Event Marketing: Contests, Conferences, And Festivals

Visakan Veerasamy
Visakan Veerasamy
April 20, 2016
2 min read
Event Marketing: Contests, Conferences, And Festivals

In this article

It's true that we live in a digital age, where we get served with tonnes of content and ads. As result-oriented marketers, we worry primarily about things like search and SEO.

But despite all that, there's still no substitute for human contact. (VR does looks very promising, but it seems probable that people are always going to be interested in meeting other people in the flesh.)

What that means is that there's always going to be a demand for events. Instances where many different people gather together to have a shared experience.

And where there are people, there is an opportunity to do marketing. To be remarkable, and to earn word-of-mouth.

Some of the possible categories of events include:

  • Festivals – a celebration of your product or whatever your product helps your customers achieve
  • Contests and challenges – tapping into people's competitive streaks to create something noteworthy
  • Launch parties – Introducing something new and exciting to your customers and the world
  • Conferences – focusing on how your users or customers can learn from one another

Here are some examples of how brands use events to their advantage:

1. Chipotle's free 'Cultivate' festivals – live music and celeb chefs draw over 300,000 attendees


Since 2011, Chipotle has been hosting “Cultivate”, a series of free festivals throughout America with live music, celebrity chef demonstrations, artisanal food and activities that spread awareness about sustainable agriculture.

2013’s “Cultivate” drew more than 300,000 attendees across San Francisco, Denver and Chicago and were featured in local media.

Learn more: 9 Examples Of How Chipotle’s Word-Of-Mouth Marketing Strategy Works Its Magic

2. Twitter usage at SXSW 2007 went from 20,000 to 60,000 tweets per day

One of the 60 inch plasma screens along the SXSW hallways.

Co-founder Evan Williams decided to visualize the service on 60 inch plasma screens in the hallways, because “We knew hallways were where the action was”. Twitter created an event-specific feature that allowed attendees to follow a handful of “ambassadors”.

According to Newsweek’s Steven Levy, “Hundreds of conference-goers kept tabs on each other via constant twitters. Panelists and speakers mentioned the service, and the bloggers in attendance touted it.” During the event, Twitter usage went from 20,000 tweets per day to 60,000.

Learn more: How 8 (More) Successful Companies Fought For Their First Customers: ASOS, Uber, Yelp and more

3. Tinder got its early users by hosting high-profile college parties where you needed the app to get in

Tinder party word of mouth ReferralCandy

To boost their domination of the college population, Tinder hires “college campus reps” to help promote the app to their peers.

They do so by organizing college parties, with some specific entry requirements. Some make it compulsory for guests to download the app before entering, while others require guests to find a date on Tinder, and bring them to the party.

These guidelines help the company ensure that their product gets the maximum exposure and downloads.

Learn more: How Tinder Obtained More Than 50 Million Users Through Word-of-Mouth

4. Uniqlo does regular launch parties on-site to build hype for its new collections


Uniqlo is a clothing brand that regularly hosts launch parties. These events are hosted on their own premises, which allows them to skip on costly venue rentals.

If your business makes use of a venue for everyday operations, repurposing said venue for special events can be a great idea!

Learn more: 7 Ways Uniqlo Plans to Take Over the Clothing Industry via Word-of-Mouth

5. The Coachella festival grew to become a massive annual event through branding


You might think that "Coachella IS an event", but it's really a broader cultural phenomenon, tying together many different genres of music, fashion and art installations. The event is just the centerpiece of the brand.

(It's foreseeable, then, that a business can actually develop from a regularly organized event, rather than the other way around!)

Learn more: How Coachella Grew To Become An $82.4m Hipster Pilgrimage Through Word-Of-Mouth

6. The annual CrossFit Games, where thousands compete to be the fittest in the world

[caption id="attachment_19352" align="aligncenter" width="600"]

Image: Sevan Matossian

Image: Sevan Matossian[/caption]

The CrossFit Games is the Olympic games of CrossFit, where CrossFitters from all over the world compete for the prestigious title of the “first man or woman in the world”.

Debuting in 2007, the CrossFit games are interesting to watch, as the competition details are kept secret until the actual day. The secrecy prevents participants from training for specific events, so their overall fitness is put to the ultimate test.

This goes in line with CrossFit’s goal of achieving elite fitness and being able to handle whatever the world throws at you.

Elite CrossFitters participate for a shot at glory, while viewers watch to see what challenges are presented and participants overcome them. The games are also a great way for CrossFit to celebrate their most hardcore supporters.

Learn more: How CrossFit Became A Worldwide Craze Through Word-of-Mouth

7. Google Developer Fests – organized regularly all over the world


"GDG DevFests are large, community-run events that can offer speaker sessions across multiple product areas, all-day hack-a-thons, code labs, and more."

Google gets its word-of-mouth from the quality of its products, and part of ensuring a good pipeline of products involves building a healthy relationship with developers who make the apps that people use and talk about.

Learn more: 6 Ways Google Generated Word-of-Mouth For Their Products

8. Red Bull hosts massive and numerous extreme sporting events, including record-breaking ones such as Stratos

Artem Silchenko - Action

Superficially, Red Bull sells energy drinks. In practice, it much more resembles a 'Lifestyle Brand', represented by media and events.

Red Bull notably doesn't just sponsor any events – if it likes the idea of something, it runs the entire thing itself.

Learn more: 8 Reasons Why Red Bull Is Freaking Awesome

9. One More Thing – Apple's legendary keynotes fuel huge media frenzies every time


Apple's product launches are among the most watched, most anticipated and most talked about in any industry. The tradition was started by its founder Steve Jobs, who built a reputation for delivering very exciting product launches.

Learn more: 8 Examples Of How Apple Generates Word-Of-Mouth All Over The World

10. Victoria's Secret annual invite-only fashion show is worth tens of millions of dollars


The first Victoria's Secret Fashion Show had a $120,000 budget. Today, it costs over $15,000,000 and makes more than that in advertising revenue alone.

Learn more: How Victoria’s Secret Came To Dominate The Lingerie Market By Word-of-Mouth

11. Zumba – Party in pink to raise money for cancer awareness and treatment


Superficially, Zumba is "just cardiovascular exercise by moving the body" – but the package is everything. It's a fun, cheerful dance party that anybody's welcome to join, and you can bring your friends.

Learn more: How Zumba Spread to 180+ Countries Through Word-of-Mouth

12. Tesla's groundbreaking launch events inspire tremendous media attention


""The public tends to be, as they should, interested in things that are precedents and superlatives." – Elon Musk

By focusing their resources on making entirely new product classes, Tesla Motors ensures that its product launch events are fervently followed.

Learn more: Tesla's "$0 Marketing Budget" Is Great Marketing

13. Pinterest events – meeting makers and influencers helped to seed early users


Pinterest organized meetups at local boutiques, handing out Pinterest invites and turning participants into the forerunners of their word-of-mouth efforts.

Learn more: How Pinterest Grew From Being Stuck At 3,000 to 73 Million Users Using Word-Of-Mouth

14. GoPro Mountain Games ensure that lots of high-quality GoPro footage gets created and shared


If you're going to sell mobile video cameras targetted at athletes, again, it makes sense to host events where lots of high-quality footage can be taken!

Learn more: 3 Ways GoPro Became Synonymous with Action Cameras Thanks to Word-of-Mouth

15. Pebble Developer Retreats encourage developers to produce apps worth talking about

[caption id="attachment_20602" align="aligncenter" width="600"]


Image source: Edward Bramanti[/caption]


A device like Pebble is highly dependent on the quality of its apps for word-of-mouth, so it makes a lot of sense for Pebble to invest in developer retreats and conferences. Here's a post by a developer who attended one of these events.

Learn more: How Pebble Sold A Million Watches With Word-Of-Mouth: 6 Tactics and Examples

16. Fitbit sponsors lots of races and marathons


If you're selling something to people to use while they run, it makes a lot of sense to organize running events! There's a long list of such events on the Fitbit blog.

Learn more: How Fitbit Grew via Word-of-Mouth to Become the Best-selling Fitness Tracker in 5 Years

17. Threadless art market celebrates the Chicago art scene and cements Threadless as a pillar of the creative community


The Threadless Art Market was a free-to-public event in Chicago, where all sorts of Chicago-based artists selling a wide range of products (marquee signs, geometric piñatas, metal-work jewelry and handmade clothing) came together to create a cultural experience of sorts.

Learn more: 4 Ways T-Shirt Company Threadless Built a Fanatical Community Through Word-of-Mouth

18. Mashable Social Media Day gets people around the world involved in conversations about the future of social media

Mashable Social Media Day 2014

In 2010, Mashable pioneered an annual event to give tribute to the digital revolution and called it the Social Media Day.

“Now in 2015, this holiday encompasses hundreds of in-person events around the world, along with thousands of tweets, Instagram photos and Facebook posts commemorating #SMDay.”

Learn more: How Word-of-Mouth Helped Mashable Get Its First 2M Readers Within Just 18 Months

19. Lululemon hosts regular community events, even turning its stores into yoga studios

This practice originated from Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, who used his office space as a yoga studio at night to help pay for rent back in the day.

This, according to former CEO Christine Day, positions Lululemon stores as a “fitness and conversation hub”. It also increases customer engagement, encourages regular visits to the store, and keeps the brand constantly top-of-mind.

Learn more: 4 Tactics Lululemon Uses to Leverage Word-of-Mouth For Their Brand

20 TOMS' One Day Without Shoes encourages people around the world to raise awareness for the shoeless by going barefoot


The movement has the benefit of being highly visible (the ‘Public‘ principle in action), allowing people to signal to their peers that they’re socially conscious, that they’re making a small sacrifice to contribute to raising awareness for a humanitarian problem.

The event has been held annually since 2007, with 1,600 events around the world and 250,000 people participating in 2010.

People clearly want to participate in something that feels meaningful to them.

Learn more: How TOMS Shoes Built A Multi-Million-Dollar Movement With Word-of-Mouth (And Gave Away Millions Of Shoes)

21. Banksy's Dismaland was a dramatic, dreary spectacle that received lots of media attention


In 2015, Banksy organized a temporary art project, “Dismaland,” a satirical spin on Disneyland. He described it as “a family theme park unsuitable for children”. It featured works that showcased the darker side of history and popular culture, as well symbolic representations of real-world problems.

The project went on to receive loads of media attention. The high demand for tickets repeatedly crashed the Dismaland website– which Banksy fans considered to be an authentic part of the Dismaland experience. The park itself was only open for 36 days, but has had a lasting impact on visitors and critics.

22. IKEA invests in relationships with its customers by launching events that parents can bring their children to


By turning itself into a location for family outings, IKEA greatly improves the odds that furniture gets bought. "Dad, I need a new chair!"

23. Hello Kitty Con draws fans from around the world to dress up and celebrate the 40-year-old icon

Hello Kitty Con 2014 Opening Night Party Co-hosted By Target

The Hello Kitty Con is just one of many events around the world that Hello Kitty fans rally around to gather and share in their fandom.

Learn more: How Hello Kitty Went From Cute to $7 Billion Cultural Phenomenon Through Word-of-Mouth

24. Moleskine gets additional exposure from film festivals and other creative events


What does a notebook have to do with events? Plenty! Moleskine has built a reputation for being a 'vessel of inspiration' for some of the world's most high-profile creative people. It further cements that association by giving out specialized Moleskines at art and film festivals.

Learn more: 5 Word-of-Mouth Strategies That Helped Moleskine Become The World’s Favorite Notebook

25. League of Legends competitions have prize pools worth millions of dollars

league of legends worlds 2015 arena

Because League of Legends is also extremely exciting to watch, it has developed a very competitive gaming scene, paired with prize pools numbering to the millions.

Competitive teams from Korea, China, Europe and America have developed cult followings and are sponsored by huge companies, and they play in stadiums packed with thousands of fans – some people describe them to be the rockstars of the gaming world. The huge viewer rates also drive up sponsorship.

Learn more: How League of Legends Became The Most Popular Game In The World

26. Razer's gaming peripherals have popular launch parties and events

razer crowd

Razer is a gaming peripherals (mice, keyboards, etc) company run by hardcore gamers themselves. So it's easy to see why their new product launches have an almost cult following.

Learn more: How Razer Became The Go-To Brand For Gaming Gear via Word-of-Mouth

27. Everlane Transparency Tour – get to see how your clothes are made!

everlane factory

In July 2014, Everlane hosted their first Transparent City Tour, where they invited a few fashion icons on Instagram to visit their tee factory and dye house in LA.

While Everlane has always been open in the way they document the factories that produce their clothing, inviting members of the public to actually visit those factories firsthand takes transparency to a new level.

These Instagram influencers who visited the factories and were impressed would definitely talk about the brand on their profiles, helping to spread the name of the brand to their respective followers.

Learn more: 5 Ways Fashion Retailer Everlane Earned Insane Word-of-Mouth

30. The North Face Everest Expedition – demonstrating the strength of equipment by putting it to the harshest test


In 2012, The North Face sent Conrad Anker and his team to summit Mount Everest – the tallest mountain on Earth, documenting the entire process in real time.

Learn more: 4 Ways The North Face Dominates Outdoor Sports Apparel With Word-of-Mouth Marketing

31. World Nutella Day


Since 2007, February 5th is celebrated as World Nutella Day. The international holiday was first started by Nutella loyalist Sara Rosso, but the rights to the holiday was transferred to the Ferrero Group in 2015, making it official.

At the beginning, celebrations went slightly out of hand as a number of unauthorised events and promotional activities were organised by enthusiastic loyalists, unintentionally interfering with Nutella’s brand strategy.

By taking over the rights to World Nutella Day, Nutella is better able to ensure a seamless marketing strategy, one that fits in with the brand vision.

Learn more: How Nutella Became The World’s Favorite Breakfast Spread By Word-of-Mouth

32. Warby Parker hijacked New York Fashion Week 2011

warby parker new york fashion week

In Fall 2011, Warby Parker wanted to participate in New York Fashion Week. They didn't have the resources to do either a runway show or a full presentation, so they decided to do a secret presentation the day before.

They had their employees stake out the New York Public Library, and invited 40 fashion editors to a 'secret event' there. They had 20-30 models in the hotel next door getting ready, and had them swap seats with the employees right before the editors were let in.

All the editors wrote about it, and Warby Parker stole the thunder that week.

Learn more: How Warby Parker Earned Word-of-Mouth By Using Storytelling And Remarkable Experiences (8+ Examples)

...and that's a wrap!

People will always want to gather and meet with like-minded individuals about their shared interests.

What can your business do to help make that happen? What are your favorite examples of awesome events?

Visakan Veerasamy
Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.

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