How to Impress an Expo West Virgin

I don’t care what type of Expo I walk into – because seeing the trends in a variety of booths will make my day! I love seeing what companies are willing to invest in – whether it’s going off the rails with a huge build out and footprint, or, putting their dollars to use through a smaller presence but with simply great design and packaging. Both make quite an impact. I do get a bit sad when I see some new brands that possibly can’t afford either, as their even being there seems like a waste because everyone is walking right on by – and you see the defeat in their eyes.

The Natural Products Expo West Show® blew me away. I knew how coveted tickets are and was just grateful to attend just for a day. I was like a kid in a candy store, or maybe better to say a vegan in a tofu igloo? It was a designer’s paradise.

Here is a rundown of a few of my faves, broken down:

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Print & Packaging Companies

Not super impressed with the variety of packaging companies that were on-site, one did impress me though with a cute sign that only a print nerd like me would love. The sales rep was cool, easy to talk to and let me geek out over the print methods and practically knock over the display touching the papers like I was running out of time. So, shout out to Jeremy Howard at Trojan Litho™.

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Favorite Booth with Sustainability Effort Interaction

Meyer’s Clean Day® was so impressive, from the brand ambassadors, the booth and packaging. The booth design drew you in but then you see a big wall promoting “leave your mark to help plants grow”. For every fingerprint attendees made on the wall they would donate $1 to the Center for Plant Preservation. Then (genius minds), you obviously need to wash the ink from your hands so they lead you to an adorable pop up bathroom with a full line of their products to wash and moisturize your hands. Your take away was a branded pencil which normally would not sound groundbreaking - but when you are done using it, the tip has basil seeds that you then plant. I loved the whole experience. Plus ups: As you walk through the expo they have pop-up displays of hand sanitizer. Also, they’re social efforts are super-on point right now - them out.

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Trends

Fonts, modern retro vibe, neon lights, CBD, Bone Broths, Jerky…Walking through the show you really pick up on the trends of what is hot in natural products, and design right now – and the forward thinking associated with both. Old school upgraded neon lights were some of my favorites to see. Clean simple wall with that pop! A great booth example is Pop & Bottle. I LOVED this booth and packaging design. These clean, super food almond lattes are yummy and you feel good about drinking them – or just having the cute bottles on your desk at work.

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Copywriting & Branding

Props to puns and wordplay with Sir Kensington’s booth and the The HoneyPot Co.® brand.

“SK” is an old brand with a new look – and it works! Samples were out by the time I visited, but you can guess that I judge books by the cover art – so I will be trying all of these products simply based on that, and because they made me giggle by “herbing my enthusiasm”.

HoneyPot had me at hello when I started following them, on Instagram but their small but mighty booth got me when I saw this on the banner: “Made by humans with vaginas for humans with vaginas. Because it takes one to know one™.” Hell yeah, you’re right. Clean feminine products from the women like me – I’ll try your products.

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The Food!

OMG. We went downstairs and it was all over. Food, food, food! My colleague had warned me to take my time because you’ll need a food coma nap after 10 minutes – she was right, but I am stubborn, and everything looked SO good! I tried more Vegan “meat” products than I’d care to share. Some were, eh, I’ll check back at next year’s expo – but others, got even the consistency down!

Favorite Snacks (that will become my staples)

Tillamook® Cheeseboard snack packs. Crackers, cheese and a fun sweet/spicy jam. Like, I literally texted all my wine-drinking, working mom friends while I was at the booth – we have to be their demographic. These products are heavenly. Unfortunately, they just launched so they are in a limited market. I cannot wait to see them at my local grocer. The ONLY downside I mentioned to the rep was the packaging was way too big for the amount you get – the portion was probably right, but everyone at the show is asking for “less plastic” and eco-friendly packaging etc…I’m sure they’ll figure that out at the National roll-out.

Next up, I Heart Keenwah®. They seem to be available everywhere like Amazon & Target and the flavors are so yummy. I tell myself this is the guilt-free, adult version of Cheese Puffs.

Last, Simply Organic® Simmer Sauces. Who knew? Myself and everyone around me at the booth had the same response “You make sauces??” I buy this brand of herbs and seasonings but apparently, they rolled out a diverse selection of sauces last year. They showcased this specific Green Enchilada two ways, over a baguette, and over tortilla chips. As someone who entertains often, this seems like a quick, easy way to have a dip that doesn’t look like it was straight out of the jar! Yes, with the creaminess – it is an indulgence, but worth it! Upon a deeper dive, they have quite a few new products you can check out HERE.

Some other honorable mentions of my favorite booths

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Pop Art Gourmet Popcorn, Bonafide Provisions®, Delallo®, Olivina Men®, Pacha Soap Co.™, Seaweed Bath Co.® 

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To sum it up, I’d have to say my first time definitely lived up to the hype and I hope to experience it again and again. I will continue to visit other expos and events to keep up on the trends and get my creative juices inspired, but so far – this shot straight to the top of my list.

A Millennial Marketers Take on #29Rooms from Refinery29

Inside the Palace of Fine Arts, #29Rooms

Inside the Palace of Fine Arts, #29Rooms

#29Rooms is Refinery29’s exploration into connecting with their readers in an experiential way. #29Rooms is an annual funhouse of style, culture and creativity created by a group of global artists and visionaries. It launched in 2015 during NY Fashion Week and has expanded to major US cities, including San Francisco where I attended. You'll find food, drinks, music, singing, pictures, shredding, (temporary) tattoos, donating, boxing, painting, sharing (dreams and secrets) and more! To no one’s surprise, it didn’t take long to sell out. And when they released more tickets, it just built up the hype leading up to the show.

As a media company, it’s not surprising that the #29Rooms brand is on point. The name is geared towards millennials and ready to trend on Twitter. #29Rooms itself has over 100,000 followers on Instagram, their own merch line and a special Snapchat filter. Their branding is the perfect shade of millennial pink.

#29Rooms is one of a kind. Everything from the art, creativity and experiences is exciting and a must-see. It’s culturally relevant and inclusive. #29Rooms is a genius experience that marketers can take advantage of. I am a huge fan of creative marketing placements and experiential marketing. And #29Rooms combines them brilliantly. #29Rooms is an excellent creative placement for brands to showcase their creativity in front of a millennial crowd. Each of the 29 rooms was inspired and created in partnership with an artist, visionary or brand. Each room was unique and captivating in its own way. Each space had its own relevant story to tell. Jake Gyllenhaal, Haagen-Dazs, Planned Parenthood, Pure Leaf, A Simple Favor (Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively movie), Demi Lovato, Janelle Monae, Adobe, Emma Roberts, Laneige and more partnered with #29Rooms.

Experiential marketing is continuing to rise in popularity. Consumers “ are hungry for all things immersive,” said Karen Wong, deputy director of the New Museum. “It’s a byproduct of us spending an inordinate amount of time on our screens.” The fact that some people attend [#29Rooms] to plump up their own social media feeds is “bringing us full circle,” said Ms. Wong. Many many attendees did use #29Rooms to plump up their social media feed. Just look on any social platform, use the hashtag #29Rooms and you will find thousands of photos, which not only built awareness of the event, but also enhanced the #29Rooms brand. 

#29Rooms’ themes and partnerships were carefully approved to ensure they would fit within the space that Refinery29 was working to create. Some brands utilized their space at #29Rooms better than others.

One of the secrets I found in the room "Tell Us Your Secret"

One of the secrets I found in the room "Tell Us Your Secret"

The movie, A Simple Favor starring Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick is still building hype. Before the trailer dropped Blake Lively “deleted” everything on her Instagram, only followed people named Emily Nelson and changed her bio to “What happened to Emily?...”. A social media wipe is an increasingly popular tactic to build buzz by top-tier celebrities (Taylor Swift). And now the movie has its own room in #29Rooms. Inside the room, it had the fragmented profiles and voices of the main characters, Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick. It also had a large board where you could write your own secret, roll it up and put it on the board for other attendees to read after you leave. It was very memorable and tied well to the movie.

THE ROOM "TELL US YOUR SECRET"

THE ROOM "TELL US YOUR SECRET"

Haagen-Dazs had its own room where attendees could experience their new Trio Crispy Layers Ice Cream with a sample and a hanging column of caramel-colored (and scented) thread. Their current marketing efforts focus on trial, and this was a great opportunity to encourage trial. In the past, they’ve had brand ambassadors in San Francisco handing out samples of their new flavors. Their room put their new ice cream flavor top of mind, for when attendees go grocery shopping, stop by the ice cream aisle and can find the new Haagen-Dazs flavor they tried at #29Rooms.

The water works photo backdrop, featuring the laneige watermark

The water works photo backdrop, featuring the laneige watermark

Laneige had a fun “Water Works” photo backdrop with pink pool floaties and a photographer. They were giving out samples of one of their products, while you waited in line. Once your photos were taken by a professional photographer, they were sent to an iPad, where you could send yourself the photos. When the photos arrived in your inbox they were from Laneige, they had a watermark with Laneige’s logo and the #29Rooms logo and they automatically signed you up for their email list. Laneige had a thoughtful and well-executed plan for their time at #29Rooms.

Mastercard was a partner of #29Rooms and for cardholders, you could get a key at the beginning of the event and use it to skip to the front of the line for one room. Maybe it encouraged loyalty to current cardholders, but it did nothing to enhance their brand or to encourage trial. It also brought minimal awareness compared to the other partners of #29Rooms. 

Overall, I take away a lot of creative inspiration and desire for more things experiential and expressive. My advice to #29Rooms as a consumer, do not let so many people in at once. It dampers the experience and does not leave enough time to experience all of the rooms when you are waiting in line for the majority of the event. My advice as a marketer to brands, take advantage! All attendees left with no less than 50 photos that are sure to be shared across their social media accounts. Let your brand be featured in one of them. 

Mastering the Art of Brand Immersion: The #HeinekenExperience Turns Tourists into Brand Ambassadors

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A labyrinth of charming canals, technicolor tulips dancing in the early spring breeze, Van Gogh’s interpretation of Gauguin’s chair and the brooding Dutch masters with their infinite shades of black are all worthy of celebration and contemplation in Amsterdam. But the brand storyteller and beer lover in me could not resist a visit to the “Heineken Experience” on a recent visit to this amazing city with my young family.

To meet the growing demand for their Dutch Pilsner in 1867 Heineken built a state of the art brewery on the banks of one of the outer canals that radiate through Amsterdam.  In 1988 a new facility was built outside of the city to meet the now soaring international demand. In 1991 the old brewery with it’s monolithic brickwork and as large as a city block was opened to the public as an interactive brand immersion, truly a masterclass in 360 degree brand storytelling.

With pre purchased tickets we happily jumped the football field long line to pick up our silicone bracelet passes with two free beer tokens attached. The line was celebratory nonetheless with brand devotees eagerly holding up Instagram ready photo frames happily delivered by jocular employees sporting green suits and ties. This enthusiasm and authentic sense of fun was pervasive throughout our 90 minutes inside. While the whole experience could have easily careered into a ditch of commercialism, I have to say Heineken did a superb job and instead of a marketing mallet used psychology, subtlety and quality like bubbles in the beer to gently turn us from tourists into ambassadors.

Like the five points on the red star on the label of a Heineken the 5 senses of touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing were employed to give us a truly unique and memorable experience. Like a three act play the experience was laid out before us. The tour begins under a 5 story grain silo, and ends at a humming bar with everyone sampling the coldest Heineken imaginable.

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Act 1: The Grains of Heritage- Everyone is Welcome

The cool, dark and clean first floor was a welcome respite from the chaos of the buzzing street. A smart, bespectacled woman in her 20’s welcomes our group with an energetic introduction to the tour and the brand. While Jagermeister and Bud tend to cast Hooters type party girls, the Heineken guides had more of a university educated vibe, an understated hipness, friendly but not too friendly where it is fake.

Although lost on my 10, 8, and 5 year olds I was taken by the origin story of a 22 year old Gerard Heineken in 1864 borrowing money from his mother to purchase the Haystack brewery. Costumed hologram reenactors make the history come to life and give off an original hipster vibe with their mutton chops and glint of optimism in their eye. Although that moment was 150 years ago, we believe Gerard was just one of us, with a passion and a dream.

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Act 2: The Brewing- Science meets Art

The tour was self-guided and 5-minute presentations were delivered every 10 minutes throughout the exhibitions. A brewing lesson on the roles of hops, barley, water and Heinekens flavor defining yeast was delivered. We could stick our hands in the barley, smell the hops, and stir and taste the pre-alcohol sludge called wort. 

In a vast room that oozes history and has the feel of a Wes Anderson film, we ducked our heads into gigantic copper vats where Heineken was brewed for over 120 years. We met the huge black and white Shire horses that used to power the facility, and deliver the beer.

Act 3: The Party- Technology and Techno

#HeinekenExperience photo ops are peppered through the rest of the tour, with pose worthy sayings of “We say proost!”, “Cheers”, “Good isn’t good enough, it has to be perfect” and walls made of luminescent green bottles lit from behind. Like lemmings, people would wait in line to capture the Insta-worthy moment.

A surrealist beer simulator takes 100 guests at a time into a big room with walls and ceilings made of led screens. The metal plates on the floor would rumble while we experience what it is like to be brewed and bottled. In the end, we are poured into smaller rooms where a steady stream of suggestive on brand scenes batter our reptilian minds into submission.

Clever green screen scenes allow you to email a video of yourself, friends or family in a Dutch bicycle, delivering Heineken through busy Amsterdam streets. With our crew growing restless we breezed through the museum of Heineken F1 and Rugby sponsorship where the kids kicked virtual rugby balls into a goal and continued onwards towards the denouement.

The tile lined basement that once housed huge fermentation tanks, is now a neon-lit thumping bar where my wife and I over 200 other brand devotes could sample the coldest and freshest Heineken on the planet and the kids could get a soda. The beer was handed to you with a smile and served a big foam head that was trimmed with a skimming knife. The experience fermented within us as the beer was to be tilted in a way to dive under the suds while grabbing a big gulp of this historic golden brew.