Upcycling and Experiential Marketing: Adaptive Reuse for Events

Upcycling and experiential marketing

Remember upcycling? Cut to 2005, when we were all transforming vintage suitcases into stacked nightstands and making candle holders out of wine glasses. While the practice of taking someone’s discarded junk and making it into an object of beauty or utility isn’t really new, it is a trend we’re seeing more of in trade shows and events. When done well, upcycling and experiential marketing can make powerful team, lowering costs, exhibiting your brand’s commitment to sustainability, and driving success

The Scavenger Hunt

Observe. The bleak white glow of a flashlight blinks, the only illumination in a sea of blackness. You make your way up the endless rusted staircase, one of a group of people bundled against the cold. Coughing against the metallic, pre-dawn air, you climb into a large room and make your way past a wall of windows. Through many broken panes, you glimpse the Manhattan skyline.

“Welcome!” a cheerful man tells you as you’re wondering exactly when you will be eaten by the zombies. “You’re going to go on a photographic scavenger hunt!” Still not wholly letting go of the zombies, you spend the morning dodging rusty tools and crawling into giant, dusty tanks, until you are created by a mariachi band playing “Aude Lange Syne” in an echoing chamber.

You’ve just visited the abandoned Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn, and you’re unlikely to ever to look at an innocent white packet of sugar the same way.

These participants were taking part in what the youths are calling “illegal trespass theater,” but what they were unintentionally doing was ingraining Domino Sugar into their memories without the company ever being the wiser.

Until, of course, the happy scofflaws posted it on their social media account. Outside of abandoning the factory decades ago, Domino did not participate in the experience. But with the adaptive reuse of their space, they became accidental beneficiaries.

Modern Art, Modern Experiential

Why is this such a great idea? Let’s look at the modern art scene. Adaptive reuse is growing more common as gorgeous urban installations pop up around cities such as New York. Ghostly immigrant portraits appeared in an abandoned hospital on Ellis Island, while a glowing blue fish tank decorated a storefront in Liverpool, England. Recently, a one-night-only exclusive gallery exhibition set up illegally in an abandoned underground New York City subway tunnel opened—and immediately closed. Meanwhile, speakeasies set up in illegal spaces are popping up faster than you can dance the Charleston.

How does this translate to experiential marketing? As easily as an old easy-bake oven into a lovely plant holder. Adaptive reuse engineers overlooked spaces into the ultimate physical experience. Using abandoned spaces in your experience utilizes some of the most powerful emotional notes of experiential marketing, like nostalgia, “being in on the secret,” and the excitement of discovering that things aren’t what they seem.

Consumer brands are catching on to the coolness of adaptive reuse, too. House of Vans turned an old London theatre into a “mixed use creative venue for Vans enthusiasts and those interested in skateboarding culture.” It contained a skate park, state-of-the-art theater, music stage, and café. You can catch some air, drink some coffee, and check out the latest sweet kicks. Or just coffee and shop, while leaving the skinned knees to the kids.

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