Jeff Snyder is the founder and chief inspiration officer at Inspira Marketing Group, a brand experience agency headquartered in Norwalk, Conn. and New York City.
I’ll be the first to admit that the experiential marketing space hasn’t always been the pinnacle of environmentalism. Air travel emissions, elaborate, one-time use sets, wasted food and beverages — even a single pre-pandemic event could impact our environment in startling ways.
The impetus for sustainability has never been stronger. Many people are still quarantining and social distancing, and the planet has felt notable effects, including reduced carbon emissions and clear waterways. Because of this, people are pledging to “flatten the curve” when it comes to climate change. They saw how business as usual affected our planet, and they’re ready to adopt more sustainable measures and strategies in response.
We can see evidence of sincere support for protecting our earth across all demographics, but nowhere is sustainable living more important than among Millennials and Generation Z. And they expect the brands they patronize to do their part, too.
According to PSFK Research, nearly 60% of Generation Zers select brands based on their purpose, values, and mission, and Nielsen discovered that 73% of Millennials will shell out more money for sustainable products and brands. But you can’t simply say you’re environmentally and socially responsible. You have to adopt policies and practices in every aspect of your business, including virtual experiences.
Although in-person strategies like recycling are more difficult to control when creating virtual experiences, there are ways to promote and practice sustainability in a virtual environment. Here are three strategies you can use:
Sustainability isn’t an exercise in independence. For your next virtual event, consider partnering with influencers who mirror your commitment to environmentalism. Because they operate entirely through visual mediums, they’ll be able to help you think cinematically, not theatrically. RXBAR, for instance, used its influencers to provide free workouts for consumers stuck inside during COVID-19. Although workouts aren’t really tied to environmentalism, you could showcase influencer-created tutorial videos that feature your offerings in a sustainable way at your next event.
You can also partner with organizations that support sustainable living. For example, before the pandemic, Cotton Inc.’s denim recycling program teamed up with Caravan Stylist Studio to host a sustainable pop-up shop and clothing donation drive in celebration of America Recycles Day. The Denim Stack Challenge urged consumers to take stock of their wardrobes and recycle their seldom-worn denim. Participants were asked to pile up their old jeans and share the photo on Instagram using the hashtag #DenimStackChallenge.
A 2019 study by JWT Intelligence found that more than half of Gen Zers believe they’re more creative than previous generations. We can see their creativity manifesting in many ways — but mostly on social media. For example, in 2019, the VSCO girl meme went viral, promoting the use of reusable water bottles (specifically Hydro Flask), metal straws, and sustainability-focused fashion brands like Birkenstock. Leverage this creativity by incorporating Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube interactions into your virtual event.
TikTok, in particular, has boomed during the pandemic. The video app surpassed 2 billion downloads in April and, despite the security controversy, continues to reign supreme as one of the most popular Gen Z social platforms. Consider applying social media platform strategies into your interactions. Chipotle, for instance, is a master of TikTok hashtag challenges (such as #GuacDance or #ChipotleLidFlip). Imitate their success by meshing your brand with a sustainability initiative and creating a catchy hashtag. You can encourage attendee participation and generate valuable buzz by doing so.
Our inclination to ignore problems that feel distant is simply part of the human condition. It’s why many of us have pushed climate change to the backs of our minds for so long. Ignoring the problem is no longer an option, but rattling off stats and figures won’t create eco-warriors or showcase your mission. The tangible nature of experiential marketing makes it a fantastic way to illustrate the impacts of climate change and other ecological crises and inspire action.
Before the pandemic, National Geographic hosted an immersive experience at Disney’s D23 Expo that was designed to bring awareness to its “Planet or Plastic” initiative aimed at reducing consumption of single-use plastic. The activation’s main attraction featured a variety of life-size marine animals that were created by San Francisco Bay Area artists from about 8,400 pieces of reclaimed plastic and steel. Think about creating an experience like this via augmented or virtual reality (like The Met 360 project). You may not be able to bring attendees to the experience, but you can bring the experience to the attendees.
Brands have an obligation to do their part in the fight against climate change and other environmental woes. By promoting and practicing sustainable living through digital experiential marketing, you’ll not only make a real difference, but also generate brand loyalty among younger generations.
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