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case Study
t's no secret that knowing how a movie ends before you watch it is a bit of a buzz kill. There's even an unspoken rule when it comes to movies
- if you're going to reveal a key piece of info, such as the death of a character, common courtesy dictates prefacing the communication with the words, "Spoiler Alert." After all, being surprised by a movie's plot twist is part of what people love about cinema in the first place.

But what if that plot twist wasn't embedded in a feature-length film, but existed in real life? And what if it hit you like a ton of bricks while you're setting up an exhibit at a major international show? And just what if you had tens of thousands of dollars on the line and your job depended on a happy trade show ending? Wouldn't you want to know all the potential twists and turns far enough in advance that you could prepare for them or avoid them altogether?

Derse Inc., a Milwaukee-based experiential-marketing company, believes the answer to that question is "yes." That's why it built an exhibit-marketing program around the theme, "Spoiler Alert! It's better to know how it ends" for EXHIBITOR2012, an educational conference and exhibition for exhibit and event marketers.

Granted, watching a movie and planning an exhibit program have about as much in common as Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Bay, but the fear and anticipation of the unknown remains, and that's what Derse sought to quell. "Unlike a movie where an unexpected revelation or plot twist is half the fun, surprise endings for face-to-face marketing campaigns can be catastrophic," says Heather Rosenow, Derse's vice president of client strategic services.

To prove its talent for curtailing said catastrophe, Derse produced a Hollywood-themed campaign that comprised an experiential exhibit, buzz-building pre-show mailers, tongue-in-cheek tweets, and more movie references than a Tarantino film. It started with an interest-piquing pre-show promotion that would stack the odds forever in its favor.

The Sneak Preview

Most exhibit-marketing campaigns launch weeks before a trade show, but Derse kept a lid on its campaign as long as possible to build anticipation among attendees. When the company finally spilled the beans about 10 days before the show, it went all-out with a trio of tactics that included social media, lumpy mail, and an e-blast.

First, Derse took to Twitter with a flurry of tweets. "We wanted to use Twitter to tease attendees into stopping by the booth, so we drew inspiration from famous spoilers and combined it with our own messaging," Rosenow says. The formula led to movie-themed tweets such as, "Just like Love Story, accountable strategies mean never having to say you're sorry. See you at #EXHIBITOR2012, Booth 1621."

Second, preregistered attendees each received a mailer comprising a silver padded envelope sealed with an orange label that read: "Spoiler Alert! Do NOT open unless you want to know how your EXHIBITOR2012 experience ended." Naturally, curious attendees opened the envelopes. Inside, each recipient discovered a 5-inch-square card featuring three silver triangles and the text, "How will your EXHIBITOR2012 experience end? Scratch off one (and only one) of the triangles below to find out." After an attendee scratched off a triangle, one of three phrases was revealed: "You will become famous for your face-to-face marketing results," "Your face-to-face marketing success leads to a big promotion," or "Your program's ROI means profits . and a raise." Unbeknownst to attendees, the phrases foreshadowed Derse's unforgettable in-booth experience.

Predicting that recipients wouldn't be able to resist the urge to scratch off all three triangles, text inside of the card playfully chastised overzealous triangle scratchers: "You scratched off more than one, didn't you? (You don't have to lie to me; I'm only a humble pre-show mailer.) I can't say I blame you - when it comes to your face-to-face marketing campaigns, it's better to know how it ends . Derse is here to help take the surprise twists out of your face-to-face results; visit Derse at Booth #1621 to find out how."

Finally, Derse rounded out its pre-show marketing effort with an e-blast that alluded to the exhibit experience. Three black, closed doors - with light seemingly spilling out around their respective edges - punctuated a black background. Mirroring the text from the mailer, the e-blast contained the Spoiler Alert logo and the following message: "It's better to know what results you will achieve before you decide how to invest your precious marketing dollars . Which door leads to the results that mean success for you?"

With that, Derse had an audience that was clamoring to know what, exactly, the company had up its exhibit-marketing sleeve. The Main Feature By the time the exhibit hall opened on March 5, attendees were well aware of Derse's Spoiler Alert campaign, and many rushed to booth 1621 like moviegoers to a concession stand that's low on Jujubes. Upon arrival, attendees found a peculiar 20-by-30-foot white structure that begged the question, "What's going on in there?"

Indeed, with its jagged profile and stark-white façade, the booth looked like the secret hideout of a Bond villain. The front of the enclosed exhibit featured three closed doors, each one attended by a Derse staffer. The opposite side of the structure was sheathed in white semitransparent curtains, allowing passersby to steal glimpses of staffers chatting with attendees around two counter-high tables. "The exhibit created a visual barrier to the interior of the space," Rosenow says. "As a result, attendees had to agree to participate in the spoiler activity without really knowing what was going on inside."

As attendees paused to take in the structure, a staffer wearing a black T-shirt with the word "Spoiler" printed across the front delivered one of several scripted phrases, such as, "At Derse, we need to know how a story is going to end from the beginning - when it comes to your face-to-face marketing dollars, can you afford to be surprised by the ending? If it were up to you, how would your next campaign end?"

Then, based on the attendee's response, the staffer would take him or her to one of the three doors, each of which contained an experience that related to exhibit-marketing objectives.

For example, if an attendee said increased respect or notoriety was the primary goal, a staffer led him or her to the first door. There, the staffer relayed the attendee's name to a bouncer, who cracked open the door and murmured the attendee's name, notifying those inside that a "celebrity" had arrived. Complete with a red-velvet rope, the door looked like the entrance to an exclusive Hollywood nightclub, not a trade show exhibit.

Inside, attendees received the star treatment: About half a dozen "paparazzi" snapped photos of the attendee as he or she stood atop a red carpet. The photogs called out the attendee's name, requested autographs, and asked questions like, "How did you know your campaign could end like that?" and "How did you achieve that level of face-to-face marketing success?" Befuddled, amused, and flattered, attendees left feeling pretty darn good about themselves.

But notoriety alone doesn't satiate everyone's appetite for success - some attendees confessed a desire to climb the corporate ladder. Fortunately, Derse had a door for that. As soon as an attendee entered the second door, staffers playing the part of happy-go-lucky co-workers cheered and congratulated the attendee on the "promotion." Loads of colorful helium balloons blanketed the ceiling of the space and bedecked the floor, floating around amid the impromptu party.

If fame and a promotion didn't tickle an attendee's fancy, Derse had a third trick up its sleeve. The final door represented the Oscar of exhibit-marketing goals: cold, hard cash. So for booth visitors with Benjamins on the mind, a step into the final room, protected by a security guard, was like stepping into Scrooge McDuck's giant vault. Waist-high stacks of faux $1 million bills and gold bars greeted attendees as they snaked their way through the "vault." Here, the riches were meant to symbolize the return on investment Derse could help attendees achieve for their programs, as well as the raise they might receive as a result of the program's success.

While distinctly different, all three in-booth experiences had one thing in common: exhibit-marketing results - dividends that Derse now had to prove it could deliver. So regardless of the door attendees entered, they all exited to the discussion lounge. In the serene, white environment, staffers greeted attendees with bottles of water and a selection of chocolates.

Channeling Forrest Gump and explaining that "life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get," a Derse staffer gave each attendee the option of knowing the flavors of the three candies before selecting one to eat, or taking a chance on a chocolate and hoping for the best. But this wasn't your garden-variety Whitman's sampler. Flavors included caramel fleur de sel (aka sea salt), coconut habanero, and Parmesan crisp. Staffers took the opportunity to reiterate the campaign's tagline, "It's better to know how it's going to end."

When attendees finished their chocolates, staffers led them further into the lounge for targeted discussions about their needs. The low-key lounge, complete with laid-back staffers using iPads to share Derse's offerings and capabilities, fostered a calm, no-pressure environment that even The Dude would appreciate.

After chatting with staffers, attendees went on their way. But to keep the experience top of mind, Derse tweeted a slew of post-show movie-themed messages, such as, "Spoiler Alert: 'Rosebud' was his sled. Unlike Citizen Kane, it's better to know how your F2F marketing story will end."

Closing Credits

Given the accessible Spoiler Alert theme and interest-piquing tweets, Derse's campaign was one of the most talked about exhibits at the show. But
buzz is nothing unless it's backed up by results. In addition to surpassing its goal for qualified leads by 13 percent, Derse booked two client meetings and received six requests for proposals valued at $4.5 million within three weeks of the show. Not a bad return on a $165,000 investment.

By combining pop culture with exhibit-marketing acumen, Derse scripted an engaging experience that delighted its audience and led to money in the bank. Now that's a happy ending - sans surprise. E

Lena Valenty, managing editor; lvalenty@exhibitormagazine.com

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