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Two DTCs that hosted IRL events last summer look back

Parade and Recess told Marketing Brew their pop-ups were a success. Here’s how they’re thinking about experiential marketing nearly a year later.
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Photo Illustration: Dianna "Mick" McDougall, Photos: Getty Images

· 4 min read

Last summer, two DTC brands stuck their toes back in the experiential waters soon after the Covid-19 vaccines became available.

In June, CBD-infused sparkling water company Recess held its first in-person event since the pandemic started. Hosted in NYC’s Nolita neighborhood, the pop-up centered around giving away not only cans of Recess, but also a zine dubbed “The Recess Guide to Re-Entering Society.”

For its first-ever IRL retail activation, intimates brand Parade transformed Dimes Square, an area in Lower Manhattan, into a meadow of “fresh” wildflowers to sell its “Summer Daisy” underwear collection last August.

Since then, both Recess and Parade have deemed last year’s activations a success. Marketing Brew caught up with them to hear about what they learned and how they’re thinking about experiential now, nearly a year (and a few Covid-19 variants) later.

How it started

Parade’s IRL activation last summer saw “major success”—so much, in fact, that the brand opened its first-ever store in December in New York’s Soho neighborhood, Kerry Steib, Parade’s VP of brand and impact, told Marketing Brew in an email.

“As a community-first brand, being able to bring to life the world of Parade in such an immersive way in our hometown of New York was always a priority for us. We want to be able to give shoppers the opportunity to interact not only with us, but also with one another,” Steib continued.

Experiential marketing “fosters community in a way that digital cannot replicate,” offering a level of escapism to consumers, according to Steib. “Parade only launched in late 2019, so our entire existence as a brand has been under the throes of the pandemic,” she explained. “Last summer, New York City—along with most of the world—opened up to a sense of normalcy. We saw this as an opportunity to finally meet our community in person.”

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During Parade’s summer 2021 event, Steib said the team was “really able to see how excited our community was to be a part of the Parade brand in real life.” That observation prompted a brainstorm: What were other ways it could bring an IRL experience to customers? And thus, the (permanent!) Soho store was born.

For his part, Recess founder and CEO Ben Witte said its event last summer allowed the brand to extend the ethos of its digital content, which Witte described as “a social commentary on the millennial existence,” into the real world. He pointed out that Recess rolled out the event “after the second round of vaccine shots,” when he felt like it was finally safe—as well as legal—to do so.

“Everything we try and do is designed to bridge both digital and physical. And I think that was a great manifestation of that, and created a good amount of buzz and earned media, and allowed us to gauge and sample with our core customer base in New York. I think it was, overall, a success,” he said.

Witte told us 2,000 people attended the pop-up over a three-day period, adding that more than 3,000 cans of Recess were handed out and sampled, “thousands” of zines were taken, and a “significant number” of photos were taken as well, leading to user-generated content.

How it’s going

Of course, Parade has its Soho store now, but Steib told us the brand “definitely” plans on leaning more into experiential in the future. Steib didn’t exactly specify what Parade has in the works this year, but she did say the brand is “still excited about the opportunity to rethink the underwear shopping experience to create one that’s fun, celebratory and truly for everyone.”

Recognizing that the pandemic is not over yet, Witte said Recess might take an adjusted approach to experiential marketing for the rest of this year, noting that concrete plans are still in flux. “Just having a sense of where the trends are with the pandemic, and what the laws are, [is] important,” Witte told us.

For example, rather than making the larger commitment of renting its own spaces and planning an entire solo IRL event, Witte told us Recess could end up partnering with other events (think: music festivals) for field marketing instead. That way, if the event can’t go forward, it’s not as big of a financial loss.

“Planning with the ability to be flexible is, I think, critical,” he said.

Together with Vimeo

Curious how the best campaigns come to life? Join Vimeo’s Outside the Frame event on April 27, from 11am to 2pm ET. Keynotes, behind-the-scenes looks, and marketing debates will shine a spotlight on what goes into the industry’s best work—and how you can fuel creativity in your own campaigns. Register here.

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