How Swingers stole your brand’s marketing

How Swingers stole your brand’s marketing

I love Swingers. In fact, my wife and I love it so much we got our friends into it recently.

Yes, Swingers, Shoreditch’s 9-hole crazy golf, bar and street food pop-up has been outrageously popular.  But now, as it comes to the end of its run, I’m left wondering why a big brand didn’t do it first? I mean how could a startup beat the likes of Nike or Diageo to put on one of the coolest experiential events around? A sold out run where people pay good money to book months in advance.

To find out, I asked a few of the Swingers employees how the idea came about. According to my inside sources, a banker had the idea after spotting an empty Old Street warehouse due for demolition. He decided to bankroll the project and got a bunch of entrepreneur mates to pull it all together. They employed a professional golf course designer, sorted the branding and did deals with street food vendors, clothing and alcohol brands.

It was an instant success. The media covered it in droves. Hipsters and celebrities alike flocked to whack balls around the course and share their experiences on social media. Instagram, Vine, Twitter and Facebook are full of videos and images taken inside the venue.

Brands like Bacardi, Kopparberg and Xbox would have killed to reach an East London crowd of urban trendsetters like this. So why didn’t they?

Was it the cost of staging the event?  Were they put off by charging customers for a branded experience? Perhaps the event’s length was too long (Swingers’ initial run was three months)? Or did their agencies simply not think big enough?

The answer is probably a mix of all the above.

First, let’s take the cost. Yes, the upfront investment is probably high. But what if brands charged people for entry? If an experience is good enough, consumers will pay.  Swingers was insanely popular despite it costing £10 for a round of golf (£3 if you just wanted to go to the bar) and had extremely limited availability. Brands charging for experiential activity is not unheard of. Red Bull already does this, running its own events which it charges an entry fee for.

Second, what about copying Swingers’ approach by running the pop-up over several months? Currently, many experiential campaigns only last a few days.  This is often due to the cost and the fact that marketing managers probably don’t want the hassle.

However, there are a few outliers in this area, with brands running successful long-term branded events. One example is the excellent House of Peroni pop-up, which is a sort of private members club for non-private members people. Queues form regularly outside the event which features a 30 day residency every six months. The campaign shows that brands can run popular long-term pop-ups that add value.

Finally, are agencies being bold enough?  As we’ve seen a few brands are pushing the boundaries. But I wouldn’t be surprised if many are being limited by clients’ budgets.

What Swingers has taught us is that we all need to think bigger and be more creative when it comes to creating a business case. For example, could a creative agency do something similar as a joint venture with a big brand? Or could the in-house marketing team divert the budget from a primetime TV ad spot to fund the initial set up, then take the ticket revenue?  It’s a bold approach but as in golf, it’s the follow through that makes all the difference.

Hew Leith
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