By Georgia Patch, Bastion EBA

In February 2014, strikes by staff on London’s underground network forced commuters to experiment and find alternative routes to work. Economists, as economists do, saw a ripe opportunity to run an experiment and found that once tube work had ceased, one in 20 stuck with their new routes after the strike was over. The point being that without disruption new, better paths may not be found.

COVID-19 has triggered a dizzying number of cancelled events, suspended launches and halted travel. It feels as if the virus is freezing the cogs of economic activity the world over. For those in experiential, our very business is the art of drawing crowds, we can’t sugarcoat the fact that COVID-19 is a headache of unprecedented nature. But, being in advertising we are accustomed to chaos; unplanned strikes, pivoting briefs and shrinking lead times. In experiential we always have contingency plans A, B and even C. So, rather than wallow in despair, we’re seeing COVID-19 as a brief; an opportunity to rethink experiential beyond mass gatherings, recalibrate and remind ourselves that experiential is a tactic, not a channel. 

At the heart of what we do is find and act on the intersection between brands, people and culture. Despite the havoc caused by COVID-19 brands are here to stay, people will always need to be entertained and culture is in constant flux. So as an industry, now is the time to step up and deliver against the pillars that we pride ourselves on: agility, adaptability and most importantly, creativity.

While mass gatherings have been put on hold, we’re enlisting creative stopgaps that capture the imaginations of both our clients and our audiences; live-streaming, digital avatars, interactive content and gamification are some of the tools & tactics we’ll be doubling down on in the coming weeks. 

What follows are some of the approaches and tactics we’re looking to embrace as Experiential 2.0:

Remote Adventures

As brands shift their experiential focus from IRL to URL, we’ll expect to see an uptick in interactive content experiences, which we’re calling ‘Remote Adventures’.

Tinder recently launched a big experiment, ‘Swipe Night’ to much success in the US and has begun to roll out the initiative internationally. Swipe Night seeing the dating app evolve from connecting people to producing content. Swipe Night is a content series that allowed guests to swipe on a story, rather than a date. Presented in a “choose-your-own-adventure”- style format that’s been embraced by Netflix, YouTube and others, Swipe Night asked fans to make decisions to advance a narrative that followed a group of friends in an “apocalyptic adventure.” the decisions you made are then shown on your profile as a conversation starter. The content is short and pithy and a very creative and clever way to engage and sustain engagement. Tinder said in late October that matches on its app jumped 26% compared to a typical Sunday night (the series airs on Sunday nights), and messages increased 12%.

Live Streaming 2.0

While live streaming is nothing new, we’re expecting to see new entrants and new industries in the space as the world goes into shut down. 

Following the last-minute cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix an equally last minute online race was staged attracting Red Bull F1 driver Max Verstappen, Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, Le Mans champion Neel Jani, Formula E winner Antonio Felix Da Costa and many others. The racing world is starved of entertainment as sport goes into shutdown. Incredibly, more people tuned into the “The Race All-Star Esports Battle” than British TV coverage of Formula One races suggesting that COVID-19 could be a tipping point for more people tuning into e-sport reaching a wider audience.  

Similarly, to launch Season 7 of Game of Thrones, HBO launched a Facebook Live event to reveal the premier date. A block of ice displayed on the screen and viewers watched as the ice melted: with a twist, they were invited to type in FIRE to summon an offscreen flamethrower to melt the block. At one point, Bran himself (Isaac Hempstead Wright) appeared to cheer people on. Despite a glitch, people kept viewing anyway with 150,000 tuning in to the experience.

Brands as Saviours

In a world where consumers buy the change they wish to see in the world, some brands are using COVID-19 as an opportunity to demonstrate their ethos and culture. However, brands need to exercise caution and avoid the temptation to profiteer, acting with transparency and where appropriate.

LVMH announced that it is converting three of its perfume manufacturing facilities where it normally makes fragrances to make hand sanitiser instead. The product will be given at no charge to the French authorities and the largest hospital system in Europe. On top of this, the sanitiser won’t even carry a brand. This is interesting not only because of how rapid their response is, but because it shows how quickly culture can change, all of a sudden hand sanitiser has become a luxury good. 

Across Europe and North America citizens have limitations on travel, from KFC to Deliveroo brands are offering free delivery and even doing your supermarket shopping for you. Deliveroo has also announced a ‘contactless’ delivery option, a PR stunt underpinned by utility.

In addition, Google is providing $25 million in donated ad credit to the WHO and government agencies, blocking ads from brands hoping to capitalise from the pandemic, and enlisting its SOS Alert in Google Search to connect people to news, safety tips and links to more authoritative information from the WHO.

Phygital Retail

With employees increasingly working from home, self-isolation is likely to become the unfortunate trend of 2020.  Consumers are only going to rely more on delivery. 

In 2019, LEGO activated a pop-up store with no garments, instead visitors scanned a QR code which activated an immersive Snapchat lens. While physical pop-ups might be put on hold, there’s no shortage of how snapchat’s lenses and filters can be used to not only build an immersive experience from the comfort of home, but also close out the path to purchase. 

Virtual Concerts

With Coachella and Stagecoach cancelled along with an increasing number of sporting events, is there an opportunity in reshaping the way people even attend and experience these events?

According to developer Epic Games, 10.7 million people attended the Marshmellow concert that took place virtually inside Fortnite in 2019. As music played, Marshmello himself was being broadcast to players, urging them to make their avatars dance along to the music. The show itself was around 10 minutes in duration and filled with interactive moments, with players being launched into the air during Fly and bouncing beach balls during Happier.


Whilst COVID-19 runs its path, we’ll see an uptick in the nascent use of digital technologies and brand experimenting with tactics previously overlooked, so whilst it feels like we’re thrown off keel, perhaps this is a time for experimentation, a time to test and a time to learn, to find new ways of doing things that perhaps we’d overlooked previously.