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At a time when brands and businesses are capable of going bigger, better and more elaborate, it’s easy to lose the core tenets of experiential marketing—that guiding principle of interaction that’s less “look at us” and more “let’s do this together.” The most successful branding exercises don’t rely on passive audiences to absorb their messages. Instead, they create experiences and facilitate conversations through hands-on, personal moments that encourage audiences to actively participate with the brand. No longer just one facet of marketing plans, experiential campaigns and activations are big business—driving the strategy of everything from pop-ups to global conferences. And more often, experiential marketing isn’t just consigned to consumer campaigns. Business-to-business events have fully embraced the movement, finding new ways to showcase their products in unique and memorable ways. “A decade ago, a lot of the campaigns and conferences were very structured and familiar,” says Rick Cosgrove, executive creative director at Agency EA, a full-service brand experience agency. “Now, there’s a lot more choice and customization. Companies have moved away from the one-size-fits-all format and begun to focus on creating shareable moments within the context of a larger campaign.” This move toward personalization has fostered an atmosphere of inclusion, as brands attempt to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds. It’s led to more choice for audiences and attendees, who have the opportunity to engage with projects on a personal level and glean their own distinct takeaways. And its results can be felt beyond traditional metrics. Where once success was measured by event attendance or campaign clicks, now brands are finding that the best projects can live on long after their execution date. “Everyone talks about creating content worth sharing and finding that Instagram moment,” says Cosgrove. “The reality is that people want to experience something they can capture in a photo and share with their friends—and it’s up to marketers to create those environments and those moments that are worth sharing.” Here are the top experiential moments of the past year. Nominees were selected by Ad Age Studio 30 in partnership with Agency EA and voted on by a panel of judges. Given the wide variety of activations and events, the winners are not ranked. Click here to download Agency EA's 2019 Experiential Marketing Trend Report. Download Agency EA's Trend Report

Adidas 'Billie Jean King Your Shoes'

Dates: August 27, 2018
Location: U.S. Open, Queens

Billie Jean King won 36 Grand Slam titles during her dominant run on the tennis court, but her influence extends well beyond the chalk lines. As part of Adidas’ "Here to Create Change" platform, the brand and TBWA/Chiat/Day New York teamed up with King during last year’s U.S. Open to showcase the ground-breaking athlete’s contributions to women’s rights. Adidas tapped artists to “Billie Jean King” people's sneakers, transforming them into the blue-and-white trainers King wore during her historic "Battle of the Sexes" match against Bobby Riggs 45 years ago. At Adidas’ store at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, attendees could walk in and request a gratis makeover for their shoes, regardless of what brand they were. Anyone wanting to spare their own shoes some spray paint could instead purchase a pair of limited-edition Billie Jean King suede sneakers. The event capitalized on U.S. Open excitement while also playing a role in the brand’s larger efforts surrounding Women's Equality Day. “This was the right idea at the right time,” says Ari Kuschnir, founder and managing partner at M ss ng P eces. “It was a really well executed campaign that hit the perfect marketing vein, and it opened things up beyond the brand because you could bring in non-Adidas shoes.” “From a brand and experiential point of view, it felt like a guerilla-style activation,” says Giacomo Vigliar, business director at Unit9. “It's exciting when a big brand shows it's willing to have fun and take a risk for a good cause. It was simple, powerful and effective, and it allowed people to be part of the campaign and the wider message itself.”

Adobe Summit

Dates: March 26-28, 2019
Location: Las Vegas

Adobe Summit is all about experience. With more than 16,000 people in attendance—up significantly from last year’s count of 10,000—Adobe debuted new products, hosted breakout sessions and offered hands-on labs where attendees could gain insights into the brand’s suite of tools and software. Throughout it all, the "digital experience conference," as Adobe calls it, highlighted how the company facilitates connections between businesses and consumers. Meanwhile, targeted sessions offered insights, tools and techniques for keeping customers engaged and driving brand loyalty and growth. At one of the Summit’s most popular sessions, Sneaks, Adobe engineers took the stage alongside celebrities to share short demos of the company’s future products. Sneaks was co-hosted by actor and writer Mindy Kaling, who marveled at the tech and called it “pure sorcery!” And during a keynote Q&A with CMO Ann Lewnes and Reese Witherspoon that was live-streamed by a whopping 800,000 people, the Oscar-winning actress proved to be a high-profile convert, shouting, "I love data! I love analytics!” “The incredible community-building effort around this event is really what sets it apart,” says Kate Oppenheim, managing partner at M ss ng P eces. “You’re able to interact with the brand in ways you might not have thought of, see how other people use the products and live in that brand's world for a couple of days.” “Sneaks is a highly creative way to showcase Adobe’s innovation,” says Cosgrove. “Adobe is showing they are at the frontline of cutting-edge tech and don’t mind giving others an inside look. People show up early to ensure they get a good seat.”

AWS re:Invent

Dates: November 26-30, 2018
Location: Las Vegas

Each year at AWS re:Invent, Amazon Web Services hosts deeply technical sessions, hackathons, workshops, chalk talks and keynotes that feature services, topics and emerging technologies important to the conference’s core audience. At last year's event, some 50,000 attendees had more than 2,500 sessions from which to choose, with the ability to earn AWS certifications, hone their skills in a hands-on bootcamp and stroll through the expo. As usual, Amazon managed to keep the fun level on full blast: The annual, always-popular Tatonka Challenge saw hundreds of participants engaged in a Guinness World Record-setting chicken-wing-eating competition. Activities included late-night broomball, 4K and 8K charity fun runs, group Harley rides and pub crawls between multiple casinos. The conference concluded with the over-the-top blowout re:Play party featuring musical performances by Future Islands, Thievery Corporation and Zach Person and DJ sets by Skrillex and Mija. "Incorporating these smaller events into the larger event offers unique ways to engage audiences and encourage them to come together and participate with each other and the brand,” said Cosgrove. “Look at the chicken wing eating contest. They turned the act of feeding people into a team-building experience. Those kinds of activations let Amazon deliver a high-impact event while maximizing their dollars.”

Bumble Hive

Dates: March 8-17, 2019
Location: South by Southwest, Austin, Texas

Breakfast tacos and coffee are a great draw to get people in the door. Just ask Bumble. The Austin-based dating/friendship/everything app created a brightly colored, immersive Hive that took over a local coffee shop for the duration of SXSW. At a massive, multi-track festival where it’s easy to get lost in the noise, Bumble’s pop-up attracted about 20,000 visitors, who enjoyed a hands-on look at the company’s new product features, took part in speed mentoring and attended breakout sessions focused on dating, friendship and business networking. Part of the Hive’s programming was themed around Bumble’s new profile badges, which give users a way to share more about themselves within the app. For example, to promote the astrology badge, users had a birth-chart reading session. And for the animal lover badge, the Hive hosted a dog brunch, where dog owners could hang out and snap a new profile photo with their furry friends. “Hive had a really clear product tie-in for an intimate audience in an intimate space,” says Oppenheim. “The way their programming was tied to their products was very smart—specifically the profile badges. They highlighted different aspects of that new feature in a fun and interactive way.” “They really brought the product demo to life through the frame of female empowerment,” adds Doug Cameron, co-founder of DCX Growth Accelerator. “It was strategically smart and pushed forward their particular culture.”

Google Assistant Ride

Dates: January 8-11, 2019
Location: CES, Las Vegas

It takes a lot to stand out at the annual CES—with more than 175,000 industry professionals in attendance and 4,400 exhibiting companies all clamoring for attention across 2.9 million square feet of exhibit space. But Google proved it was more than up to the challenge by unveiling its Google Assistant Ride. This ambitious, theme-park-level attraction brought a roller coaster track, cars and eye-catching animatronics to the conference, all with the goal to showcase its AI-powered virtual helper, Google Assistant. The "roller coaster" was slow and steady, but still managed to provide plenty of thrills for the thousands of people who took the journey at CES. Riders experienced one day in the life of a fictional character as he navigated a hectic morning, got his kids ready and then drove to pick up Grandma’s birthday cake. Along the way, Google Assistant’s many features were highlighted in an immersive look at how the product integrates into everyday life, from its ability to map out the best route, translate French and take voice-commanded selfies. “It was captivating and beautiful with great art direction,” says Kuschnir. “It was a unique way to convey the Google ecosystem, and it was powerful enough that people even watched the experience online[see 360º Tour video above]—those who weren’t there still wanted to experience it.” “When you dial into the core of what Google did, they took something that is 100 percent digital and expressed it in a physical way,” adds Cosgrove. “Current trends might tell you to strap someone into a headset and give them an AR or VR experience, which Google could easily have done. But instead they went in the opposite direction and used animatronics to help people learn how Google can help you through life’s journey. It would be very difficult for anyone who went to CES to not remember the Ride and what the product does.”

Google Cloud Next

Dates: April 9-11, 2019
Location: San Francisco

Bring together 30,000 people and offer them more than 500 sessions, 400 speakers and hands-on boot camps for three days in San Francisco, and you’ve got Google Cloud Next. The annual conference covered everything from genomic analyses to leading the charge on equality and inclusion, all with an eye on cloud technology. During the three days, Google released a flurry of announcements while providing plenty of time for attendees to interact with products, applications and one another. The immersive showcase displayed not only Google’s products but also how customers use them. Interactive workshops provided technical training through the lens of real-world application, like performing predictive analytics tied to the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. The Pizza Authenticator app helped curious participants identify a pizza’s style and provenance. And tournament-style DevOps games allowed attendees to compete with their peers in a race to complete cloud-based tasks. And all of it came with a dose of community, as Google spotlighted how its many partners use its services. “Google doesn't try to own thought leadership internally,” says Cosgrove. “They're masters at bringing partners and customers into the show and connecting people. All these different brands came to talk about how they're working with Google, which offers attendees real-world case studies and examples. The whole show caters to a broad audience and offers something for everyone. And, as far as inclusion goes, they’ve really helped to set the industry standard.”

Salesforce Dreamforce

Dates: September 25-28, 2018
Location: San Francisco

Jamie Gutfreund, global CMO of Wunderman, describes Salesforce's annual Dreamforce conference as "the Cannes for marketing technology people." Dreamforce brought more than 170,000 registered attendees and 400 partners to downtown San Francisco for multiple days of workshops, keynotes and hands-on training sessions. It also brought in 400 living trees, as the event transformed several square blocks of the city into a forest, complete with artificial turf and waterfalls. For the duration of the four-day conference, a sea of people wearing Dreamforce badges ebbed and flowed—some walking hurriedly between events, and others meditating with Buddhist monks from Plum Village in southern France. There was an outdoor Metallica concert at Civic Center Plaza and a Janet Jackson show at a nearby indoor venue. Al Gore spoke, also did NBA star/tech investor Andre Iguodala and musician “An event of this scope isn’t easy to pull off, and there's always a danger that something so giant will be seen as not interesting,” says Cameron. “But Salesforce added so many creative touches to the event that attendees came out knowing that the company still has that quirky, creative soul of a tech rebel.” “Dreamforce is crazy in the best way possible,” adds Vigliar. “I can't see how anyone didn't have fun. There are so many diverse and exciting things going on, but Salesforce still managed to keep their brand relevant throughout it all—that’s impressive.”

'Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical'

Date: February 3, 2019
Location: New York

The best way to make a splash on the biggest advertising day of the year: Produce a branded musical comedy excoriating ads. That’s exactly what Skittles did on Super Bowl Sunday, enlisting Hollywood and Broadway star Michael C. Hall and a full cast to sing "Advertising Ruins Everything"—all while chomping on Skittles, of course. The campaign stirred interest leading up to its debut by releasing a behind-the-scenes music video and putting the cast recording on Spotify. The $200 tickets sold out in 72 hours. Then, when the day arrived, Skittles put on an actual 30-minute performance, “Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical.” The show, produced by DDB Worldwide, garnered an estimated 1.5 billion media impressions for the brand, earning praise for its creativity and subversive message. "It's an amazing project that everyone was jealous of this year,” says Oppenheim. “It's another incredibly ambitious campaign by this brand to keep pushing what's possible and [demonstrating] what the format of advertising can and should be. This project is the perfect embodiment of creating a story world. It's not just writing an ad—it was about creating an experience for fans." "This was the best thing done all year,” adds Kuschnir. “It was the right idea executed flawlessly. They knew what they were doing, and they knew that people would talk about it, making the conversation even bigger than the campaign itself. I wish I had done it. What else could you hope for?”

Truth Initiative, 'The Truth About Opioids: Treatment Box'

Dates: June, October 2018
Location: New York

Best known as a staunch adversary of the tobacco industry, Truth Initiative, a partnership between the Ad Council and the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, turned its attention to opioid abuse this past year. Following a series of graphic spots that displayed the lengths to which addicts will go to land another prescription, Truth and agency partner 72andSunny examined the other end of the spectrum—detox and recovery. Rather than inundating audiences with numbers or relying on actors to convey a message, the campaign brought a three-dimensional installation to Astor Place in New York City. Treatment Box” offered an intimate and unfiltered look into the life of Rebekkah, a 26-year-old heroin and opioid addict undergoing detox treatment after a decade of dependency. She was filmed around the clock for five days in a mini treatment center that was created especially for the shoot. As she struggled through pain, nausea and tremors of withdrawal, passersby stopped to watch. The installation ran in New York for one day, but a subsequent film directed by Tucker Walsh of M ss ng P eces captured Rebekkah’s experience as well as the profound effect that the initiative exerted on audiences. “These stories are usually told in such a different way—either before or after these things happen,” says Vigliar. “But here the medium aggressively confronted the audience and put it on the street. It's a sensitive topic that they handled in such an interesting way. And it feels necessary right now.” “A lot of brands don't want to make too much of a cultural statement or be too provocative, but the best campaigns tap into cultural tensions,” says Cameron. “This campaign tackled a big cultural issue in such a visceral way. The experiential medium pushed confessional culture forward to show a very private experience and bring it to a high-traffic area and broadcast it to the public.”

Twilio Signal

Dates: October 17-18, 2018
Location: San Francisco

Twilio’s annual Signal conference is like Disneyland for developers. At last year's event, attendees received early insights into the company’s newest innovations, and 80-plus breakout sessions provided hands-on opportunities to interact with Twilio products. The two-day affair was never short on cameos or fun. To showcase Twilio capabilities, Tony Hawk demoed "HawkOrNot," an app that used machine learning to verify if a texted photo of the legendary skateboarder was actually him. (They also built a massive skate ramp across the street.) The band OK Go performed an interactive song that relied on sounds created by the audience's mobile phones. And the ever-popular closing party, $Bash, took things to the next level with 10 immersive Instagram-ready rooms: each featured a unique experience, ranging from a ball pit to a speakeasy to a Nerf battleground. “Twilio works in a complex industry,” says Vigliar. “The thing that Signal does so well is that it makes things relatable and more approachable for consumers via activations like the immersive Instagram rooms. Anyone can get into that.” “Twilio really seems to own the subculture of developers,” says Cameron. “Signal is a lot of fun, and it’s effective for their target market and their culture—they knocked it out of the park.”


Doug Cameron

Doug Cameron

Co-Founder, DCX Growth Accelerator

Doug founded DCX in 2015. DCX is a growth accelerator that offers a full range of marketing and innovation services that prides itself on its "culture hacking" campaigns, such as the recent Palessi campaign for Payless Shoes. In 2017, DCX won Ad Age's Silver Small Agency of the Year for the Northeast. In 2016, DCX won the Gold for Small Agency of the Year, Campaign of the Year Pro Bono. Doug also the co-author with Douglas Holt of the 2012 book "Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Technologies to Build Breakthrough Brands."
Rick Cosgrove

Rick Cosgrove

Executive Creative Director, Agency EA

As Executive Creative Director, Rick leads a team that brings Agency EA’s creative concepts to life. His nine-year tenure at Agency EA has evolved from serving as the agency’s first in-house designer to structuring and leading its robust 40-plus Creative Department: a team of creative strategists, spatial designers, copywriters, digital project managers, graphic designers and creative technologists. As the ECD, Rick’s passion for purposeful and cohesively designed experiences consistently ensures comprehensive solutions for EA's partners and clients.
Ari Kuschnir

Ari Kuschnir

Managing Partner, M ss ng P eces

Since 2005, Ari has been leading, advising and completing creative projects that resonate, seeking to shed light on people, projects, and ideas that matter to him, as well as the community he surrounds himself in. He consistently pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in storytelling, most recently through radical, never-been-done-before projects in emerging technologies and immersive experiences. Ari frequently speaks at conferences as an industry leader. For the past three years, m ss ng p eces has been named to the Ad Age Production Company A-List.
Kate Oppenheim

Kate Oppenheim

Managing Partner, M ss ng P eces

Kate joined m ss ng p eces as a partner and executive producer in 2010 to transform m ss ng p eces into a new wave production company designed for the incoming generation of creatives leading integrated campaigns for broadcast and digital platforms. The company’s mission to find and create the what’s next in storytelling has resulted in heralded work for the world’s leading brands and agencies, and accolades including two Emmy Awards, Cannes Lions and Clios, among others. In 2017, Kate was honored to be one of Ad Age’s 40 Under 40.
Erik Basil Spooner

Erik Basil Spooner

Creative Director, Ad Age

Erik Spooner is the creative director for Ad Age, where he oversees the brand and editorial design for all its platforms. A creative leader with two decades of experience in the media, entertainment and technology industries, his work has included digital start-ups and major media brands like Us Weekly, Discover and Rolling Stone. He also maintains a visiting professorship with Pratt Institute, teaching undergraduate design courses, and is completing his graduate work with the Berlin School of Creative Leadership.
Giacomo Vigliar

Giacomo Vigliar

Business Director, Unit9

Giacomo has been business director at Unit9, one of the leading multidisciplinary production companies in the world, working in film, digital, experiential and XR, since 2016. In 2019, Unit9 was named Ad Age’s Production Company of the Year.

About Ad Age Studio 30
Ad Age Studio 30 is a custom content studio that specializes in the creation of paid content that resonates with the Ad Age audience. To inquire about Ad Age Studio 30, email James Palma at [email protected].

About Agency EA
Agency EA ( is a full-service brand experience agency. We unite brands with their target audiences by creating exceptional user events, worldwide event programs, summits, conferences and B2B experiential campaigns. With a strategic approach, visionary ideas, inspired creative and flawless execution, EA brings brand messages to life. Founded in 1999 as Event Architects, Agency EA has worked with esteemed clients such as Hilton, Intuit, Google, Samsung, MillerCoors and the Obama Administration.


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