Innovative Pop-Ups: We Review the Best of the Year

As we say farewell to another year and anticipate how the industry will evolve in 2018, it’s well worth a look back at how standout strategies for innovative pop-ups from 2017 have the power to enhance events in the year ahead.

Innovative pop-ups have, well, popped up all across the country over the last 12 months, engaging consumers and keeping competitors on their toes. Ephemeral by nature, these event types require event marketers to think strategically about how they’ll leverage every minute the space is open, leading the way to some fiercely creative and highly shareable experiences. Follow along as we take you on a journey through some of the best and most innovative pop-ups of the year.


Cheetos’ fun and playful spirit came alive at its New York City pop-up, The Spotted Cheetah, where the 69-year-old brand aimed to stay relevant by offering up Instagram-worthy fare inspired by its snacks and tapping into the celebrity chef trend through a partnership with Anne Burrell. In addition to curated dishes like Flamin’ Hot Limón Chicken Tacos, the pop-up featured bright orange accents, Cheetos-inspired art (including a portrait of Chester Cheetah) and even Cheetos–themed toilet paper. Word on the street has it that the venue was booked solid throughout its run, with thousands more lined up on the waiting list. Talk about FOMO.


If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to stroll the Scottish Highlands, Hunter’s multisensory pop-up in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal was about as close as you could get without hopping a plane. The British rainwear brand celebrated its heritage with a pop-up modeled after a traditional glass-roofed greenhouse. Inside, consumers clad in one of the brand’s ponchos could interact with Hunter gear as they were met with the sound of wind and rain, the scent and feel of moss underfoot and a mixture of fog and light rain that produced a mist reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. The contrast of a serene natural landscape against the hustle and bustle of the terminal ensured even the busiest commuters stopped to take a look.


With its sights set on millennials, Lancôme leveraged cutting-edge technology at a pop-up in Los Angeles to promote its new Monsieur Big Mascara and attract a younger audience. Attendees first registered for the experience at a kiosk that captured their likeness with facial recognition technology. The data was later combined with gestural smart mirror technology to deliver a virtual makeup try-on experience and offered personalized product information. To boot, consumers could take mini makeup classes with the brand’s “beauty advisors,” stock up on free samples and rub elbows with beauty influencers. A modern strategy for an 81-year-old brand.

37.5 Technology

This one wasn’t for the faint of heart. Apparel brand 37.5 Technology took its jackets, fleece and other temperature-sensitive clothing to new heights, literally, with the Cliffside Shop. Billed as “the world’s most remote pop-up shop,” the store was located 300 feet up a sheer cliff. To snag free gear, consumers had to climb their way to the top, which about 70 brave souls ultimately accomplished. In addition to the thrill of the climb and the breathtaking scenery, the pop-up gave participants a chance to test out the brand’s gear in real time and in real outdoor conditions.

Marie Claire

Presented by the magazine, and technology partner Mastercard, as the future of brick and mortar retail, The Next Big Thing Concept Shop brought Marie Claire’s pages to life and took consumers on an interactive journey that combined the best of retail’s digital and physical environments to offer a glimpse at the shopping experience of the future. The pop-up featured everything from smart mirrors that served as personal shoppers to facial recognition technology that offered product suggestions based on the consumer’s skin type to a shoppable storefront window. The best part? The entire experience was powered by a branded app that allowed consumers to make in-store purchases straight from their smartphones.


NESCAFÉ’s Coffee Taproom in Toronto served as a speakeasy-style experience with a snarky twist that took aim at the long lines, complicated menus and pretentious baristas associated with modern cafés. To enter the pop-up, consumers had to “scan” one of the brand’s Sweet & Creamy sachets on an iPad, then received a secret code to unlock the doors of the café. Inside, 12 hot water taps allowed visitors to brew their java using their own Sweet & Creamy sachet. There were also 50 custom coffee cup styles featuring misspelled versions of common names to choose from (a jab at Starbucks, whose baristas are known for butchering customers’ names). A café where customers bring their own coffee? Well played, NESCAFÉ.

Optimum Nutrition

Optimum Nutrition pop-up shop tour makes a stop at the New York City Marathon. ON brand ambassadors dish out education, fun and encouragement as fans engage with the “Find Your Zone” platform. The physical anchor of the pop-up shop event is the 27 ft. custom trailer—aka the Gold Standard Zone.

Attendees first stop is the “Define Your Golden Goals” opt in, a quick questionnaire to level set their Golden Goals IQ. Each successive station is an educational touchpoint that establishes the proper fitness journey to a healthy routine.

The FUEL station is a stylized micro kitchen where brand ambassadors help attendees determine their target caloric intake. The FITNESS station focuses on form, function and targeting. Attendees perform exercises in front of a “smart mirror” that uses artificial intelligence to evaluate form and provides movement recommendations as well as performance advice. The SCIENCE station features samples of ON's best selling products and recommendations on how supplements help achieve nutritional goals. The SOCIAL “Lift Yourself Lift Others” chin-up challenge station, invites attendees to earn money for charity by performing pull-ups.

Innovative pop-ups are, of course, a much cheaper option than renting out a permanent space, but their benefits stretch well beyond a more affordable pricetag. For CPG brands, they afford an opportunity to move products from static store shelves straight into consumers’ hands, while their transient nature allows brands of all stripes to pique the public’s interest and boost awareness. The space may not be permanent—but the memories certainly will be.

Check out other innovative pop-ups, brand activations and sponsorships designed and produced by Sparks.

Posted by Kristy Elisano | Request as a Speaker

Caffeine dependent Jersey girl. Inspired by creative risk takers and underdogs. Chief Marketing Officer, Doodle owner and lover of all things chocolate.