Thinking Outside the Trade Show: Alternative Venues

trade show alternative venues

Back in the ‘90s, an “alternative venue” is where you played when your band couldn’t get a gig anywhere else. Today, the phrase holds much more promise in the realm of experiential marketing. Brands thinking outside the booth are taking advantage of a myriad of mixed-use spaces, creating pop-ups and unexpected experiences unbound by the traditional trade show or expo hall.

Repurposed Retail Space

NYC-based Wall Play is an “experiential arts and innovation network” that programs empty retail experiences for brands looking to harness the serendipity of organic foot traffic. Billed as “more than just white boxes,” Wall Play’s spaces are a desirable community of empty storefronts in Soho, Williamsburg, and the Seaport neighborhoods. Spaces range from 400 to 16,000+ square feet and can be wrapped, branded and otherwise customized to suit your activation. Dubbed ON CANAL, these spaces are also magnets for press coverage, scoring recent profiles in Time Out New York and Paper Magazine.

No retail space is too small to take over. We worked with nonprofit organization e.a.t. to transform empty newsstands in Chicago into food kiosks, showing just how much surprise and fun (and fresh food) you can pack into only 45 square feet.

Need a space for just a few hours? Consider PeerSpace, Splacer, and Breather, which essentially function like Airbnb for cool spaces that can be rented for a variety of purposes — from screenings and small conferences to pop-ups and performances.

This Ain’t Your Ordinary Office

When thinking of alternative venues, you need not look further than your corporate office or retail store. Transform the everyday into extraordinary for your employees and valued customers with live events in-house. Whether you’re hosting a launch party for a new product or engaging VIP clients, when you welcome your audience into your world, you welcome them into your brand story. In response to a customer on Facebook who said “I wish I could have a sleepover in Ikea,” IKEA begin hosting in-store sleepovers across the globe.  

It’s possible to transform your office without busting through the drywall. Large LED panels playing digital content will restyle office ambiance. Rental lounge furniture and bartenders mixing custom cocktails bring forth a VIP feel. Temporary stages turn your break area into a theater for lunch and learns or panel sessions.  

Let’s Take This Outside

L.L. Bean created its S’more Out of Summer campaign in response to consumers’ laments that they don’t have enough time to truly enjoy the summer. Starting in June, the company hosted free, immersive activations at pop-ups in local parks across the country, featuring classic summer activities like yard games, kayaking, and — of course — s’more roasting. Uber partnered with L.L. Bean on the campaign, offering $15 vouchers to enable easy travel to the outdoor activations.

Adidas and Amazon also offered an invigorating outdoor experience this summer. In partnership with Girls on the Run, they organized a 5K race for girls in Los Angeles. After a warm-up led by WNBA All-Star Nneka Ogwumike (assisted by Amazon’s Alexa), the young athletes were ready to race. They also had the opportunity to color an inspiring collaborative mural and customize their sneakers with charms, laces, and fabric markers.

Or perhaps you need to unveil a spaceship in the middle of the desert? That’s precisely what we did for Virgin Galactic’s history-making release event, building an awe-inspiring event space the size of a small city for VIPs in the Mojave Desert. Talk about alternative venues.

In the Heart of the City

What’s the opposite of the middle of the desert? Times Square. Facebook’s Plant a Tree Day event, complete with pop-up greenhouse experience, brought a touch of nature to 42nd and Broadway. Passersby were invited to plant a tree (which would later be transported to a forest in Upstate New York), pose for a pic in the GIF photo booth, and engage with immersive displays of big trees from all over the country.

Just because you’re in the heart of a city doesn’t mean you can’t go small and personal. Take our collaboration with sustainable-beauty pioneer Aprinnova, on a rooftop in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. The event offered attendees of one of Europe’s biggest cosmetics industry trade shows a chance to connect with the brand on a more intimate level.

Feeling inspired by these outside-the-booth experiences? Maybe it’s time to take your next brand event into the world at large — your options are only limited by your imagination.

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