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In praise of the pop-up

London has been brimming with pop-ups this summer. Jon Silk, director of Bite, reveals why they are relevant to B2B marketers 

It might be my age, or that I live in London, or even the fact that I’m a fully signed-up social media w*nker, but I do love a pop-up.

Wherever you look in London these days, there’s a pop-up. Pop-up shops are appearing in unused storefronts (and there are a lot of unused storefronts, unfortunately) selling everything from artisan cupcakes in novelty shapes to the latest Samsung handset.

The fact the shops are only there for a week or two adds to the urgency to buy, resulting in exclamations like: ‘Oh my, I must buy these cakes in the shape of an aeroplane and a seven-inch Galaxy Tab 3 16GB. What if they’re all gone tomorrow?’

Budding restaurateurs are catching on too. This year alone I’ve been to a Scottish-themed pop-up in a working steelyard, drunk cocktails made of grass on a rooftop in the City, and enjoyed an Italian BBQ on a giant communal table in a disused pickle factory in Hackney.

Each time you visit a pop-up, you’re there for far more than the transaction. Pop-ups of any kind are all about the experience. Getting a ticket is always difficult and expensive. Finding the clandestine venue is hard, but thrilling. Once you’re there
the shared experience brings everyone together in a special way, and you inevitably end up chatting to strangers as if they were old friends.

Pop-up fails
Pop-ups are great, right? Not every time, unfortunately. When you try to scale them, they go horribly wrong. Look at Secret Cinema – the best-known pop-up cinema group – and its epic failure to pull off a screening of Back to the Future this month.

Recently, Secret Cinema has been on the larger end of the pop-up experience. Starting as a tent at Glastonbury before graduating to screenings in quirky venues that work with the film itself (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was shown in a hospital, for example), it’s grown and grown. Secrecy has gone out of the window, and Back to the Future is being shown in a full-size replica of Hill Valley that will see almost 80,000 people visit over the next
few weeks.

Except on opening weekend, it didn’t. It turns out building a full-size replica of a 1950s American town is difficult. It also turns out, when you cancel a screening (that you asked people not to take their phones to) a couple of hours before the screening, people get annoyed. Ouch.

But Secret Cinema isn’t a pop-up any more. It’s too big, too permanent and, ironically, not secret. The magic has gone.

Your marketing plan
So why am I telling you this, B2B marketer? Because at some point you’re going to want to do a pop-up. It’s one of those terms, like blog, viral video, and mobile app that will come up in a brainstorm and make its way into your marketing plan.

Pop-ups are a brilliant idea, and extremely worthy of being in your plan. They’re also so hot right now. When you go ahead, make sure you remember what happened to Secret Cinema.

Keep your pop-up idea small, focused, exclusive, fun and almost purposefully awkward. The moment you try to scale it (which I know you’re going to try and do), it’ll grow too big and eventually pop.