Does Event Marketing Work?
Understanding the behavioral economic impact of entertainment: 2nd in a series

On Thursday, July 29th, I had the good fortune of being invited to a party hosted by Blender Magazine (Maxim's youngest sibling), sponsored by Cingular, and featuring new & established performers in the rap and hiphop genres. The line was 3-deep and around the corner; the speakers were deafening (when they worked); and the drinks were watered down. And everyone was terribly hip. As you'd expect, the door people were all quite sophisticated, with their thick lists that never seem to have anyone on them and attitudes like they were dealing with junkies. The venue was a large lounge in New York City's Bowery St, with a token construction site located immediately next to the venue, a la non-descript, ultra-exclusive, I-know-the-owner-and-deserve-VIP-treatment.

Standing on line was like standing in front of a Cingular store, as young girls walked up and down the street wearing bright orange shirts and kiosk-like trays displaying the latest phones and features. Cingular, however, wasn't the only promoter exploiting the misfortune of late-comers. All sorts of promoters of other parties, record label street teams, and even street pharmacists were present.

Once inside, all the usual suspects (a.k.a. industry people) were visible, standing around chatting, still convinced they're actually employed by someone. Cingular had their table set up under a spotlight in the front, so they can get you to sign up before you got too drunk. Drinks, of course, were free, made from the various liquor companies sponsoring the evening. (Interestingly, the e-mail invites clearly indicated all the sponsors, however, no mention of Cingular. Was this intentional?)

Walking through the mass of people, it was evident that obesity really is a problem in this country; unemployment seems to be at an all time high in the music business; and Mr. Von Dutch seems to have successfully brainwashed the terribly hip into being walking advertisements for his name. When I finally squeezed my way up to the stage to await a performance already 1 hour late, two young girls were dancing wearing extra tiny catholic high school outfits. Despite NY's anti-smoking laws, several party-ers were smoking marijuana right by the stage - with security's consent.

At about midnight, two hours after the promised performance start time, two rowdy rappers came onto the stage to wail profanities into mics that didn't work. They were followed by two other rappers who were much more enlightening with their lyrics - the mics worked. They were followed by the headliner, Doug E. Fresh, an 80s hiphop pioneer. But he kept urging the tech guys to increase the volume of his mic and speakers near eardrum-bursting levels. This is fun?!? I left 10 minutes later.

On Friday, July 30th, the movie "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" debuted, and as part of its marketing effort, the promoters sponsored every Asian party they could find. I had the good fortune of getting invited to all of them. I went to the one where I knew the promoter. The venue was a relatively new place located on the west side of New York City, so parking was a nightmare because the west side is owned by the USPS, UPS and FedEx and you couldn't park anywhere.

When I arrived at the venue, half the crowd was outside smoking. Everyone looked underage and rude. There were no visible ads by the sponsors or even other party promoters. Inside, the bar wasn't jammed packed and pretty accessible, (an obvious indicator of a cheap or broke crowd). The space was so big, it had poor acoustics, making the music worse than it already was. This time, I found it so surprising that I hadn't been assaulted by any marketers that I actually went around the venue looking for ads. And I finally found them lying on the banisters on the far perimeter of the venue, in the dark, and in the form of CDs for your PC. This is what New Line Cinema paid for?! Who made money off of all this, I wonder?

That's basically what the average party-goer encounters at the efforts of event marketers. Because so many different types of events have to be coordinated into a cohesive campaign for the marketer, many details naturally get overlooked, and the experience deteriorates. The challenge is in giving this audience what they want, without being a pushy brand. To that end, poor ownership of an experience and having the audience's attention directed away from your brand are risks marketers believe they must take to seem "authentic".

Is it worth it? Which number is Cingular given, I wonder? The RSVPs or the total number that actually showed up? Or what about the press coverage? I didn't fill out any feedback form? Cingular will never know if that experience strengthened or weakened my relationship with their brand or whether my Asian friends convinced me to watch "Harold and Kumar" because they had such a blast at the sponsored party. (An Indian-American associate in our office did mention that it was hysterical and worth the watch, but he doesn't party.) Both brands may have been etched into my brain, but my intent to initiate a transaction (a.k.a. relationship) with either of them remains the same - not interested. Acknowledging that the average party-goer isn't making this sort of analysis of the marketing efforts they encounter, it's up to marketers to develop tools to gauge the true effects of their event marketing on their target audience.

Write to Al Berrios at


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