Just popping up to build a brand

19 April 2015 - 02:00 By Jeremy Maggs

Forgive my jangling tone, but I've consumed enough sugar in the past few days to be the key case study at a dentists' convention or the new poster boy for an anti-diabetes campaign. But all in the name of brand research. Time and again we hear that brands need to develop an authentic relationship with consumers, either through meaningful social media dialogue or by letting those customers feel, touch, taste and hold the brand. Marketers seem to be embracing the latter approach with a vigour that has become, frankly, quite exhausting.Every other week a pop-up store un-battens its hatches to offer consumers a limited time to get jiggy with the brand. The latest incarnation is the 100-year-old Oreo biscuit brand that has opened something called the #PLAYWITHOREO Café in Johannesburg. Please let us not forget the hashtag, as that gives the experience something called pull-through social media talkability. If you don't know what that means, you're not in the target demographic.The strategy, I'm told, is to build on the brand pillar of playfulness - apparently the deconstruction of the biscuit has always been a thing - and to "celebrate the kid inside us all and inspire moments of carefree fun".So you rock up (with wallet; no freebies here) and choose from popcorn stacks, white chocolate fudge, cookie monster cupcakes, chocolate truffles, cookie-crumb parfait, white chocolate cheesecake and shortbread sandwiches with ice cream sundaes, and wash it all down with a glass of milk and Oreo cookies.Prices start from R10 and the most expensive item on the menu is R40.While you're sugar-fixing, you can create Oreo selfie art, making your own cookie character with edible props. And a s you zing through this experience there are also an adult-sized Oreo seesaw and swing, and then, when your eyeballs are revolving with joy, you can buy boxes of Oreos and Oreo merchandise.Not too long ago, the Magnum ice-cream brand did the same thing and there were two-hour queues to get in. Before that, the Jacobs coffee brand took over a suburban house, where you could taste the product, play board games and eat cupcakes. I've just been sent an invitation to go to the opening of a pop-up vodka store. I shall go on your behalf.Some see all this as a gimmick or a quick merchandising revenue stream, but there is a clever and sound strategy behind it, says Gaby de Abreu, executive creative director at Switch design agency. He suggests consumers are tired of big and want more small and cool that meets individual needs and aspirations.A pop-up strategy, he says, can liven up neighbourhoods, offer a brand real-time opportunity to test its product and service, and fill up empty spaces and dead storefronts in malls.De Abreu says the challenge is to sustain the idea and the offering once the pop-up closes or moves on. Part of that is obviously the power of the hashtag and the reach and longevity of the social media conversation.The commercial benefits are obvious, but there is also an altruistic opportunity. About 18 months ago, M&C Saatchi Abel developed a concept called The Street Store, where underprivileged people could choose second-hand clothing in a pop-up environment. They left with garments and their dignity intact. The idea has found global resonance and there are now 200 worldwide.Broadcaster and writer Maggs edits theredzone.co.za

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