Fresh from our travels to Austin, the brand activations that had us buzzing were the ones that were all about us. Rather than deliver the same experience to many, these brands found ways to deliver their messages in a manner that was also profoundly personal.
Gatorade Fuel Lab
At the Gatorade Fuel Lab, we were taken on a progressive journey that ended in a sleek locker room, where we experienced a new product that has yet to hit the shelves and received custom water bottles we had created via an interactive touch screen from our own “personal” lockers.
Budweiser Beer Garage
The highlight of the Budweiser Beer Garage was a 4D Immersive Reality trip that transported guests to the iconic St. Louis Brewery – from smelling the hops to touching the wood chips to feeling the brisk chill of the freezer. An app to ship a Budweiser fridge directly to your home closed the loop in a clever way.
IBM Cognitive Studio
Starting with your custom drink waiting at the Cognitive Cocktail Bar to riding a stationary VR bike to controlling robots with your brain, IBM expanded the ways we use our minds (and robots!).
Refinery29 School of Self Expression
Refinery29’s School Of Self Expression blended old and new school elements to take attendees on a journey of the self, including a thought-provoking classroom session that truly wowed us.
We’re still reeling from all the action of Super Bowl 50, which descended upon the Bay Area, bringing with it over 1.1 million people to Super Bowl City – a nine day showcase for the city of San Francisco.
The city-within-a-city was packed and the air was buzzing with pre-game excitement the entire week leading up to the Big Game. Since it was a mere 15 minute walk from our headquarters, we were lucky to visit and explore the experiential mecca, which featured all the top brands who brought their A-game to Super Bowl City.
Here are our top 3 take-aways:
Stand out from the crowd with thoughtful design: between large-scale light projections, vertical gardens and two-story shipping container structures, it was a marriage of brand-right presentations and intentional design that won over people’s hearts.
Have something for everyone: from die-hard football fanatics to families with kids of all ages, democratic engagements that appealed to the masses attracted the most attention and offered a memorable experience to everyone who visited.
Make it worth the wait: with over 1.1 million people throughout the course of the week, there were inevitably long lines. Experiences that were worth waiting for kept folks moving through the lines efficiently, letting them know what to expect inside.
Full disclosure: we are so proud and honored to have worked with Dignity Health in bringing their Hello humankindness campaign to Super Bowl City and helping them spread humankindness on a national stage. And, if we may, IT WAS FREAKING AMAZING!
Here’s to San Francisco hosting many more Super Bowls to come!
At Grow, we’re a team of creative dreamers. While our ideas often flow fast and furious, we’ve certainly been struck by the occasional creative dry spell. When these moments pop up, we don’t panic—inspiration is often (literally) just around the corner. While there’s no secret formula to becoming more creative, we’ve accumulated a toolbox of tips and tricks that help us find our groove. Read on for some of the Grow team’s most trusted ideas to break through your routine and find your own creative spark in the year ahead!
• 4 Simple Tricks to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing Again, Fast Company
• How To Keep Your Team Creatively Inspired, CMO by Adobe
• Creative Slumps: 5 Ways to Snap Out of It, Fortune
• Feeling Creatively Drained? Do This, Women 2.0
Get inspired in 2016 by incorporating one (or all!) of these tools to get back in touch with your creative side. As our friend Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.” Duly noted.
The Grow Team
Grow’s culture values giving back in many ways, whether it’s by gifting each team member one full day a year to volunteer their time for a cause of their choice or by supporting contributions to the Grow team’s favorite nonprofits on #GivingTuesday. We’re board members, hands-on volunteers, creative organizers and passionate advocates. From supporting the arts to combating poverty to fostering kittens, the causes are as varied as the members of our team. Collectively, we hope our efforts help to make our world a little bit better. Here’s just a handful of the ways we’ve gotten involved in 2015.
Writing by Writers: Tami is on the board for Writing by Writers, a nonprofit co-founded by Pam Houston, which produces workshops across the country that bring amazing teachers and students together to further develop the craft of writing. As an avid writer herself, providing opportunities for aspiring writers to pursue their art is near and dear to her heart.
Habitat for Humanity: Neel spent his volunteering day helping to build homes for underprivileged families in the Bay Area. Being from India and having seen firsthand the level of poverty and lack of shelters available to the less fortunate, he feels impassioned to give back in this way.
East Bay SPCA: The East Bay SPCA relies on people taking in cats and dogs to avoid illness in the shelter, socialize them before adoption, give them a break from shelter life or live comfortably at the end of life. Kelcy, a current foster parent for kittens, is thrilled that one was adopted last week!
ArtPoint: Growing up in San Francisco, Sarah had the privilege of visiting fine arts museums with her family. She joined the board of ArtPoint, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco’s young professionals’ organization, to help make art accessible to young people across the Bay Area.
World Vision: Alyssa, whose heritage is Armenian, wanted to keep one less child in Armenia from going hungry. She now sponsors a child through World Vision, an organization that empowers children and families to break the cycle of poverty.
Friends of Laguna Honda: As one of the largest skilled nursing facilities in the United States, Laguna Honda provides critical services to seniors and adults with disabilities. Laura loves being on the board of an organization that does great work to enhance the lives of these often underserved San Franciscans.
UC Davis (We Are Aggie Pride): We are Aggie Pride is a student-run organization that raises money to provide emergency funding to students to help with rent, books and any other costs that are difficult to cover when trying to make it on their own. Nicole absolutely loved her college experience at UC Davis and wanted to give back to students who have to cope with the rising costs of a college education.
We’re looking forward to even more in 2016.
The Grow Team
We love to kick off the holiday countdown with our new favorite: Giving Tuesday (thanks social media for not being all selfie all the time)! It gives us all a chance to double down on contributions to nonprofits that are near and dear to our hearts with a matching donation on Grow. Although we could write a novel about all of the worthy causes we love to support, we wanted to highlight seven groups that we are especially excited to give to this year.
Best Friends Animal Society: For over 30 years, Best Friends has been committed to ending pet homelessness by running the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless animals and working with shelters nationwide to increase adoptions and reduce kill rates in animal shelters. Tami donates her time and resources to help Best Friends achieve their goal, most recently traveling to their amazing Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah to volunteer.
Heifer International: Heifer International’s mission is to work with communities to end world hunger and poverty while caring for the earth. Donations go toward placing farm animals with needy families (and make a great holiday gift in a loved one’s name!), providing long-term sources of nutrition and resources. Gabrey is donating to Heifer International because of their impactful work and for the sustainability behind their model.
East Bay SPCA and San Francisco SPCA: The entire Grow team has been touched by San Francisco SPCA. Several of our team became “foster parents” to a sweet kitten Patra (now happily adopted!), and Kelcy recently added two cuddly kittens to her family from the East Bay SPCA. Kelcy is donating to support their medical services, foster programs and a new “fospice” program to bring care and joy to animals in their twilight years.
GirlVentures: GirlVentures’ mission is to empower adolescent girls to develop and express their strengths through working with them during the transition from childhood to young adulthood. As the mother of an almost-ten-year-old girl, Cassie is a strong supporter of cultivating leadership skills in young women to help them reach their full potential, she loves GirlVentures’ strategy of drawing on every girl’s natural strengths.
Haight Ashbury Psychological Services (HAPS): HAPS is one of the very few remaining nonprofits that provides essential mental health services on a sliding scale to the Bay Area community. As a former psychotherapist and current board member at HAPS, Sarah donates her time and resources to ensure that counseling services are available to all who need them, regardless of their financial or life circumstances.
Charity: Water: Right now, 663 million people worldwide are living without clean water—that’s almost 10% of the world’s population. Charity: Water works to bring sustainable sources of clean water to those in need. As a child, Neel traveled to countries across the world where families don’t have access to clean water. Witnessing water insecurity firsthand was an eye-opening experience, and is why he’s donating to Charity: Water.
Produce to the People: Many San Francisco residents live without easy access to fresh, nutritious food. Produce to the People is dedicated to providing fresh food to SF residents via community gardens, food education and the creation of green jobs for youths. Ali became passionate about these issues while growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, living only 20 minutes from a food desert, where the jarring discrepancy between those with food security and those who relied on convenience stores for nutrition was apparent.
Meow there, my name is Patra (as in Cleopatra), and I’m just going to say it—my regal name becomes me. My glossy black coat and slim figure are a nod to my namesake, but I’m more than just a pretty face. My purr goes on forever, and I’m known as the best cuddler south of Union Street. I believe in honesty and direct communication—the only games I’m interested in involve chasing shiny toys around in circles. My ideal date would be stalking a fluffy pink ball followed by a Netflix and belly rub marathon.
One thing that’s hard for me to share is that life hasn’t always been easy for me. I didn’t have a family for the first few weeks of my life, which made it hard for me to come out of my shell. But after the San Francisco SPCA brought me to a week-long life coaching seminar (ok, cuddles and playtime) with my friends at Grow, I’m a whole new kitten and am ready to settle down with my soulmate.
In an effort to shed light on the importance of fostering Forgotten Kittens to facilitate adoptions and open up space in local shelters, Grow partnered with the SF SPCA to pilot a new program, Office Cats. Forgotten Kittens refer to slightly older kittens who didn’t have as much engagement during the first few weeks of their lives and, as a result, are initially more shy and fearful of people. Since many people visiting shelters make decisions based on how interactive and interested the animals appear, being shy can be a real hindrance to finding a fur-ever home. Placing these kittens in friendly, secure foster environments—such as the animal-loving house of Grow—helps them learn to come out of their shells so they can attract potential adopters while freeing up much-needed space in shelters.
Since Patra arrived at Grow on October 19th, she has transformed from a shy, anxious kitten into a confident, affectionate, playful ball of fur. As Gwyn Johnson at the SF SPCA explained to us, “having a consistent, calm environment with lots of attention is all that most kittens need to gain confidence.” The Grow team of animal lovers knows how much a pet can enrich your life, and Patra’s presence at Grow is no exception. We’re going to have a hard time saying goodbye to her, but we’re so excited to find her a loving, permanent home!
If you’re interested in setting up an Office Cats program at your company (trust us—it’s worth it!), reach out to Gwyn Johnson at the SF SPCA at 415.522.3542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patra here! I’m writing to you now from my new home, where I’m currently curled up safe and warm with my new family watching the rain fall. I’m so grateful to have found my forever home, but I can’t stop thinking about about all my friends back at the SF SPCA who are still waiting to be adopted. Visit the San Francisco SPCA’s website to find your purr-fect match!
We heart New York any time of year and are fortunate to have reason to be there often. While most people think of late summer as a time to head out of the city, there are plenty of gems to be experienced. Here are some of our favorite stylish and iconic hot spots to sip, savor and saunter your way through during the sweltering summer days…NYC we miss you already!
Grand Central Terminal: While millions of daily commuters and tourists frequent this famous transportation hub to check out the historical sight of the Beaux-Arts Roof or catch a train to the burbs, for us everything revolves around eating so naturally we were there to consume! From Two Boots pizza to sushi to gelato kiosks and Shake Shack burgers, GCT’s lower level concourse is a foodie paradise while the upstairs upscale market provides fresh baked goods and farm to table offerings from local purveyors.
Grow tip: Grab glass of Prohibition Punch at The Campbell Apartment tucked away in the corner of GCT and Vanderbilt Ave. Contrary to its name, this 2,000 square foot cocktail lounge was never an apartment but was once the office of 20th-Century tycoon John W. Campbell.
Photo courtesy of Navid Baraty/Gothamist
ABC Carpet & Home: Get lost in this magical 6-story flagship bazaar filled with global inspiration everywhere you look. Focusing on design and sustainability, ABC features an ever-changing eclectic collection of beautiful home decor that ignites creativity and will make you immediately want to reinvent your home or inspire a concept for a whimsical event.
Grow tip: There are two fashionable eateries with swoon-worthy interiors in the building – ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina by Michelin star Chef Jean-Georges. While it’s hard to score the perfect reservation at these gems beloved by NYC locals, we suggest grabbing a seat at the bar at 5pm when the kitchen opens for a glass of wine and selection of “consciously sourced” seasonal apps.
Photo courtesy of High Fashion Home Blog
Bryant Park: Whether grabbing a sunny spot to lounge in the grass, people watch from the bistro tables or enjoy a film under the stars, this iconic park is a welcoming oasis in the middle of midtown full of historical monuments and urban amenities that will make you forget the bustling city that surrounds.
Grow tip: Free yoga classes are available in the summer on the lush lawn where you can perfect your asanas under the trees.
Photo courtesy of Young Sok Young/Flickr
The Clock Tower Restaurant @ New York Edition Hotel: A revived clocktower from what was once MetLife’s headquarters, the Clocktower Restaurant located in Ian Schrager’s Edition Hotel was at the top of our list for new hot spots to explore. The clubhouse-like space embodies everything that is chic about NYC with its fresh, sophisticated style mixed with elegant historic nods. The eclectic environment boasts five wainscoted mahogany rooms, each distinct with a specific color scheme and photographic lens that sparks your curiosity.
Grow tip: Stop by for breakfast to admire the space before the crowds hit!
The Flatiron Room: Home to nearly 700 bottles of whiskey (both for public consumption and private storage), this 50’s era jazz lounge sets the mood with Italian floral wallpaper, a chandelier that once hung in the Smithsonian and a velvet curtained stage hosting nightly live performances that will take you back in time.
Grow tip: Order their refreshing blood & sand cocktail with The Glenlivet 12 which goes down dangerously well – “a perfect harmony of Single Malt Scotch, cherry heering, italian sweet vermouth and fresh orange juice!”
Photo courtesy of The Flatiron Room
But seriously.. how AMAZING was Elton John?! We’re still buzzing about Outside Lands here at Grow and all the fabulous ways that the music festival went above and beyond to make the experience feel ownable and unique while providing share-worthy moments of engagement throughout.
Hyper-local flavor: Outside Lands has been doing this for years, but we absolutely love love love the local support that the festival dishes out to food vendors, wineries and artists. Especially love the nod to San Francisco neighborhoods and history with stage names (Twin Peaks & the Barbary) and stand-out food favorites like Straw’s famous donut burger, The Ringmaster, and Nombe’s ramenburger.
Streamlined services: Complimentary water stations parked around the festival kept guests hydrated through the long days, while the cashless Wine Lands system kept the wine flowing! But above all else, charging stations are still the hero at any festival and it was great to see brands design beautiful spaces for guests to recoup, recharge and relax between sets.
Festival style ups: Unlike a typical concert, festivals have a unique style that is eclectic and ever changing. From this year’s floral pants and high-waisted short-shorts to bona fide costumes, having a “look” is a key part of festival attendance. Brands tapped into this passion by providing fun ways to accessorize such as flower crowns and temporary tats. The line for our Castland braid bar only shortened when the headliners came on but it was the man buns that stole the show!
Screen time: It’s a selfie, selfie world and that desire doesn’t stop just because Elton John is in the house. Chromecast gave festival goers the opportunity to shoot a fun GIF and get it on the big screens on stage while Outside Lands shared stylish Instagram posts from the crowd.
We had the best time and can’t wait for next year!
Perhaps it was the rosé we sipped while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea each balmy night, or the mouth-watering selection of artisanal cheeses and cured meats we savored each day – whichever the case, the amazing sights, sounds and scents from our trip to the French Riviera for the Cannes Lions Festival left us yearning for more.
In true Grow style, each day was packed with sensorial experiences; whether it be a client meeting within the old-school elegance and splendour of a renowned hotel, a quick bite to eat along a beachside cafe overlooking the docked yachts, or a day off spent exploring the southern region – no day was complete without an immersive discovery.
If your travels take you to Cannes here are a few of our can’t miss moments:
Le Cirque: Fresh off the plane we sought out the hyper-local flavors and tastes of the region. On a recommendation from Gerald, our native Cannes taxi driver, we pushed through the jet lag and made our first of many stops to Le Cirque Cafe Bistro, a charming gem in the center of the city that exceeded all of our Francophile expectations. Their authentic yet inventive French fare, modern yet relaxed vibe and uber friendly service kept us coming back for more – by our third visit, we felt like insiders.
Snap, Crackle, Pop: As experiential marketers, we believe the devil is in the details and we swoon over thoughtful, surprising moments. Following a productive client meeting at the iconic Carlton Cannes, the check was delivered with small, silky dark chocolates. As we put them in our mouths, we savored the decadent cacao until….snap! crackle! pop! the chocolate exploded in our mouths, just like pop rocks. Within such a refined atmosphere, this was such a fun and unexpected culinary treat for our taste buds.
Perfume Making: On an excursion to Grasse, the cradle of the perfume industry, we had the opportunity to ignite our inner “nose” and craft our own signature scents at Maison Molinard, the most iconic perfumery in the region. Hosted by the “Nose of Molinard” (read: master perfume maker) we mixed and matched a myriad of notes from raspberry to musk to anise, perfecting a multilayered olfactory creation that became our bespoke scents.
Street Scents: As you walk down rue d’Antibes, one of Cannes’ most popular shopping destinations, you can’t help but smell the sweet fragrant aromas coming out of the shops and permeating the streets. From the stylish Parisian perfumes to fresh baked croissants to seasonal fragrant flowers, walking down the narrow cobblestone streets of Cannes was truly sensorial.
Antibes Market: Within a short distance from Cannes, the covered market in Antibes know as Marché Provençal, showcased the ingredients and flavors we’d soon discover throughout Cannes cuisine in their raw form. Fruit and olives plucked from the trees earlier that day, artisanal cheeses from nearby dairy farms and handcrafted lavender soaps delighted our senses, epitomized the flavors and notes of the the region and served as our immediate immersion to the Côte d’Azur.
SUP: Beyond the hospitable, fashionable locals and dreamy beachside aesthetic, the natural beauty of Cannes swept us away. From evening walks along La Croisette Boulevard, waterfront dinners and beachside lounging, one of our favorite moments was soaking in the scene while stand-up paddleboarding along the warm, tranquil sea.
We can’t wait to go back.
Grow returns each year to SXSW, wide-eyed and eager in search of the smartest, innovative and most memorable live brand experiences. Entering this massive festival, one may think the most buzzworthy moments are those that are highly produced with inventive digital elements. After all, SXSW is a major platform for brand marketing, and the realm of digital is innovative, exciting and ever-evolving. It was through this very lens that we embarked on our SXSW journey hoping to find what’s next.
And yes, we did leave Mashable House feeling like a pop music icon.
Bridging the Online and Offline Experience
While we know high-tech, social elements can be impressive and very effective within an experience, most are only worthwhile when done well in purposeful and engaging ways. As we moved throughout the festival, the notion that brands don’t actually need the experience to have an elaborate digital component in order to garner ample social/word of mouth traction or even for a consumer to feel affinity and connection with your brand was quickly reinforced.
For example, the social photo booth, as expected, was in abundance at this years event. While it’s a crowd pleaser and turn-key way to amplify an activation, it’s no longer compelling as a stand-alone experience. It’s those brands that converged the digital and experiential with emotional touchpoints that truly created the most engaging moments for the SXSW community.
Here’s a round-up of just some of of our favorite brand experiences that had us and our SXSW peers buzzing:
The National Geographic ‘Life Below Zero” Escape The Cold
To promote the third season of National Geographic’s documentary series, ‘Life Below Zero’, intrigued (and brave) SXSW-goers were invited to partake in an escape the cold experience.
The premise of the game involved being assembled into a team of 6 – and prepared to plunge into the icy conditions of Alaska. As the temperature drops inside the room – 20 degrees lower than the current outside temperature – the team would be forced to connect clues, complete challenges and solve puzzles in under 20 minutes in order to survive.
Having never participated in such a ‘survival’ experience before, we jumped at the opportunity. Aside from tweeting with a hashtag in order to receive a clue, as well as a team watching your progress remotely via a camera and monitor, there were no other digital elements integrated into the game. Perhaps it’s the cold going to our head, but we’re still basking in the glory that we not only “escaped the cold” in 19 minutes and 27 seconds but we were told only 15% of teams had been able to escape at that point!
While this experience was one of the most low tech activations we encountered throughout our stay, no other activation generated the same level of buzz within SXSW. Everyone had seen the long lines outside of this activation space and heard about the 3 hour wait time. While it may not have boasted the latest tech integrations, the experience was exclusive to the show, promoted teamwork and community while also triggering a primal, emotional response with attendees.
A&E Bates Motel
Another low-tech activation that caught our eye was the A&E Bates Motel experience. Each day of SXSW we walked passed the corner of San Jacinto and Cesar Chavez where we saw A&E’s Bates Motel activation and wondered what exactly was going on inside this loner motel? When we finally ventured in, we learned it was a pop-up motel replica of the Bates Motel on A&E to promote the television thriller. Attendees who visited the motel pop-up were entered to win a one night stay in their fully staged rooms (creepy). While this activation boasted minimal technology beyond an iPad and photo booth, the impact of this physical structure functioning as a stunt garnered ample chatter on and offline effectively.
Samsung Studio Virtual Reality Experience
The team at Samsung partnered with virtual reality experts at Oculus Rift to promote their new Galaxy S6/S6 Edge phones and 4K SUHD TV. Upon entering the Samsung Studio VR space, attendees were exposed to the product while waiting for their turn to embark on their VR journey. The 4K SUHD TVs sprinkled throughout the space projected video content around three different VR experiences that you could select from: Samsung’s Milk Video, the Insurgent movie’s Shatter Reality and the SNL 40th anniversary. As devoted SNL fans, we of course chose the SNL 40th anniversary. Let us be the first to tell you that the feeling of sitting in the virtual audience of this iconic “live from New York” studio is nothing less than amazing. It was at the Samsung Studio virtual reality experience that we found not only ingenious with their execution of their digital activation, but one with a clear purpose with a relevant connection to the brand.
Game of Thrones SXSWesteros
The Game of Thrones #SXSWesteros experience spread like wildfire throughout SXSW, as it was both simple and complex all at once. Once inside the space, it was refreshing to see that there were only two major components – sharing photo of yourself sitting on the iconic Iron Throne and participating in a digital experience. In a landscape full of brands that attempt to throw a bunch of smaller elements into a small footprint, this activation was refreshing, appreciated and the elements felt purposeful.
The digital experience was an immersive game, in which attendees utilized wireless motion-sensored swords to destroy objects on the screen in front of them. As you swing through the random assortment of graphics flashing across the screen, the resulting debris reconfigures to slowly reveal a Game of Thrones-inspired portrait of your face.
While we just made our argument for why photobooths aren’t always the way to go, we were so impressed with this alternative photo opportunity at HBO’s Silicon Valley experience that we just had to share our mad hops:
Needless to say, with everything we saw we are still talking about some of our favorite experiences at SXSW, which goes to show the power of live events. It’s in the strategic and innovative design, thoughtful details and human connection that make for lasting memories.