Experiential Fun With Food

There’s a lie that people have been telling for a long time. A devastating, pernicious lie. A lie that betrays youth and deeply detracts from the happiness of adults.

That it’s wrong to play with your food.

After much internal debating, we at MAG have decided to come clean, and tell the world the truth about playing with your food. That it’s fun. That it’s delicious. And that people will love you for letting them do it.

So the next time you’re cooking up an experiential marketing event, consider these ten ways of reminding people that food was meant to be fun.

The delicious s'mores evoked memories of summer camp, with each served hot and made to order.

1. Play Gourmet

The elevation of simple foods to the realm of gourmet is always a great way to surprise and delight. For example, when USA Network asked us to promote the launch of their first competitive reality series, Summer Camp, we knew we’d have to find a yummy way to bridge the gap between adulthood and childhood. So we turned our favorite camping cuisine — s’mores — gourmet. That meant caramel-glazed marshmallow and cocoa spread wedged between warm gram crackers and served small plate style. Man, that was a good day.

2. Pun Like Crazy

Get out your thesaurus and rhyming dictionary. Or just study up on homonyms. Quality punning is essential for blending bites with brands. And it makes eating all the more fun, because you’re not just eating food — you’re eating an idea. Like when we asked Silicon Valley tech engineers to enjoy some poached eggs, leave their jobs, and sign on with Bigcommerce.

3. Check the Calendar

We have deeply-set associations between foods and times of year. But when people are feeding themselves, they don’t often have the opportunity to play with those associations. So we recommend that you do what we do: take those seasonal expectations and turn them up to eleven. Like when we traveled a massive gingerbread house around town for ION Television. This holiday season activation featured 54 pounds of brown sugar, 30 pounds of shredded coconut, and 15 pounds of icing. Not to mention the enormous gummy bears.

4. Speaking of Enormous

Always remember that as much as people love food, what they love even more is really, really big food. We can say that with confidence, based on our experience serving a massive wedding cake in Times Square to promote the second season of WeTV’s Bridezillas.

Brand Ambassadors dressed as modern "milk men" while serving milk and cookie shots and assisting employees with filling their cookie bags.

5. Long Forgotten Flavors

A little nostalgia goes a long way in this business. And if you can find a clever new twist on tastes from the past, well, that’s the sweet spot. We can tell you we sure had a delectable time promoting 20th Television during the 2015 upfronts, when our 50’s-style milk men and women delivered milk-and-cookie shots to agency staff.

6. Dressed Down Dining

Come to think of it, 20th Television really has inspired some of our yummiest work. For another upfront season, we brought a buffet dining experience directly to agencies. But we ditched all of the usual buffet fare and replaced it with candy. Lots and lots of candy. Undermining traditional dining expectations has always served us well. So next time, you’re looking for a way to catch consumers by surprise, consider turning a meal on its head. And loading it up with sugar.

7. Make Them Work For It

There’s something tastier about earned deliciousness. That’s why we recommend giving consumers the opportunity to win their food. That was the philosophy that motivated us to install smoothie bikes in agencies during NBC’s Green Is Universal initiative. Executives jumped at the chance to hop on our bikes and blend their own pedal-powered smoothies.

8. Color-Coded Cuisine

Never forget that way the food looks matters just as much as the way it tastes. Color-coordinated foods offer a must-seize opportunity to draw the eye and reiterate the client’s branding. That’s why the gourmet popcorn arrangement in our MasterChef Junior mailers was carefully color-coded orange, white, and chocolate brown. That’s true brand cohesion — from kit to kernel.

9. Play the Theme

Put all of these suggestions together and you’ll have the secret of playing with food: theme. The best way to fuse fun and yum in your experiential marketing campaign is to combine form and flavor in support of a single idea. Like when we activated on behalf of USA Network’s Sirens. Our ambulance-style food truck made “emergency stops” in New York, Chicago, and Detroit, where EMT Brand Ambassadors treated consumers to a… hearty menu entitled, “How To End Up In An Ambulance.”

10. Remember Our Best Friends

Finally, we can’t claim to be real radicals without recognizing that humans aren’t the only ones who deserve to play with their food. Dogs deserve to have fun too. That’s why we teamed up with Rachael Ray to serve her Nutrish animal food at a bespoke bar for dogs.

So the next time you’re serving food at an activation, remember to fly in the face of the established order and play with your food. And invite your pets to do the same.

The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to get creative with the cuisine at your next activation.

Case Study Spotlight: NBC Boston Treat Truck

We raised awareness for NBC Boston’s owned & operated channel, which launched January 1st, 2017.

  • Produced a NBC Boston Treat Truck, serving complimentary beverages and snacks to consumers, in December of 2016 and, again, in March of 2017
  • Activated in December at (8) locations over the course of (6) days, including Boston’s New Year’s Eve event, First Night
  • Returned in March over (2) weekends, targeting St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Boston Metro area, Portsmouth, NH, as well as popular ski destinations across Massachusetts
  • Assisted with onsite logistics to bring NBC Boston on-air talent to the truck each day, allowing them to interact with consumers onsite
The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to see more case studies and discover our full scope of capabilities.

Building a Brainstorm Part One: Researching an RFP

Welcome to our three part series on pitch ideation. During this trilogy, we’ll walk through the ways in which experiential marketers can work as a team to cook up inventive solutions to client challenges. Later on, we’ll explore techniques for brainstorming, but before we get to that, we’ll begin with the prep. Here are our top 10 steps for researching an incoming RFP.

1. Use It or Lose It

This strategy is listed as number one for a reason. There’s simply no better way for wrapping your head around a new brief than to use the product in question. Reading about it isn’t enough; we want to play with it, watch it, listen to it, eat it — whatever the client’s recommended means of consumption.

Actually using the thing is a great way to springboard your understanding of why this product exists and what consumers are going to love about it. It might also inspire insights into how consumers will interact with the product on site at your activation. So it’s especially important to focus on the details. What does using the product make you feel? What makes it memorable?

For a new album, you might take note of catchy lyrics. For a TV show, you might want to track character quirks and recurring locations, props, and activities. When handling a physical object, what’s simple and delightful about using it? When handling an app, observe the layout, the experience flow, the color scheme, the functionalities — all the small details that make this app dynamic and unique.

2. Stare At the Target Till You Go Cross-Eyed

Once you know what you’re selling, you’ve got find out who’s going to be buying. Some RFPs will include elaborate sections profiling their targets and giving them cool names — most will focus on age, sex, ethnicity, region, and income. It’s your responsibility to do the detective work of finding out what makes your target tick.

As detective work goes, this can be a walk in the park — sometimes literally. You don’t need to hunt down and stalk your targets; they’re all around you. They’re your parents, your siblings, your children, your spouse, your neighbors, coworkers, or bosses. They’re the people who grab the Corn Puffs while you grab the Cheerios, the people who steal your parking spots, who serve you lunch, who — you get the point.

If people-watching isn’t your thing, get online and read what they read — or what they write. You’re not only looking for their opinions about your product here; you’re also looking to discover what sorts of movies they watch, cars they drive, and politics they align with.

The better you understand them, the better you’ll be able to sell to them.

3. Nerd Out

Having gotten a tight closeup on the product, it’s time to pull back and get a wide view of what this is all about. What is the product’s context — what’s the history behind it, the ecosystem in which it exists? What does Wikipedia have to say? What are the terms of art?

Developing a broader understanding of the field will not only help you to better appreciate the product’s purpose, but it will also elevate your interactions with your client and targets. Because you’ll know the history and speak the lingo.

4. Size Up the Other Guys

Now that you know what you’re talking about, it’s time to learn about the other major players. The goal here is to discover the client’s positioning — why this product exists, what sets it apart, and why consumers ought to choose this product instead of another. It’s important to get a sense of both the competitors’ strengths and their weaknesses, so that you can hone in on what to play down, what to play up, where to defend, and where to attack.

Competitor websites, literature, and ads are great for this stage of competitive analysis, and so are articles and reviews that articulate consumer perspectives.

5. Keep Up With the Joneses

The competitive research you’ve just done was about your client’s competition. Now it’s time to find out about your competition. What sort of activations or stunts have the other brands in this space pulled off? You’ll need to understand what those other experiential marketers were doing if you want to put them all to shame.

You’ll also want to tune into the things that have worked in the past, so that you can use your competitors’ discoveries as your starting point. This is especially true if you’re planning to exhibit at an annual convention where there will be plenty of data on what previous brands have done to break through the noise.

This is a great time to start a romance with Google. Photos, sizzles, feature articles — these things will all help you better understand what you’re up against.

6. Prepare for Life Undercover

Part of understanding your client’s positioning is understanding their voice. What kind of copy do they use — is their language flashy and set in sans serif or do they prefer a conservative tone and a Roman font? Are their ads composed of a few long takes or do shots cut quickly? What are their brand colors and what do those colors communicate? Does the brand emphasize youthful innovation or mature reliability?

The deeper you wade in, the better a job you’ll do speaking for and even to the brand. On the receiving end, your client may feel most comfortable with a proposal that looks and sounds like it was written by one of their own. Alternatively, if the RFP’s indicated that the client would like to make a dramatic shift, then it’s important to have a deep understanding of what it is they’re trying to distance themselves from.

7. Analyze the Types

While experiential marketing is a growing field that attracts new brands every day, for many of your clients, this will not be their first at-bat. So before you lead them back onto the field, it’s good to get into some post-game strategic analysis: how has this brand activated before? What’s worked and what hasn’t? What sorts of activations do they like? Maybe they lean toward digital activations, immersive engagements, or stop-and-stare stunts. Maybe they like to get cute or maybe they like to play things edgy. Do they put a premium on hired talent? Do they go mobile?

Just as with Step 4, this process will allow you to get smart about what previous strategies you’re rejecting and what you’re utilizing. You can recycle and reshape what worked; diagnose and treat what hasn’t.

8. Give ‘Em the Third Degree

By now you’ve got a good a great sense of what this product is all about. But we’ve been working in the realm of theory and, as we know, experiential is all about getting hands-on. A great deal of good can come out of real life engagements. That’s why we recommend that you interview fans, users, or experts. Your goal here won’t be to gather large data sets, but rather to glean a few individual perspectives.

Talking to real life targets and specialists can often reveal important information or demonstrate that the things you thought were important aren’t really.

Advertising a TV show? You might know the plot, but real fans often reveal surprising favorite characters and reminisce about particular moments. They can also tell you why they’ve stopped watching or what keeps them coming back.

The same goes for techies, pet owners, world travelers, and sneakerheads. A short conversation can offer insight into what sort of event could make their weekend, what sort of premiums they’d value most, or what they need to hear from a new brand before converting.

Again, you don’t have to reach out into the ether to have these conversations — just call up a friend or family member who fits the demographic.

9. Don’t Draw A Big Picture – Draw Five

You’re swimming in knowledge now, so it’s time to sift, sort, and compartmentalize. Take some time with a whiteboard, flashcards, or post-its to start identifying patterns and themes. It’s a rare product that only has one way in. After all this research you’ve probably got a wide variety of angles to work from.

Consider what you’ve learned about the brand from interviews and articles, and what the brand says about itself. Consider the context and history around the product, and the qualities that set this one apart from others. What you love about it, what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t. And use that information to identify and label discrete ideas and questions.

All told, you should start seeing a few different directions in which to head. In future installments, we’ll see how this categorizing of information will make for great brainstorm facilitation.

10. Buy a Poncho

Of course the final step to wrapping your head around a brief is to bring in the team. So warn the office that a storm’s coming!

Next month, we’ll get into the details of how to make that brainstorm a successful one — from filling the room to briefing it. And later we’ll cover our top 10 rules for inspiring top-flight ideas. Stay tuned!

The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to chat about brainstorming ideas for your next experiential campaign.

Diving Into Data: Making Experiential Marketing Count

As important as it is to knock the socks off consumers, it’s all the more important to knock the socks off your clients. And the quickest way to your client’s socks is often with the delivery of data. Today we’re going to explore the five reasons why your experiential marketing event needs data collection and the five best ways to pull it off.

Why Collect Data?

Tangible ROI
We’ve been in this business a long time, which means that we’ve had the opportunity to witness firsthand the awesome power of experiential marketing — again and again and again. There’s no substitute for creating face-to-face relationships with consumers, for turning the brand-curious into brand-evangelists. Still, it helps to have something tangible to show for ourselves — hardcopy that proves the value of our work. That’s where consumer data comes in.

Lead Generation
Clients love data because data means leads. No matter what your client’s vertical, the one thing we know for sure is that they’re in the business of selling something. Whether it’s a product, a service, or even an ideology — they need consumers to buy in. Handing over leads for future sales is the number one way to show your client that you have their best interests at heart.

Social Media Influence
The other great thing about delivering data to your client is that it empowers them to grow their social influence. It’s important to collect data that enables brands and attendees to connect online and continue the conversation. Followers and friends don’t only make your client’s brand look good, but they also snowball to improve every facet of your client’s business. Whether the brand’s next post is a product launch, a press release, or a call to action, the data that you deliver will ensure that it’s seen, liked, and reblogged more than ever before.

Event Feedback
The clients aren’t the only ones who benefit from data; play your cards right and you could be getting some helpful feedback as well. The expense and magnitude of our work means that we don’t have the luxury of product testing or quizzing focus groups. Unless we’re activating across multiple markets on different dates, we only get one shot. That’s why it’s so important to learn from each event so that —when sixteen years rolls around (happy birthday to us) — you really know what you’re doing. Collecting data provides the opportunity to pose a few well-chosen questions to event attendees that will help you better understand what worked and what can be even better.

Future Event Audiences
If all goes well, this event will be one of many on which you and your client collaborate. Which makes it all the more important to grow your audience for future activations. Collecting data from this event’s happy customers empowers you to deliver a larger audience the next time around.

How to Collect Data

With Giveaways
Nothing’s free — not for you and not for the consumer. If you want the consumer’s data, you’ve got to make it worth their while. That’s why the most effective data collection strategies are the ones that offer cool stuff in return. Consumers can hand over their information in exchange for quality premiums and downloadable content. Promising the delivery of coupons is an especially great strategy because it provides the consumer with value and also increases the likelihood of future sales. Or, if you’re of the go-big-or-go-cry-in-a-corner school of thought, then you can always take the raffle route: enter data-sharing consumers into a sweepstakes to win a car, a trip, or a small Caribbean island.

As Registration
Here’s another way to frame the give-something-to-get-something approach: consumers can share their data in exchange for the opportunity to experience your event. Ask invited guests to RSVP on a dedicated lander or have walk-ins sign in with a cheerful brand ambassador.

Nobody really wants to hand over their data, and, in a technological environment where so many transactions are instantaneous, consumers are going to be doubly impatient with long questionnaires and inefficient entry interfaces. That’s why it’s important to invest money in quality data collection apps and to invest time in perfecting your ask. Determine which data is most valuable and how you can acquire it with the fewest possible inquiries.

Via Social
One way to cut down on the time it takes to hand over data is to keep things simple with social media engagement. Consumers can follow the brand on Twitter or like them on Facebook in exchange for your value add — whatever that is. You can always follow up on social after the event with digital sweepstakes or giveaways in exchange for a more comprehensive data share. What’s great about this strategy is that you can harness it to amplify your event: for instance, ask consumers to share branded photo booth pics on social. Now you’ve got data and reach.

With Surveys
Finally, it’s important not to underestimate how much people love to give you their opinions and how valuable those opinions can be to both you and your client. That’s why it’s worth considering collecting data after the event as part of a survey. In addition to generating leads, you can deliver scarce, valuable product feedback to your client while also conducting an internal review of how your event faired.

The power of data collection is not to be underestimated — it’s good for you, it’s good for your client, and it’s great for your relationship. So we’re going to keep exploring it in the weeks to come. Be sure to stay tuned for our upcoming article on the best apps for getting to know your target.

The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to chat about capitalizing on data collection at your next event.

Case Study Spotlight: Ringling Bros. Presents Out Of This World Final Farewell

We created social media vignettes to promote the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ show, Out of This World.

  • Developed, scripted & produced several different storylines filmed with show talent to showcase the local New York City show dates
  • Fashioned storyboards which included sightseeing in NYC, spectating a Brooklyn Nets and a New Jersey Devils game, attending a yoga class and stopping by iconic eateries
  • Coordinated all shoot logistics and talent management
  • Secured permission and appropriate waivers for all venues with restaurants including Nathan’s in Coney Island, Katz’s Delicatessen, Stromboli Pizza and Doughnut Plant
  • Edited eight final videos which were pushed to all of Ringling Bros. social platforms
The michael alan group is a full-service experiential marketing agency & event production company. Check out our work and our team, and drop us a line to see more case studies and discover our full scope of capabilities.