Pop-Up Popularity

Poof! Almost out of thin air, they seemingly pop up and captivate the attention of onlookers, who find themselves curious about why a store, museum, art exhibit, or even a nonprofit event that wasn’t there yesterday has seemingly appeared out of nowhere.

This ephemeral or temporary element is a large part of the appeal of the pop-up experience: but as a new category of attractions, pop-ups are here to stay.

Traditional attractions should take note: pop-ups need not be considered a new competitor. Rather, they can jump on the pop-up experience trend to generate enthusiasm and awareness of existing brands. An off-site pop-up can be created to build excitement for a new ride opening or amenity, while an on-site pop-up can wake up a lightly trafficked area of a venue. A headline-making pop-up installation can even be commissioned for a permanent attraction, like The Beach, a wildly imaginative interpretation of the seaside, installed at Chicago’s Navy Pier this past winter. So, how can attractions of all sizes benefit from the pop-up phenomenon?

Thoroughly Modern Attractions

Just why have pop-up experiences become so popular?

“As millennials are turning more to online and mobile versions of typically physical experiences like banking, ordering food, grocery shopping, and dating, they are in need of real experiences,” notes Candytopia CEO John Goodman.

They also look for memorable experiences built around universal themes—like those offered by Candytopia, a fantastical installation that has appeared in major cities like New York City, Dallas, and Atlanta, and exhibits a colorful collection of artwork made entirely of candy.

Although nibbling on the candy sculptures and portraits is understandably not allowed, plenty of edible candy is distributed throughout the venue. Even for the most die-hard sugar junkies, the artwork definitely steals the show.

“Our guests value the time and attention to detail that goes into creating these art pieces, and that makes the experience especially memorable. Another key element that resonates with our guests is that we customize each location with original candy artwork inspired by the city. For example, we’ve had a Georgia peach in Atlanta, a mini Big Tex in Dallas, and a Cardi B portrait in New York,” Goodman says.

Importantly, Candytopia is intentionally designed to instill in guests a vivid sense of the here and now, while also setting the stage for social sharing.

“Everything single inch of Candytopia is ‘Instagrammable,’” Goodman says of how visitors love to post photos of themselves in the space on the social media app, Instagram. “However, we encourage guests to spend a bigger portion of the visit off their phones and enjoying the space with their friends and family members.”

One of the biggest pop-ups this summer is a taco lover’s dream. With “Bell” hops and pool floaties designed to look like sauce packets, the Taco Bell Hotel in Palm Springs, California, opens for a limited time next month. Taco Bell promises everything from guest rooms to poolside cocktails, along with breakfast, will be infused with a Taco Bell twist, that the company promises will make “fans’ dreams come true with an immersive way to celebrate the best of the brand.”

“It will be fun, colorful, flavorful, and filled with more than what our fans might expect,” said Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell’s chief global brand officer, in a statement. What corporate parent Yum! Brands won’t commit to: if the Taco Bell Hotel will burn longer than hot sauce on a burrito.

A Marketing Must-Have

It used to be that making social media a component of a marketing campaign or brand activation was considered cutting edge. But then came a significant challenge: how to get people to actually notice your attraction on social media.

A social media-friendly pop-up experience can quickly go viral, generating intense excitement for a new ride or attraction. As for design and creative concepting, tailor both to the new attraction’s theming. With that as the foundation, ideas for individual elements of the pop-up are limitless.

Although the trend is an early one in the attractions industry, its benefits have been tested and approved by the retail sector, where pop-ups have their roots. According to Joseph Scaretta, co-CEO and founder of CS Hudson, a facilities management, construction, and promotions company, pop-ups can do for the attractions industry what it has for the retail sector.

“There are definitely opportunities. In retail, pop-up experiences are used for customized launches and brand activation. Samsung does it, Apple does it, and attractions can do it, too. Or, they can team up with like-minded, noncompetitive brands to set up a marketplace in the park,” Scaretta says.

As for waking up a quiet part of a facility, a relatively simple pop-up experience could be created to redirect traffic. Think of a “cool down” pop-up, complete with an ice pop stand, wading pools, and sandbox. Or a “hair salon” pop-up that doles out exaggerated and fun styles like a faux rainbow mohawk.

Another possibility: creating a charitable pop-up to give back to the community. This could be located inside the facility or somewhere off-site.

As part of its “Pop-Ups for Good” initiative, CS Hudson’s own philanthropic platform, CS4Good, constructed and hosted a pop-up toy store exclusively for children who were experiencing homelessness. Inventory was displayed according to age, with high-end toys for younger children and tech-centric items and gift cards for teens. The magic of the experience: children could pick out any toy they wanted with no need to pay. Scaretta underscores that a meaningful experience, paired with photo-friendly features, is important for the success of any pop-up, whether it’s a charitable or for-profit endeavor. “But avoid making the experience overly complicated, such as timed activities or tasks that have to be accomplished. Not everyone may enjoy a particular task,” he advises.

Goodman advises creating experiences that are fun to take part in. At Candytopia, for example, every room contains elements that are designed for playful guest interaction.

“Whether it is jumping in our famous marshmallow pit, getting blasted by confetti from unicorn pigs, or treating a sweet tooth with candy samples, each room has a moment for our guests to interact with that makes them the heart of the experience,” Goodman concludes. The experiences aren’t built to last, but the memories certainly will.

Perfecting the Pop-Up

What are the considerations to keep in mind when programming and producing the perfect pop-up? With a background in finding, constructing, and promoting pop-ups, Joseph Scaretta, co-CEO and founder of CS Hudson, a promotions company, shares his expert advice.

How much space is ideal for a pop-up? It depends on the type of event or experience you’re looking to host. Although Scaretta has seen pop-ups as large as 5,000 square feet, those tend to be the anomaly. “Typical sizes and standards range from a 10-by-10 or 10-by-20 kiosk, to an inline space that can be 200 square feet to much larger. But most common is 500 to 1,000 square feet,” he says.

Pros and cons of outdoor locations. “An outdoor pop-up is normally more event-driven and shorter term. On the smaller side, it’s likely to be housed in a kiosk or prefabricated unit, which can be weatherproof,” Scaretta explains.

He goes on to describe the challenges. “You have to provide wireless for anything point-of-service, and it would need to be a destination location if not part of a larger event or open marketplace.”

That means it can get expensive and involve more complex logistics. And of course, as Scaretta points out, you can’t control the climate or the weather. You’ll need access to facilities such as a port-a-potty, as well, and the use of utilities such as electric and water.

On the plus side, the open-air environment offers a great ambience, Scaretta adds, along with the possibility of extended event hours and access to food trucks, which can be changed frequently.

Pros and cons of indoor locations. “These tend to be more cost-effective and ‘ready to go.’ Main infrastructure is already in place, such as lighting, walls, and wireless,” Scaretta notes. “Sometimes you have access to landlord-provided furniture, and the location is secure. There may be access to an existing customer base.”

As for the cons, there are a few to consider. “Limited operation hours, limited size of the pop-up, and landlords may give their worst locations,” he says. This includes storefronts that require maintenance to get them ready for a pop-up event or placement in a quiet location.

Measuring return on investment. This very much depends on the goals of your pop-up, but Scaretta notes that some common key performance indicators include foot traffic, social media impressions/likes/shares, online sales, e-commerce traffic, and press.

Taylor Martin