As event marketing regains its momentum post-pandemic, we’ve pulled together this short list of what marketers need to know when planning their event strategy in 2023 and beyond.
1. Event marketing is still somewhat down from pre-pandemic levels
Event marketing has been a central element of many marketers’ strategies for ages (e.g., think of state and county fairs as an early form of event marketing dating back to the 1800s in the U.S.). And after a couple of turbulent years during the height of the pandemic that threw all sorts of events into disarray, brands have been re-embracing the channel with gusto.
According to a report released by PQ Media in late 2022, global consumer experiential marketing — which the research firm defines to include both event sponsorship and live event marketing — grew 8.2% in 2021 to $67.63 billion, following a COVID-related plunge of 25.7% in 2020. PQ Media also noted that global experiential marketing was on pace to have grown 11.1% (to $75.16 billion) across 2022, though the firm cautioned that “consumer experiential marketing won’t reach pre-pandemic spend levels until 2024.”
2. Your definition of event marketing may vary
Event marketing is a wide and, at times, complicated spectrum. With certain major events, simply advertising during a tentpole telecast can give a brand a halo effect — and bragging rights (“Did you see our Oscar ad?”). The difference between an advertiser and an “official sponsor” may or may not be lost on your average consumer. (It helps, of course, if you get to work your brand right into the event name. See, for instance, this year’s Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show.)
An on-the-ground presence (think booths, activations, giveaways — IRL or virtual) can give event marketing more of an experiential spin. And then, of course, tons of brands tie into (and even create) holidays that mesh with their brand message/purpose.
3. Amid rising costs, marketers need to carefully define objectives and anticipated ROI
The Super Bowl may be the marketing world’s biggest event of the year, but only about 50 brands take the national stage during the Big Game — along with a few hundred more that air their Super Bowl commercials regionally.
Whether a marketer wrote a check for $7 million (this year’s national going rate for 30 seconds) or $7,000 (which is what Dogfish Head Beer reportedly spent to put its Big Game :30 on TVs in the Delmarva Peninsula area of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia), a Super Bowl commercial encapsulates all of the challenges attendant to any sort of event or event-related marketing. Starting with the big question: Is it worth it?
The rising cost of Super Bowl ads is an extreme example (in 2022, a 30-second spot went for $6.5 million, and a year before that it was “just” $5.5 million), but it’s emblematic of the increasingly urgent need for marketers to carefully delineate projected event-marketing ROI, whether engaging in advertising, formal sponsorships or on-site activations.
4. The crowds are back
Attendance at live events has largely recovered and nearly two-thirds of brands say they’re now back to executing the same number of event activations, if not more, than they did pre-pandemic (in 2019), according to Event Marketer’s recent Experiential Intelligence Report.
For instance, at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Acura — a 13-year-sponsor — deployed what Ad Age called “its largest presence yet … with two venues, a bevy of film partnerships and panels, and the unveiling of a new campaign supporting the automotive brand’s new electric vehicles.”
5. Be prepared to pivot
The Tokyo Olympics, the Met Gala, South by Southwest and E3 are just a handful of the hundreds of major global events, tournaments and conferences that were postponed or canceled amid the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. Organizers and brands initially caught off guard nearly three years ago quickly learned that contingency plans, even for the most outlandish scenarios, are now a must.
To be fully prepared, event marketers should always have a few aces up their sleeves: Think about an alternate venue or be ready to transition to a virtual space should an original location suddenly become unavailable. And plan how you might communicate any so-called “pivots” to affected customers and partners.
Marketers should also be prepared to change plans that seemed like sure bets. Budweiser had to do just that during the recent FIFA World Cup, when the AB InBev flagship brand was blindsided by host nation Qatar’s decision to ban alcohol sales in its stadiums just two days before kick-off, potentially upending its $75 million World Cup sponsorship deal, as Fortune reported.
But while some AB InBev on-the-ground activations could not move forward, the company moved swiftly (and creatively) to deal with its ocean of surplus beer — announcing that it’d be shipped to whichever country won the soccer tournament, adding in a statement that it would have more details “when we get closer to the finals” in a bid to buy time to hammer out the logistics. After Argentina defeated France in the Qatar 2022 final, Bud made good on its promise and sent free beer to Buenos Aires — a high-profile giveaway that became a form of event marketing in and of itself.
6. Ingenuity goes a long way when it comes to event marketing
In 2013, when social media was in its relative infancy, Oreo successfully one-upped just about every brand that had actually shelled out millions for Super Bowl airtime, thanks to its savvy social team. The team capitalized on a half-hour power failure at the Superdome in New Orleans with a simple illustrated tweet captioned “You can still dunk in the dark.” Looking back, the tweet and its responses feel very 2013 internet, but as Wired reported, the copywriters and artists who were on standby let the cookie brand take advantage of the cultural moment in real time — a move that plenty of marketers have added to their playbook in the years since.
Brands also don’t have to wait around to spend on an event that only sort of fits their objectives. From National Pancake Day (IHOP, circa 2006) to Small Business Saturday (American Express, circa 2010), there are plenty of brand-driven events/activations that, in some cases, have become enshrined in the U.S. media/pop-cultural calendar. With the right creative approach, there’s little to stop your invented occasion from gaining traction and becoming an annual tradition, giving your brand — and, in theory, your competitors in the same vertical — one more yearly event to rally around.