Food is an integral part of many brand activations, but when it comes to producing a culinary event specifically, it takes more than a few tasty samples to create a noteworthy experience. From food and beverage brands to financial services organizations and beyond, companies are executing food-based events backed by sharp strategies that simultaneously communicate brand messaging and offer a memorable sensory experience. Here are five ways to add flavor to modern culinary events.
1. Stay on Brand
Think of Cheetos and it’s unlikely “gourmet meal” comes to mind, but the brand took its cheesy puffs up a notch with The Spotted Cheetah pop-up restaurant in New York City. Fueled by Cheetos-inspired dishes whipped up by celebrity chef Anne Burrell, the pop-up offered reimagined takes on the popular snack without taking itself too seriously. Instead, the experience remained on-brand with Cheetos’ playful personality, which came to life through Cheetos-print wallpaper, portraits of brand mascot Chester Cheetah, right down to Cheetos-themed toilet paper in the restrooms. Even the dishes, like “Flamin’ Hot and White Cheddar Mac n’ Cheetos” and “Purrfectly Fried Green Tomatoes” kept the experience light, memorable and authentic to the brand.
2. Incorporate Culinary Trends
Cooking up a successful culinary event involves catering to consumers’ tastes, which means brands need to stay apprised of the latest trends in food. That’s exactly how S.Pellegrino, in partnership with tech company Storyful, elevated a series of culinary events promoting its digital Taste Guide. The brand tasked Storyful with monitoring public social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Redditt, to uncover the hottest culinary trends around the country based on social conversations. As a result, each S.Pellegrino event tapped into the cuisine styles and flavors attendees craved, making the experience hard to forget.
3. Add a Dash of Influencer Marketing
Honda beefed up its 16th annual Civic Tour concert series this year by adding a City Flavor City Tour pop-up food experience featuring a local food truck, local social media influencer and sweepstakes to each stop. The strategy allowed the brand to tap into two key passion points—music and food—for the first time in the tour’s history. But with a record of executing solely music-based experiences, Honda needed to spread the word about its robust new culinary strategy. To that end, the brand not only leveraged a local social media influencer in each market, it also worked with bigger names like OneRepublic, Fitz and the Tantrums, James Arthur and a handful of renowned YouTube singer-songwriters to give consumers the scoop on the tour at large, the culinary experience and what Honda is all about.
4. Make It Interactive
Regardless of the event, consumers today want to be a part of the action, so serving up interactive culinary experiences is critical. Taste of Home, for instance, took its famous Cooking School tour on the road once again this year with a reimagined strategy aimed at getting attendees more involved. At each show, winners of an on-site social media contest were invited to sit on stage for a more intimate experience, including sampling each meal prepared by Taste of Home chefs. To boot, all attendees could interact with the brand by engaging in real-time Q&A sessions with the chefs as they cooked.
5. Gamify It
As countless reality cooking show contestants can attest to, a little competition can go a long way. Whether it’s simply about winning, or more about scoring some sweet swag, giving attendees incentive to participate in your culinary activation is an effective tactic. It’s how John Hancock turned a mundane subject like life insurance into an animated rivalry among attendees of the brand’s Vitality Marketplace, a pop-up market in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal that encouraged attendees to make healthy food choices. At each of six stations, consumers could earn Vitality points, then later cash them in at “check out” for health-related prizes like stress balls and blenders. Not only did gamifying the experience encourage consumers to engage with the brand, it inspired them to stop at all six stations, giving John Hancock ample opportunities to spread its message.
Delicious fare, of course, is a great way to draw attendees to a culinary event, but ensuring the experience resonates is just as critical. A year from now, an event attendee might not remember where the venue was or which month it took place in, but you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll recall those Cheetos-crusted friend pickles or the moment they were invited on stage to taste a meal whipped up right before their eyes by a nationally acclaimed chef. In short, give you attendees something worth remembering. It’s a recipe for success.