Our Recap of Experiential Marketing Summit 2016 (EMS)

By SHARI MAHER, VP National Accounts

In today’s marketplace, it is clear that brands can’t just “advertise” to the masses anymore. The number of impressions, GRPs, CPMs and other quantitative metrics once determined ROI but not anymore. To connect with a changing generation of consumers, brands must embrace a new marketing strategy driven by a much more effective platform: experiences.

Experiential marketing, which uses face to face engagements to connect with people, create relationships and drive brand loyalty, has become the fastest growing form of marketing in the world. Being able to hear how some of the best brands have navigated this space and share with other marketers during the Experiential Marketing Summit was inspirational. I realized that even though many of us in attendance are competitors, we are all thinking partners. Dan Hilbert of GES, stated it perfectly in his introduction of Pepsi’s keynote speaker when he said, “We have passion and compassion for consumer experiences and a way of working that is no longer competitive but integrated. The new way of working is together.”

Adam Harter, Pepsi at EMS 2016

Pepsi’s VP of Cultural Connections, Adam Harter, delivered a very cool keynote address to the crowd that was both transparent and informative. He admitted that Pepsi was missing the mark terribly and had to change in order to be relevant and connect with consumers. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast. We live in a world of explosive change and connectivity. Ninety five percent of the world’s data was created in the past 3 years. This is both exciting and scary at the same time.”

Experiential Marketing Summit Pepsi Keynote Fizz

He now feels Pepsi is changing the soda industry as we know it today. Consumer experiences led to the new business model in the beverage category – F!zz. Harter shared these 5 guiding pillars at Pepsi:

  1. 1. Culture is not a spectator sport. You have to get out there and live it and breathe it and connect with consumers. Consumer interests are broader and deeper than ever before. Capturing their attention is harder than ever before. To authentically connect with consumers, we have to connect through different passion points: SPORT, MUSIC, GAMING, FOOD, FASHION, DESIGN and TECH.
  2. 2. Play with the fringes. Pepsi has a new division called CREATOR, which is focused on marketing innovation. Pepsi attended the Maker Faire in New York and set up a beverage lab to allow consumers to play with different ingredients and create their own beverage. This led to new biz model in beverage category: “F!ZZ…grab life by the bubbles.” Pepsi launched a new future of soda mixology. They took this experience to Super Bowl 50, which was a huge success.
  3. 3. Lead with design. Design at the beginning and let design drive the experience. You need to buy into the concept that design will add value and drive the experience. Five areas he focused on: Smart Table, 3D Printing, Augmented Reality, Flavor Diffuser and Virtual Reality.
  4. 4. Set Creativity on Fire. Harter gave many examples here including the Voodoo Festival in New Orleans, which formed a liquid art partnership between the NBA for Mountain Dew. “I have to admit that envy is what drove me,” joked Harter. Pepsi partnered with Direct TV to find a space to have the biggest party at Super Bowl, which soon gave birth to the Kola House. Launched at the Super Bowl but now opening in NYC this summer, the Kola House is a result of innovation and creativity.
  5. 5. Alter reality. Taste the future now. Thirty years ago, the Back to the Future franchise predicted a Pepsi Perfect product. So on Oct 21, 2015, Pepsi delivered on that promise. They created a special Pepsi Perfect which kicked off at Comic Con. Also Pepsi has partnered with the TV show, Empire. They are taking TV placements and brand integration to a whole new level. First with a Pepsi storyline in the show, followed by a real-life commercial featuring the character in that same storyline. Pepsi saw a 4.7% volume lift with Empire fans.
Pepsi at Maker Faire
Pepsi and Back to the Future
Pepsi and Empire

Harter challenged the group, “Take a look at the experiences our brands are providing to the consumer and if it is not going to send chills down their spine, take a step back and challenge your teams to unleash their creativity.”


I highly recommend a book given to us at the Experiential Marketing Summit that will be a wonderful guide to marketing in today’s consumer controlled economy: Experiential Marketing by Kerry Smith and Dan Hanover. Gone are the days of traditional mass media! This book dives into the habits of experiential brands, integrating digital and social media with experiential and the anatomy of a brand experience. Enjoy!