Leveraging the Magic of Pop-ups in 2024

By Ray Sheehan, Founder — Old City Media

Savvy advertisers and marketers understand that today’s consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical of brand messaging, with 96 percent believing ads aren’t trustworthy. While it may seem that communicating with customers has become more difficult, companies just need to communicate with them differently.

Pop-up brand activations can help brands reach their target audience in memorable ways that buoy the bottom line. A retailer agrees to host another company’s pop-up booth, while the guest company provides customers with gift cards to that same retailer. In this way, national brands can partner with small businesses in local communities to create positive returns for both enterprises, as well as their consumers.

This is the cutting edge of experiential marketing in 2024, and there’s no reason your business can’t get in on the action.

The advantages of doing pop-ups

The first advantage of these brand activations is that the guest brand gains access to the retailer’s customers. Since they choose retailers to partner with due to their guaranteed consumer traffic and ability to attract the right crowd, doing these pop-ups connects them with the precise people they want to reach.

For instance, my team is launching a major program in the coming year that enables home-improvement professionals to meet homeowners from their surrounding neighborhoods. By holding pop-ups in their local branch of a national big-box retailer, they can connect with people who likely have home-improvement projects in mind. Since this major retailer attracts 8 million shoppers per day, they can maximize their chances of generating new leads.

Hosting a pop-up booth and attracting consumers with free gift cards, swag, snacks, and interactive games opens up the possibility of having conversations about the brand and forging a relationship to create powerful positive feelings in consumers. They may not realize it consciously, but having a past interaction with a brand that elicits emotions of gratitude, such as receiving a gift card or free merchandise, can predispose them toward that same business later. When it comes time for them to place an order or buy a product, they often prefer the business they are already connected with rather than a competitor.

The advantages of hosting pop-ups

The retailer that hosts the pop-ups also wins because the guest brand buys a massive number of gift cards from them and may even pay a short-term lease on the space, which means stores can turn underutilized areas into a big infusion of cash. Just imagine — hosting pop-ups opens up a new revenue stream for retailers without interrupting their business workflow or additional capital expenditures.

At the same time, adding this additional professional staff to the floor, lobby, or area outside the doorway discourages shoplifting. Thieves hate the additional eyeballs, causing them to become paranoid and abandon their plans. Plus, having received a gift card, they might not even have to steal anymore. In this way, hosting pop-ups supports loss prevention efforts.

In addition, retailers that host pop-ups improve their employees’ experience. Just like customers, staff can pick up gift cards or other swag from the pop-up. I always advise guest companies to provide snacks or other presents to the team at the retail location as well, just like people often bring a host or hostess gift to a party.

If that wasn’t enough, these brand activations also create a more intimate and positive shopping experience for consumers.

The advantages of pop-ups for customers

With pop-up marketing activation events, customers win because they get a gift card that automatically reduces the price of their visit to the retailer, and some might even choose to make additional purchases. Chances are they will remember the guest brand that enabled those purchases every time they come across them in their daily lives. The same goes for any swag they pick up from the pop-up booth.

The brand activation might also allow customers to play a fun game, spin a prize wheel, create their own beverage, customize their own personal aromatherapy packet, or engage with a friendly brand ambassador, just a few examples. This allows their shopping experience to become more fun.

How to get in on the action

How much open space do you need for a pop-up? In my experience, 10 square feet or even less. The simplest pop-ups only need a table for marketing materials and a brand ambassador or two. Of course, the larger the space, the more the guest company can do and the more the host company can charge.

Pop-ups like these have already paid millions of dollars to strategic partners, created hundreds of thousands of happy customers, and enabled companies to engage people in an effective and socially responsible way. While it is possible to create these programs on your own, keep in mind that you don’t have to. Agencies with experience designing and implementing these campaigns can relieve you from the additional work while giving you all the benefits.

About the Author

Ray Sheehan is the Founder of Old City Media, a North American event production and experiential marketing agency. He has a background in strategic planning, marketing, event management, and advertising and has helped the company expand from one city in the United States to an international agency. Before this role, Ray partnered with UpcomingEvents.com, a production company in Philadelphia, and worked for 20th Century FOX. He oversaw all aspects of the business and produced a nationally syndicated television show for FOX. In 2020, he launched the G.I.F.T Program as part of Old City Media. Ray is recognized as a leader in the special events space, a marketing guru, and an innovative thinker in the Philadelphia community and beyond. Sheehan has been featured in The Super U Podcast, Medium, Street Fight, and more.