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Taking it to the Streets
Ten examples of off-floor activations that increased exhibiting effectiveness. By Linda Armstrong

Exhibiting companies have a tendency to trot out every bell and whistle imaginable and attempt to "out-clang" one another on the show floor to win attendee mindshare. However, far too often they overlook the opportunities outside their swath of booth space. After all, promotional potential abounds far beyond the confines of an exhibit.

By extending your efforts into the registration area, the transportation hubs leading to the venue, and even the streets of the host city, you have myriad new opportunities to grasp – allowing you to squeeze even more awareness, sales leads, and return on investment from your spend.

Granted, some shows forbid off-floor activations, and others roll them into paid sponsorships. You'll need to check the show, venue, and perhaps even host-city regulations if you want to play by the rules. Nevertheless, it's likely well worth your time to at least consider integrating an off-floor experience into your marketing mix.

Here, then, are several noteworthy examples that helped exhibiting companies increase awareness, distribute product samples, and even foster leads.

Totally Tanked
The sight of an M4 Sherman tank crushing a taxicab will stop just about anyone in their tracks, which is why Wargaming Group Ltd. set up just such a scene in front of the Los Angeles Convention Center during the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). To promote its World of Tanks online game, Wargaming positioned a real Sherman tank atop a bright-yellow Los Angeles cab, whose right side and roof had been crushed by the 30-ton vehicle. The M4 Sherman had actually "precrushed" the cab at a local junkyard in order to meet Los Angeles Fire Department safety codes. But once the cab was delivered to the convention center and the tank was driven atop it by the tank owner and a Wargaming employee, it remained parked – and guarded – in the same locale for the duration of the show. During show hours, staffers invited guests to pose for a photo, courtesy of Wargaming's photographers. Staff then uploaded and sent the photos to participants to post on social media. Nearby banners directed attendees to the firm's booth. While permission to host the event was purchased from show management for $50,000, Wargaming felt it was worth the cost. For in addition to generating a flurry of photos and social-media posts, it scored tens of thousands of social-media impressions. You might even say that they crushed it.
Friends With Benefits
Few TV sitcoms achieve more popularity than "Friends," which aired for almost 10 years, received nominations for 62 Primetime Emmy Awards, and ranked No. 21 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Show of All Time. This unbelievable popularity is exactly why Bally Technologies Inc., a manufacturer of slot machines and electronic gaming systems, launched its "Friends"-themed progressive video slot machine. To generate attention for the product at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas, then, Bally Technologies teamed up with exhibit house Derse Inc. to create a "Friends"-themed photo opportunity in the lobby of the Sands Expo, where G2E was held. The roughly 200-square-foot space, which was secured via sponsorship, recreated the lounge from the TV show's Central Perk cafe. Here, a sofa, coffee table, and throw rug sat in front of a graphic backdrop featuring an image of the cafe's interior and the Bally Technologies logo. Old analog TVs stacked eight high on both sides of the graphic panel harkened back to the early '90s when the show first aired. Two actors portraying the roles of Phoebe and Chandler from the TV show staffed the exhibit (a $30,000 investment that covered the design, construction, materials, and installation). During show hours, a professional photographer was on hand to snap attendees' photos as they posed on the set. Within 24 hours of being taken, the professional photos were posted at a website (ballytech.smugmug.com) for attendees to share. In addition, the set remained in place after the show closed each day, so attendees could snap a photo any time the venue was open. And by sharing the photos via social media and using the hashtag #BallyFriends, they were entered to win official "Friends" swag courtesy of Bally Technology.
Pets on Parade
IDEXX Laboratories Inc. developed a street-based promotion that was head and shoulders above all others. Going into the 2015 North American Veterinary Community Conference, IDEXX was launching a revolutionary kidney-function test for cats and dogs. Working with Chicago creative agency Live Marketing Inc., IDEXX had planned a high-visibility launch event on the show's second day, and as such, it needed to draw hoards of attendees to the booth space for the new-product reveal. To do so, the team created a couldn't-miss street team comprising four greeters in red, IDEXX-branded attire, and two stilt walkers, one wearing a Dalmatian costume, and the other dressed in a poodle suit. Starting the day before the show opened, the group roamed the public areas, restaurants, and hotels around the two Orlando, FL, convention centers where the show was being held. In addition to posing for pictures, the street team also handed out 5-by-7-inch invitations to the product reveal. All told, the stilt walkers, crowd gatherers, and their costumes cost roughly $20,000, but IDEXX felt the investment was well worth it. For while IDEXX hoped to lure 500 people to the booth, it actually attracted 1,000 people, thanks at least in part to its off-floor tactic.
Uber Occupation
At Comic-Con International: San Diego, the folks at USA Network (a media unit of NBCUniversal Inc.) didn't just host a little street-based activation; they dominated the city's Gaslamp Quarter with a couldn't-miss transit stunt, courtesy of a partnership with Uber Technologies Inc. The 300-vehicle activation was an effort to promote the sci-fi TV series "Colony." Set in the near future after the city of Los Angeles has been occupied by a suppressive force, the series centers on one family's struggle to bring liberty back to the people. Throughout the show, the occupying power uses militant enforcers, aka Redhats, to maintain control. At Comic-Con, then, USA Network attempted to occupy San Diego by blanketing the Gaslamp Quarter near the convention center with fully costumed Redhats and "Colony" branded military vehicles and SUVs offering free Uber rides. To promote the stunt prior to the show, USA Network teased the event via Twitter, and Uber sent out an eblast to all San Diego riders. When the campaign went live, an in-app Uber message further promoted the activation to San Diego riders. Thus, between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. July 9 ?" 11, 2015, attendees and San Diego residents alike could access the Uber app and choose a "Colony"-branded, retrofitted SUV or Pinzgauer military vehicle. Inside, riders found a driver (who was hired by USA Network and trained by Uber) and an ambassador, both of which were dressed as Redhats. Throughout the ride, the pair expounded on the new series (set to debut in early 2016), and handed out postcards promoting the series and a star-studded "Colony" panel presentation at the show. Riders received their own logo-adorned red berets similar to those worn by the Redhats. In addition, USA Network branded pedicabs and bikes from ride-share program DecoBike San Diego with the series' logo and distributed even more post-card wielding Redhats throughout the Gaslamp Quarter. All told, the activation received more than 10,000 ride requests and operated at approximately 90- to 100-percent capacity for the duration of the three-day event. Talk about a military takeover.
Fresh-Fruit Freebies
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it can also generate show-wide awareness. Or at least that's what happened when Vita-Mix Corp. staged an apple-centric promotion at Ambiente, a consumer-goods trade show in Frankfurt, Germany. Going into the show, marketers wanted attendees to understand that Vita-Mix brand blending products can be used to make health-conscious soups, sorbets, raw-food dishes, and even full meals – thereby fostering a healthy lifestyle. To that end, the firm's exhibit house, Derse Inc., crafted a stunning booth featuring literally hundreds of apples embedded into translucent Plexiglas walls. To relay this health-centric message and apple theme to even more of the show's 144,000 attendees, marketers secured a show sponsorship that allowed them to set up two off-floor activations in main corridors leading from adjoining hotels to the convention center. Heading toward the main venue during show hours, attendees first stumbled upon a distribution station where staff continually made fresh smoothies and distributed them to passerby, many of whom were drawn to the display by the sound of the whirring blenders. Meanwhile, a second display further down the hallway more closely tied to the apple theme. Here, attendees discovered several large crates of apples and banner stands extolling the virtues of Vita-Mix blenders. A gloved staffer handed out apples, which featured the Vita-Mix logo and booth number in safe-to-eat printed text, and directed people to a healthy-blending demonstration in the exhibit. The two-pronged activation cost roughly $14,500, which is a pittance considering the apple tactic alone distributed approximately 2,500 apples each day of the show – generating show-wide awareness and helping Vita-Mix meet or exceed all of its booth-related objectives.
A Mock March
To promote its bed-bug elimination services at the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show, Steritech positioned nine picketers outside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center's main entrance. Supposedly picketing on behalf of the millions of bed bugs killed by Steritech's services, the sign-wielding actors handed out 4-by-6-inch fliers urging attendees to visit Steritech's booth and "Speak out for your blood brothers!" The cheeky promotion was on the up and up, as organizers obtained a protest/picketing permit from the City of New York, making it legal to "march." Costing an estimated $4,000, the promotion extended Steritech's presence to thousands of attendees and drew many of them to the company's 10-by-10-foot booth.
Van-tastic Idea
At the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society show in New Orleans, Iatric Systems Inc., a health-care information-technology firm, colored outside the lines with an activation that literally drove brand awareness. The firm was plagued by a relatively diminutive exhibit in the back of the hall, and a miniscule budget that allowed no room for official show sponsorships. Thus, Iatric marketers devised an activation whereby local businesses offered special discounts to HIMSS attendees wearing a colorful Iatric-branded wristband (aka a slap band). To generate interest and awareness for the brand and the "Get Slap Happy!" program, Iatric marketers rented a white panel van and plastered the sides with magnetic graphics featuring messages about the promotion, including Iatric's logo, images of the bands, and a call to action to visit the booth to pick up a band. Iatric then hired a driver to maneuver the van around key routes near the convention center at prime times when people were coming and going from the venue. The driver even honked and waved to draw the attention of the 35,000 attendees that were milling about. In addition, Iatric parked the rented van outside of a key off-site hospitality event it hosted for C-level attendees. All told, Iatric paid $150 to rent the van and $100 for the magnetic signs. But the brand awareness generated by this simple moving billboard was priceless.

Devil Worship
When you're launching a TV series based on the iconic horror film "The Omen," a traditional marketing approach is about as bland as angel-food cake. Therefore, to introduce its upcoming "Damien" series (set to air in 2016) at Comic-Con International: San Diego, A&E Network staged a devilish activation that was a deliberate attempt to poke fun at the Christian protesters that have become near-permanent fixtures around the San Diego Convention Center. A&E sent a series of street teams into San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, where they appeared to join the nearby Christian proselytizers. However, upon closer inspection, team members wore black T-shirts with a red "666" on the front and the words "It's All for You" on the back. Several members also held red and black picket signs featuring text such as "There is only #Damien," "From Flame Damien Will Rise," and "My Blood for Him." Team members handed passersby pins featuring three sixes and pamphlets directing them to www.ItsAllforYou.com, a promotional microsite that warned "He is the only way to deal with the coming end." Meanwhile, pamphlets proclaimed that "The end of days is near!" and cautioned onlookers against the coming "great atrocities all around." Over the course of three days, the street teams handed out 15,000 pamphlets and 10,000 pins; plus, "Damien" netted 9,000 Twitter mentions and more than 30,000 Facebook engagements during that same time. What's more, 25 news outlets, such as The New York Times, Wired, AdAge, The Hollywood Reporter, and others, featured news of the activity, resulting in 12.5 million unique impressions during the show. Now that's a devilishly good idea.

Orange Swarm
For a little person in a giants' world, it's hard to get your voice heard. That's why Jacobsen, a Textron Innovations Inc. company, devised its Orange Everywhere off-floor strategy for the Golf Industry Show in San Diego. While the company is among the top three U.S. providers of professional turf equipment, its name recognition pales in comparison to its two major competitors. Therefore, Jacobsen and its exhibit house, 3D Exhibits Inc., set out to develop show-wide brand awareness on the streets of San Diego instead of right next to major competitors. Prior to the show, Jacobsen purchased 2,000 corporate-orange, branded wristbands that it intended to hand out to attendees. The idea was to blanket the show in Jacobsen orange. To prompt people to wear the bands, Jacobsen would position roving ambassadors throughout the convention areas, where they'd distribute free "Orange Everywhere" T-shirts to anyone wearing the band. However, Jacobsen had to first get the bands in attendees' hands. Held in the San Diego Gaslamp Quarter the night before the show opened, Jacobsen's hospitality event served as a key distribution point. As attendees walked to the venue, they saw the orange Jacobsen logo projected onto the exterior of a major hotel and five orange Dodge Chargers parked in front of the building. Together with the logo, the cars, which were each emblazoned with Orange Everywhere logos on their doors and hoods, seemed to brand the whole district as Jacobsen territory. After attendees partied the night away and exited the club wearing their wristbands, pedicab bike operators sporting orange T-shirts offered them a free lift back to their hotels. Almost 1,000 people donned the bands before the show even opened, creating a show-wide curiosity factor. Finally, 20 brand ambassadors dressed in Jacobsen orange filled nearby environs during the show, and handed out branded orange T-shirts to those wearing a band. Jacobsen's tactic also aided show-floor results, as the firm doubled the number of leads collected compared to the previous year.

Tea Mobile
October temperatures in Las Vegas can top out in the low 90s. And when you're trekking from a hotel to the show venue, that's warm enough to work up a thirst. So at the National Association of Convenience Stores Show, Red Diamond Inc., a provider of coffee and tea products, took advantage of that heat-induced thirst by setting up an off-floor oasis. After contacting the Las Vegas Monorail Co., the company rented a prime locale at the monorail stop adjacent to the convention center. Here, it stationed a service desk, graphics, and coolers filled with ice-cold Ready-to-Drink Tea pints. Starting before the show opened and extending after it closed each day, staff handed out samples and directed people to the Red Diamond booth. By bringing the tea to the people in their hour of thirst, Red Diamond touched more attendees than it would have otherwise. Plus, the company made a lasting impression by quenching attendees thirst exactly when they needed it most.

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