What Does Pop-Up Shop Mean?

Pop up shop

Marketers live on a veritable word salad of terminology and sitting right on top like a cherry tomato is the increasingly ubiquitous term, “pop-up.” Given the Cambrian-like explosion of various species of pop-ups in the past decade, many are left asking themselves, “What does pop-up shop mean?” or even “What’s the difference between a pop-up and a party?” Let’s begin to define this complex term by exploring what a pop-up is not. . .

It ain’t no party.

Given their celebratory nature and inherent brevity, parties are often confused with pop-ups, especially when they’re hosted in unconventional spaces. But don’t be fooled. Just because someone thought it would be hip to throw a shindig at, say, a gas station, that doesn’t mean it’s a pop-up — it’s just a fossil-fueled themed excuse to eat canapés.

As a colleague recently sighed, “I can’t tell you how many ‘pop-ups’ I’ve been to that are really just PR-driven parties, usually with bad bubbles and a 10% discount on a designer’s latest — or last season’s — threads.”

A pop-up is not a regular marketplace.

As Wordnik defines the term, to pop up is “To appear without warning.” By its very definition, a pop-up does just that — it pops up. It’s not a fixed phenomenon that regularly occurs in a known space like a retail shop or a convention center. A pop-up springs up out of nowhere. For example, a razzamatazz clam event at the fish market aligns too predictably with the expectation of such a place — it’s a promotion, not a pop-up. A fried clam stand that suddenly appears on a bustling, urban street corner accompanied by a live re-enactment of Botticelli’s painting “The Birth of Venus” on National Clam Day (March 31, btw) — now that’s a pop-up!

It’s sort of like the difference between a real pearl and a farmed pearl — the former has intrinsic value and interest whereas the latter is an artificial agitation. A pop-up should be “remarkable” as marketing guru Seth Godin would say. Make your pop-up inherently worthy of generating buzz and social sharing.

Pop-Ups are NOT built to last.

Pop-ups aren’t limited to retail and brand activations, of course. They take many forms: Consider Pop-Up Magazine, which uses the magazine format as a metaphor to shape an evening of multimedia stories performed live on stage. The performances happen only once and they’re never live-streamed or recorded for later viewing. Therein is the essence of a pop-up — ephemerality. The best ones have a “you had to be there” quality and seldom if ever, repeat themselves.

Doing a pop-up right takes creative strategy and storytelling experience, not to mention a built installation. Group Delphi has the goods — let’s talk!

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