trying to peg “hyper influencers” as a trend isn’t much of a reach. But influencers are a major segment of the social/digital marketing landscape. This year, I wonder if their influence can go the next level. Can they move beyond just being online? If I were paying, say, 100 influencers for my brand, I’d want to explore if they would make appearances for me at conferences and other events. Will the online power generate real heat offline? Perhaps. And perhaps influencers will embrace new roles as talent beyond likes and followers. If they were smart, they would realize they would command far more to make appearances as musicians learned years ago once they learned it’s very hard to make money from record sales.
8. Bursting Beyond The Convention Floor- Even the biggest and the best of conventions have a hard time containing their sponsoring brands. Marketers are increasingly seeking to create over-the-top experiences that the main convention spaces cannot accommodate. Plus they want to stand apart from the clutter. For example, at CES in 2019, Facebook & Instagram set up shop at the Wynn, forgoing the main showroom floors. As the big spenders (think HBO during SXSW) stage massive experiential productions that take crowds away from the main tradeshow floor, look for the event organizers to struggle with how to corral these activations. Also look for very creative use of space nearby but outside of the main convention space as marketers feel constrained by their generic 20’x20’ booth allocation.
9. On-Location Model Multiplies- It’s no news that consumers seek experiences these days. And it’s no news that the NFL’s On-Location business unit is booming as it packages up properties like Super Bowl into massive offerings sold to consumers who want the ultimate football experience. While these “experiences” are incredibly expensive and surely bought by many companies just like luxury boxes, they offer fortunate guests far more than just a ticket to the big game along with access to some random food. ESPN’s X-Games now sells backstage passes to meet performers like the Chainsmokers, sit alongside talent in the VIP booth, and fast-pass access to the grounds. I expect the “VIP package” concept to explode in 2019 as each and every property from festivals to sporting events to conventions realize they need to offer bigger/better/bolder experiences to those who are willing to pay. And they will charge a lot of $$$ for it. For super-fans, though, the special access and memories are worth it.
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