How to make a good pop-up

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How to make a good pop-up

Pop-ups are not a new phenomenon – we’ve been writing about them at CR for years – but now, it seems we are seeing more of them than ever. Penguin launched a brilliant pop-up selling books by women authors for International Women’s Day earlier this year, Adidas took over a takeaway in East London for a night to promote its Glitch football boots last month, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand Goop has just taken up residency in leafy Notting Hill. Even Lidl is getting involved, with pop-up gin clubs in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
These pop-ups are also becoming more more ambitious, with brands hosting gigs, exhibitions, and debates in temporary spaces. As brands compete to become ‘content creators’ and generate a buzz and social media, it’s no longer enough to take over a space in a cool location and throw on a good playlist – customers want a unique experience, whether it’s an intimate gig or a chance to get their hands on exclusive merch. Penguin’s pop-up programme included talks, readings and a podcast while Adidas recruited drill rapper Headie One to perform at its fried chicken and football-themed Glitch event.
Penguin and Waterstones’s pop-up for International Women’s Day
Adidas’s Glitch pop-up, created by Iris (also shown top)
Toby Evans – co-founder and Creative Director of Superimpose studio, which has worked on pop-up experiences with adidas Originals, Parley and Palace Skateboards – believes good pop-ups are all about ‘social currency’: “The whole idea of a pop-up is that it’s somewhat unexpected and temporary. This should translate through to every aspect of what the space or pop-up is, whether [it’s] within a current retail space or [something that has] sprung up overnight at an underground station,” he says. “The key takeaway of the experience should be that the product is the souvenir – meaning that the piece or object was only obtainable then.”
Penguin and Waterstones’s pop-up didn’t have exclusive products – it stocked titles by bestselling authors such as Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith – but it did offer a unique collection. At adidas’s Glitch pop-up, fans could get their hands on exclusive apparel, while boots came in boxes reminiscent of fried chicken packaging. In Porto Cervo – the Sardinian resort popular with millionaires – luxury mall Promenade du Port has launched The Supermarket, home to a changing programme of events and pop-ups throughout the resorts summer season. The space opened with a joint residency from three Californian brands – No.One, the Elder Statesman and Nick Fouquet – which offered exclusive and bespoke products, giving jet-setting customers a reason to part with their cash at the Promenade rather than another upmarket mall elsewhere.
The Supermarket at Promenade du Port hosts a changing programme of pop-ups and exhibitions
Superimpose recently worked with adidas on another pop-up event to coincide with NBA’s All Star Weekend. The brand took over a space in downtown Los Angeles, and put on a two day festival spanning music, entertainment and sport: there were gigs from N.E.R.D and Childish Gambino, creative workshops with adidas designers for local art and high school students, and a basketball match between East and West Coast hip hop artists plus appearances from NBA stars.
Evans claims it was the first time adidas had brought together its performance and lifestyle brands, recruiting athletes and Originals collaborators to create a star studded event with a broad appeal – one that positioned Adidas as a brand built on both creativity and technical performance.

Superimpose created a visual identity for the event inspired by sticker packs and guerrilla marketing to give the space an “anti-corporate” feel. This identity was used to create a range of merch, which visitors could customise on digital screens. The brand also enlisted robots to print custom shoes on the night, promoting its new SpeedFactory rapid production model.
“From our initial meetings, we were all aligned on what this had to be – it had to be authentic to the space we were in. [Downtown Los Angeles] was an area for trade and industry. This was where we started and stayed true through every aspect of how we designed the space – from the areas within it, [through to] materials and the visual language and graphic identity. We always asked ourselves how and why elements fitted to this umbrella idea of a democratic space.”
747 Warehouse Street. Image: Superimpose
Consumer interaction was a key part of the experience – something that Evans feels is often missing from the pop-up experience – and unusually, Adidas was willing to give control of the brand over to consumers.
“The whole identity of 747 was [created] to give everyone an opportunity to create their own version of brand within that space. We were asked to ignore brand guidelines and start from scratch, which I have never heard before,” he explains.
“We created a graphic identity that was interchangeable and ever evolving throughout the campaign on the lead up to the event [and] this set the tone for the whole space. Anyone could create their own merch [and] there were stations where the consumer had access to a suite of assets to have their own take on the identity,” he explains.
747 Warehouse Street. Image: Superimpose
The footwear experience allowed consumers to learn about Speed Factory while creating a custom pair of trainers with a print inspired by the venue’s former use as a market hall, explains Evans.
“Each pair was created within an experience that would give you a feeling of why they had made it – for instance, to talk about Speed Factory, we designed a large ‘Fresh Produce’ fruit box graphic that was inspired by the market space where the event was based [and] the fabric for the footwear was cut from this graphic…. Everything was very considered and rooted in the concept, no ideas or activations were plucked from thin air,” he adds.
The experience felt like a natural fit for adidas – a brand that, through collaborations and ad campaigns has built a reputation for working with world leading athletes, musicians and cultural influencers, from Pharrell to Virgil Abloh and Palace Skateboards.
But all too often, Evans believes retailers overlook the kind of retail experience that’s right for them in favour of doing something cool (Puma’s ‘trap house’ event being a prime example). “Big brands jumping onto a trend for a quick fix [is] not authentic, and consumers will generally see through it,” he says. “Be conscious of who you are and what you stand for as a brand: being authentic to your audience and giving them something that is nuanced, considered and true to you will be much more memorable.”

Pop-ups don’t just live in the space they were created – when done well, they can have a much wider reach on social media, but this can only happen if brands think carefully about how a physical space will translate in the digital world (something Refinery29 has done brilliantly with its 29Rooms pop-up, a collection of colourful, Insta-worthy interactive installations).
Offering advice for other brands, Evans says: “Anything physical in the space has to have as much of a presence, if not bigger, through social platforms – and consider, what is the social currency you obtain from being able to attend this temporary space?”
Pop-ups might be rooted in the physical right now, but in future, Evans believes we could also start to see brands experimenting with online experiences that also tap into the idea of social currency. Esports and games franchises have already begun doing this: Fortnite, the billion dollar game, offers limited edition ‘skins’ and add-ons for players to purchase with V-bucks, some of which are only available for 24 or 48 hours. “It might seem like insanity to be spending money on a non-physical item of clothing or apparel, but this isn’t going away – it’s growing at an incredibly fast rate … and I’d say this example really poses the question of what retail is, where it’s going and do we even need a physical space to trade or create an experience?”
A scented installation at 29Rooms, created with photographer Maisie Cousins. Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Refinery29
Perhaps in future, it’s not pop-ups we’ll be talking about, but live streamed gigs beamed into our VR headsets or product ranges that are available for just a few hours. It seems unlikely the pop-up will die out however, not just because it can be incredibly effective in generating hype and all important content for social feeds (as well as appealing to notoriously hard-to-please demographics), but also because pop-ups allow brands to experiment – whether through testing out new events, products or retail concepts – and in the process, engage with consumers on a much deeper level than the average online transaction or bricks and mortar experience.
For consumers, pop-ups offer something different – and that is incredibly valuable at a time when people seem to be less interested than ever in spending time in physical stores. Most of us would prefer to shop online if we know what we’re looking for – it’s quicker and more convenient, and you can even do it in your pants while watching Netflix if you so desire – but the prospect of peeling yourself off the sofa and heading into town becomes a lot more exciting when it comes with the prospect of getting your hands on exclusive products or seeing a gig, a talk or a celebrity at the same time.
Sasheer Zamata’s laughing car wash installation at 29Rooms. Photo: Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images for Refinery29
Perhaps then, the key to a good pop-up is creating a space where people will have a good time. It sounds simple, but pop-ups are often over-complicated, unnecessarily elitist or exclusive and driven by trends and hashtags rather than thinking, who is your audience? And what is the right kind of experience that speaks to them and to your brand?
It’s not about creating something that only a select few can join in with, or creating something that feels like a purely promotional exercise (or an attempt to capitalise on trends), but rather, making something that is genuinely fun, exciting and offers the chance to see, experience or take home something special – something that can only be encountered in that space at that particular time. Penguin and Waterstones’ pop-up worked because it had a simple premise – to champion female writers and great storytelling – while 29Rooms featured inspiring interactive artworks that reflected the brand’s focus on creativity and female empowerment. For the consumers who visited them, these pop-ups had a clear purpose, and aimed to deliver something unexpected and enjoyable for them to take part in. The post How to make a good pop-up appeared first on Creative Review.

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