What Worked and What Worked Better: Clusterfest 2018
The first weekend of June, the WORLDZ Report team ventured north from LA to experience Comedy Central’s Second Annual Clusterfest from San Francisco’s Civic Center. If you’re in the events business, you know the importance of onsite activities and activations—they can make all the difference between success and failure. In an attempt to continue bringing you a superior experience with each year’s WORLDZ, we analyzed each activity and activation to determine what worked and what worked better. Keep reading for our informal (but informative!) report.
Old Spice 3D Branded Photo Booth
This booth allowed festival goers to interact with various actors from the Old Spice brand universe. It was entertaining, if a little overdone. While immersive interactions like these can enhance the atmosphere of an activation, the result seems double edged, in that certain patrons chose to simply avoid the booth. Not everyone was up for the theatrical interaction, but still, the line got long.
It turns out that a souvenir or novelty photo—even a moving, 3D one—isn’t as enticing as an experience when it comes to long line pay-off. Consider the social presence of this activation: for something that’s main purpose is shareability, there’s not a lot of Clusterfest 3D photo booth pictures using the Old Spice hashtag (and we looked). There could be a lot of reasons for this—maybe the branding was too heavy handed, or perhaps people didn’t like their video and didn’t feel like waiting in line to make another. Regardless, considering the investment of resources to pull something like this off, you’d hope to see the user-generated content splashed all over the place.
South Park County Fair
This was a self-promotional activation from Comedy Central. Comedy Central recreated an environment from South Park— the famous “South Park County Fair”—which was similar to other set recreations but with one glaring difference. Because the show is animated and incapable of rendering lifelike recreations, the props, characters, and other details that produce the kind of immersive experiences that festival goers had come to expect had to be achieved using cardboard cutouts. Because of this handicap, they were incapable of creating the same powerful sense of atmosphere that other sets achieved.
The other drawback: each carnival game required that festival goers wait in individual lines, creating a frustrating start-and-stop feel to the experience. Other activations opted for one big line to get into the experience, which eliminated the frustrating feeling of getting in line to… get in line. Everything was available without additional waiting, which felt like the better approach.
Bluth Banana Stand + Stair Mobile
Located close to the entrance, Netflix’s Arrested Development featured two major Bluth Family staples from the beloved show. The mobile stairs, the last remnant of the family’s extravagant lifestyle after their private jets got repossessed, and the family Banana Stand (of “there’s always money…” fame). Fans of the show will know both set pieces well.
While the stairs were mostly a photo opportunity, manned by festival staff waiting to take your picture, the Banana stand was a fully functioning addition to the food truck presence on site. A fun, delicious detail that elevated the set pieces from kitschy to immersive. Elements like this blur the line between pretend and participatory—a photo op is great, but a photo up plus a frozen treat beats it.
What Worked Better
Bar 75 by Miller Light + Tequila Bar by Jose Cuervo
These activations were genius: patio bars with single-drink menus. They were close enough to hear the mainstage and feel close to the action, but with the added luxury of comfortable seating and convenient proximity to a refill. If you’re accompanied by a friend with an aversion to the front row crowds, you can peacefully watch the show from a strategically located bar stool. They even included some crowd-pleasing group games like Giant Jenga and Connect Four, which allowed patrons to interact and linger in the area.
To make the setup even sweeter, both bars came equipped with a lifesaving abundance of charging stations. Every type of charger was available, discretely yet liberally distributed between stools and hidden in the centerpieces of potted succulents, creating another reason to linger. While these weren’t the only charging booths at the festival, the others were less convenient because they took you away from the action on stage. Providing this luxury without making you leave your drink or venture outside of earshot of the festival was a much smarter solution. It also incentivize people to hang out while they powered up, which helped further the operation’s the ultimate goal: to sell more drinks to patrons.
Nickelodeon’s Double Dare
This interactive game show was a cross-promotion with MTV and Nickelodeon, capitalizing on the return of the cult favorite 90s television show Double Dare (+ influencer Liza Koshy) as well as the upcoming season of the The Challenge, a longtime MTV fan favorite. This activity drew the biggest crowd of people who were not explicitly interested in the action on stage. It was action packed, with great effects. Real slime! Color-coordinated team tee shirts! An obstacle course that becomes tricky after more than one Miller Lite!
Another major draw? Because of the demographics of the festival, a throwback to Nick’s 90s peak hit the nostalgic sweet spot for attending millennials. The well known Challenge competitors made a cameo appearance and even played against volunteers in the crowd, which boosted the immersive nostalgia of the activity. The Challenge has been on for more than a decade, with many familiar faces showing up as repeat competitors year after year—these throwbacks created the perfect millennial nostalgia cocktail.
Situated in the center of the venue, Paddy’s Pub was easily the weekend’s most popular attraction. It filled and emptied in tandem with set times, suggesting that it was the biggest draw for repeat visitors. It was so successful because it married all of the best parts of the other experiences. Similar to the sponsored bar setups, it worked because of its simplicity—but had an edge on those experiences for a few reasons: it offered a full menu of liquor, beer, and wine. Fully functioning barroom staples like pool and karaoke were set up throughout. It offered people a change of scenery—a sort of rowdy “green room” to refuel and wait for the headliner.
There were also stand alone sets like the “Paddy’s Pub Office and Bathroom” that were woven into the setting. Pub patrons could participate in photos ops, drink in hand, without waiting in line or paying an extra fee. They were similar to the Bluth sets, but part of a larger experience; these photos ops were much more candid, and felt like an authentic visit to Paddy’s. The attention to detail set it apart in terms of establishing an atmosphere and allowing patrons to feel fully immersed in a set. Hidden jokes and references functioned as fun easter eggs for die-hard fans and turned on newcomers to the It’s Always Sunny irreverent brand of humor. It also gets awfully cool in in San Francisco in June once the sun goes down, and the bar offered a welcome reprieve from the outdoor chill.
The line was long, but putting up with the one time wait mitigated any additional standing in line. Once you were in, you were in. And, finally—the brilliant, tiny detail that held the entire thing together? There were no working restrooms inside of the experience. This created a constant turnover of people and a fast paced line.
Daily Show’s Presidential Twitter Library
The Daily Show had a large presence at Clusterfest. Both the present and former host of the festival were headliners, and the latter was making a major return to stand up while closing the weekend lineup. Given the left-leaning nature of the San Francisco audience, the weekend’s performances were heavy with expressions of political frustrations.
Perhaps the most fun manifestation of this frustration was the interactive “Trump Presidential Twitter Library”. It included, among other gems, a golden toilet (a throne from which to tweet, obviously), a memorial to tweets “Deleted But Not Forgotten”, and an alarm that sounded anytime the President tweets in real-time.
While immersive and funny in person, the major success of this activation was the coverage it received on social media. Of the Clusterfest 2018 activations, the “Presidential Twitter Library” had the biggest presence on social media both during and after. Because the experience is inherently centered on social sharing, the “meta” nature of the experience made it more conducive to Twitter shares. If the metric by which you measure success when evaluating sponsored activations is amplification of the event, this is clearly the winner.
Each of these activities was a success in their own right. So what are the major takeaways for the next event you’re planning?
• Create unique photo opportunities to encourage the “bragging” via social media
• The best activations are a hybrid of photo ops and experiential atmosphere
• Lean into “cult followings” and capitalize on nostalgia
• Get “meta” on social
• There is no such thing as too many charging stations
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