The Rise of Instagram Pop-Up Experiences, How the Best Brands Do It

Woman taking a selfie

By Karen Tang

When it comes to bringing customers unique personalized products and services companies are taking this one step further in transforming their brands into lived experiences. Particularly, experiences that are “Instagramable”. We now live in the world of the ever-popular Instagram “museum” such as the Museum of Ice Cream which debuted in 2016 in New York.  The Museum of Ice Cream is an interactive space featuring colourful rooms, a pool filled with sprinkles and ice cream samples for visitors. The venue has sold out in New York, Miami and San Francisco.  The Museum of Ice Cream’s creativity won it a Webby award in 2018 for the best overall social presence.

Consumers, especially millennials are seeking out experiences tailored that look good on an Instagram feed. Companies such as Coach, American Express, and Essence have taken a lead in this space. These three wildly different companies have been able to successfully create an intersection between the online and offline world, curating a memorable and impressionable experience for their customers.

1. Coach launched their version of the interactive pop-up with a 6-day event in SoHo, New York.   Called Life Coach this was Coach’s first brand activation outside of one of its stores or runway shows.  There were four interactive rooms each with its own aesthetic that featured blank walls that visitors could draw on, tarot card readings as well as carnival games. One of the Instagram worthy rooms looked like a day at Coney Island.  The exhibit was inspired by New York the city where Coach was founded in 1941 and no products were on sale. Speaking about the event Coach’s Chief Marketing Officer said "we deliberately wanted to create a new environment and not have the limitations of a pre-designed retail space.”  That way, guests “could roam throughout the spaces and be on a discovery mission and explore”.  The goal? “That every single person that walked through it had a very unique experience and walked out of there with a sense of what Coach was about."

This move was meant to target the brand’s aesthetic of a younger demographic. Coach’s CEO Jack Bedwani explained that “Coach could be seen as a multi-dimensional brand and we could tap into the multi-dimensional values of young people. In today's world, that means providing an experience that makes us feel something, and compels people to share. … It's not about pushing brand images down people's throats.” The event itself hit capacity after its second day, and reached a total 5,500 attendees, making it one of the best performing campaigns for the brand.   

2. For American Express, its pop-up experience took place in Toronto to show consumers how the brand is able to impact their daily lives.  The idea for this event was based on a new platform for the brand called “Powerful Backing: Don’t Live Life/ Don’t Do Business Without It”. This platform was developed after a study commissioned by American Express found that 57% of people find that their work and personal lives intertwine.  The purpose of the new platform was to “celebrate this new reality, that life and business are really interconnected and the unique role that American Express plays in helping support people today”.  

As part of the campaign launch in Toronto, American Express created a 12,000 sq. ft pop up installation designed by 11 local artists that focused on travel, adventure and art.  The 11-day Instagram worthy experience titled “Powerful Backing: Don’t Live Life/ Don’t Do Business Without It” resulted in 5,000 total attendees, and reached 17.3 million impressions on social media. The Vice President of advertising and communications at American Express Canada, David Barnes, chalked this up as being a necessary move for the company, stating “to maintain a competitive edge, brands must focus on creating unforgettable experiences. It’s also about meeting your customer where they already are, online or in person, and giving them the choice when it comes to how they interact with your brand.” The company ultimately was able to successfully meet people where, as Barnes noted, “life and business intersect”. 

3. Finally, Essence magazine and Toyota created a pop-up in New York titled “Sensory Wonderland”. The concept focused on an African-American audience, deemed an ‘Afrofuturistic experience’ made perfect for the Instagram platform. It featured live performers and mazes of unique rooms centred around Toyota Camry’s campaign words of: “Hunger”, “Lust”, “Throb”, “Boom”, “Pulse”, and “Drool”. The magazine’s Director of Live Events and Experiential, Jovanca Maitland noted that the goal of this one-day event was “to increase impressions but to also be buzzy in this space”, generating 11.25 million impressions online. 

There may not be an obvious similarity between a luxury accessories brand, a financial service corporation, or a magazine. Yet they each share a very clear common virtue, creating a unique experience that exists in a temporary space offline and can live permanently online. As Bedwani puts it, we are in a “image economy” age that is impacting a multitude of creative disciplines. “It's not just how guests will enjoy the space—it’s about how they will share it.”

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