Inside the Mix

Putting a brand in front of customers in a unique setting and for a limited time can work wonders

Putting a brand in front of customers in a unique setting and for a limited time can work wonders

A friend of mine got a free haircut last week.

He also became part of a month-long pop-up marketing campaign by Diageo whisky brand Crown Royal, which has leased retail space in Manhattan's SoHo for a month, having hired barbers from the renowned Levels barbershop in Harlem.

Pop-up marketing - when a branding event appears in any given location for a limited time - is becoming increasingly common as a form of outdoor advertising. It's a particularly good idea for a city such as New York, where conventional outdoor advertising is harder to carry out due to scant - and expensive - billboard space. It's also something that, if done right, will generate tremendous word of mouth.

Consider what happened when Target rented out a store by Rockefeller Center last fall to sell only its Isaac Mizrahi line of clothing. That move was genius in a city whose lack of convenient Targets caused anyone carrying a Target shopping bag to be mobbed by envious passersby, and that heretofore elusiveness fanned the flames of the buzz that surrounded the event. Other marketers have done the same. A more recent example is the temporary store that sprung up in a hip downtown neighborhood selling limited-edition Levi's at $165 a pop for one month only.

Both of these events elevated two mass-market brands to a rarified position due to little more than the careful selection of limited products and the sense of urgency that the limited timeframe invoked among consumers in the know.

But the Crown Royal barbershop is something different. It doesn't sell anything, the service you receive is not directly connected with the brand, and they don't even serve Crown Royal to people getting haircuts. But the branding is everywhere. The entire barbershop is decked out in purple and gold - Crown Royal colors - with images of the distinctive bottle depicted throughout.

Crown Royal has enjoyed a surge of popularity in the urban market of late, so the barbershop setting is enormously appropriate. To drive that home further, projected on the walls are images of P. Diddy. This is also a clever device for reinforcing its close-to-premium pricing, borrowing from P. Diddy's affluence. And it all seems to have worked - during the considerable time my friend spent there, the vast majority of "customers" fit the demographic perfectly.

Moet & Chandon Champagne is also trying the pop-up marketing experience in New York, with a series of invitation-only events in the M Lounge, a temporary location in the Meatpacking District, to attract "influencers and key customers." The guest list for each of the four events is very exclusive and tailored to each event's crowd - the art scene, the urban entertainment scene, and so on.

The M Lounge's Chicago debut garnered plenty of press, and in New York, the celebrities in attendance are likely to appear in gossip pages. But what the Crown Royal experience has lacked in high-octane press, it has made up for in buzz. By bypassing the media and influencers (who get invited to everything anyway) and going straight to the consumers with its anyone-can-come nature, it has sparked more curiosity and given those who've experienced it a badge of exclusivity that they might not otherwise have had. Not to mention a great haircut.

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