Is It a Pop-Up or a Party?


As we forge ahead in our new millennium, marketers must find creative ways to tackle tough questions. What’s the best way to leverage brand ambassadors?  If an influencer spon-cons and no one buys anything, did she really spon? And finally, if a pop-up offers up bubbles, biscotti, and a 10% discount—is it really a pop-up or just a party?

For experiential marketers, it’s important to define the pop-up accurately in order to set the right expectations, not only for your customer, but for your internal team. This ubiquitous marketing tool is much more than a PR party.

There are fundamentally two kinds of pop-ups: homegrown, often spontaneous events, and strategically designed environments. As the Atlantic reports, “The former involves, say, a lone entrepreneur who scopes out a bustling brunch spot and puts up tentpoles and tables to sell her line of handbags. It’s a form of marketing that is flexible, creative, and timeless. The second category is, by now, more visible: Google pops up donut shops to promote its new internet-connected speakers; Bvlgari invites models to a popcorn-themed fashion pop-up in Paris.”

As more and more brands have adopted pop-ups, the format has become a catch-all term. It’s not a party your publicist plans, which is itself an art form. A pop-up takes creative strategy and generally requires some sort of storytelling experience and a built installation. You don’t want the experience to read like someone put twee on steroids, with spaces called “labs” or “shoppable bungalows.”

Parties serve a vital purpose in marketing, (and are a great excuse for champagne). But it’s important know when it’s a party—and when your marketing would be better served by investing in a pop-up.

We asked Katie Bottrell, our Vice President of Marketing and Growth, to weigh in on when you should pay for a real pop-up, or simply throw a cool party. Turns out, there are a lot of questions you should ask yourself before even approaching your higher-ups with the trendy idea.

What’s your event goal?

“Think about what you’re hoping to accomplish. Are you selling retail on site? Generating buzz with a new product? Or are you looking for deeper connections?”

“A party will offer opportunities for focused engagement with your audience but give you less range. It’s great for your established customer base, and you can accomplish a lot of excitement with VIPs at, say,  a venue folks normally can’t access.”

“A pop-up, on the other hand, offers broader exposure. If you want to amplify your brand and come into the market in a splashy way, then a pop-up is a great option. And remember—not all pop-ups are the same. Some are for the public, transforming a typical space into an eye-catching new experience. You can also partner with a retailer for an in-store takeover to their established customer base. A great example being Glossier and Rhea’s Cafe.  There are a lot of options.”

Location. Location. Location.

“Do you already have a space that is friendly to a party, like a hip office? Or, are you looking for something unconventional for your party, like a warehouse or a marina? If you decide on a pop-up, think about how you’d like to bring focus to your experience in an open space. That could be by way of a dome or tent, a fully functioning building structure that comes together overnight, or an impressive  trailer rolling in.

“Whatever your chosen location, you must consider the regulations for hosting your own event or party. For pop-ups, you will encounter licensing and permitting regulations, insurance requirements, and serious logistical considerations. For events, many venues cover the cost of licensing and insurance, and include that in their rates. You’ll need get acquainted with the venue’s coverage.”

Don’t forget flow and focal point.

“Pop-ups typically have a catchy main attraction and smaller supporting areas of energy, whereas party attendees can be motivated to flow through a defined space over time. So, be sure to consider how you want people to move through the experience.”

“Next, think about your focal point. Is it a celebrity, a music act, or perhaps a product launch? A party is great for unveiling your newest product and its’ features. Parties are also fantastic if you’ve got a celebrity or thought leader lined up to present, as you can guide attendees to a specific area at a certain time. A pop-up, not so much, as there is no way to ensure folks won’t miss the main event. For pop-ups, you’ll need a series of focal points throughout the event and your brand ambassadors to guide attendees through the experience.”

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