Bring Your Crowd into the Light with an Experiential Activation

At the 2019 Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Gesaffelstein, a French record producer and DJ, stepped onto the stage and disappeared. Well, actually it was his stage that disappeared.

Not in a cheesy, Gob Bluth type of magician kind of way. Gesaffelstein’s stage set contained a giant monolith that was coated in a material known as Vantablack, which is colloquially called “the blackest black.” Originally designed for industrial purposes and the space industry, Vantablack isn’t really paint. It’s a compact coating of carbon nanotubes that continually deflect and trap light until it’s almost entirely absorbed. The monolith has to be moved by a special dolly system because a slight scratch or a greasy finger can hamper the effect.

“You’re used to standing in a completely dark room in the middle of the night, but you’re not used to seeing absolute blackness with a lot of light around it,” Ben Jensen, CTO of Surrey NanoSystems, said to The Verge. “When you see that nothingness with light around it, your mind can be quite confused, and your perception of things like depth is severely challenged.”

Gesaffelstein was also dressed entirely in black. However, because his clothing reflected light, he could be seen in front of the Vantablack backdrop.

This was a performance unlike anything people had seen before, which is a fantastic experience to give to a crowd.

Granted, it doesn’t entirely count as an experiential marketing tactic (although you certainly can count Gesaffelstein’s image as his “brand,” but then we’re falling down a rabbit hole within a rabbit hole, so let’s just step over it). This performance is proof that there are still many innovative ideas available for brands to wow and engage their audiences.

In fact, if you’re looking for a specific EDM example of experiential marketing, that actually happened a few months earlier at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival. There, about mid-way through day one, a person in a large deadmau5-esque Colonel Sanders helmet walked on the main stage and performed a five-minute KFC-themed EDM set.

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Photo Credit: Consequence of Sound

It was not well received.

Look, the KFC team tried something new – and they should not be faulted for taking a big swing. It’s not that the idea was bad, it was cheesy. It was meant to be cheesy. It was a joke. But this audience was never going to appreciate the joke. Why would this crowd, who paid a significant chunk of money to listen to the EDM music they like, want to hear a subpar performance by Colonel Sanders as an ersatz Marshmallow? They wouldn’t. That was always the problem with this activation, not fully understanding the crowd they were trying to reach.

So, where could this idea work? What about a children’s festival with parents in attendance? The older crowd would get the joke, and maybe even appreciate the change of pace. The kids would laugh at the goofy mask, and possibly dance to the tunes. Then, when the festival is over, everyone could grab a bucket of chicken on the way home.

Once you understand your audience, it becomes easier to come up with fun and innovative ways to engage them – because you know what they want. Start with understanding your audience, then see if any of the following ideas would fit with your crowd.

Themed Destinations

Providing new experiences is the heart of experiential marketing. Part of that opportunity is taking attendees places they have never been before – both emotionally and physically.

For example, even people who live in the Hollywood area likely did not know that there was an actual castle (with a drawbridge and everything) in the Hollywood Hills.

The discovery of this location was just one of the opportunities that Elex, the developer of the popular mobile game Clash of Kings, provided attendees of their Savage Siege event. Elex wanted to hold the event, a celebration of the game’s third anniversary, in a setting that fit with the Clash of Kings’ medieval theme. Visitors were able to easily find the out-of-the-way venue because the hosts provided a shuttle service, and several runner vans were used to transport equipment and supplies.

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Once at the event, attendees could enjoy a Clash of Kings tournament, several stage fights presented by members of the Armored Combat League, a court jester who circulated through the crowd, and a popular local D.J. who kept guests dancing into the night. The Armored Combat League also performed at the celebration of the tournament’s winner by performing a skit then presentation the champion with a dragon’s head.

Take your attendees on a journey to create an experience they will remember.

Custom Interactive Elements

Including interactive elements in experiential activations can really help to draw people into the event and create a positive brand impression.

For example, to celebrate the fans and players that helped to make League of Legends such a  successful game, developer Riot Games created The Riftwalk. The event was an immersive experience that took fans through a physical simulation of the Summoner’s Rift, League of Legends’ main battleground map. The path included several photo opportunities, such as:

  • A 180-degree, “bullet-time” video featuring a 14.5-foot sculpture of Baron Nashor, a villain in the game.

  • An animated GIF where visitors could choose from a variety of weapons to use as props.

  • A 13-foot puppet of Thresh (a playable character) where forced perspective made fans appear as if they were inside Thresh’s signature lantern.

  • A slow-motion video.

An attendee’s progress was tracked with an RFID wristband that also connected him or her to each of these photo ops, and the final product was edited together and sent to each attendee’s email. The RFID wristbands also triggered monitors in each station of the exhibit, presented content related to the attendee's preregistered information, and enabled fans to share their experiences on social media easily.

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Projection Mapping

At the Perot Museum, there’s an area where visitors can pour sand on a table, and an overlay reacts in real time with topographic images. The overlay helps to transform the simple sand piles into mountains and valleys. It’s an impressive effect, and it’s achieved through projection mapping.

Projection mapping is when video is shown on surfaces to create an illusion. Projection mapping can be small, like the table, or large, such as onto a building’s exterior.

For example, in 2012, projection mapping was used to make the iconic sail shapes of the Sydney Opera House’s rippling and swirl. The tiles moved and changed colors while people danced across the roof.

That same year, projection mapping helped bring the façade of Antoni Gaudi’s exemplary cathedral La Sagrada Familia to life. Construction began on the church in 1882, and it combines a variety of art styles including Gothic and Art Nouveau. The video added splashes of color and movement to the Sagrada Familia’s façade.

Experiential marketing is all about conveying the feeling of your products and services to an audience. In fact,  your merchandise doesn’t necessarily need to be present. Consumers want to be engaged, and when executed correctly, experiential activations creates active participants instead of consumers who are merely cogs in a marketing machine.

For some additional thoughts on experiential campaigns and for help engaging your crowd, give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9433.

TTG Marketing