“Welcome to the Future,” beckons vibrant LCD displays outside a pop up shop in Terminal 4 of Phoenix, Arizona’s Sky Harbor airport. Inside the shop, which is little more than a glass kiosk, about a half-dozen employees in Facebook blue T-shirts chat amongst themselves as weary travellers hustle by. It’s quiet for the moment, but a flight has just arrived and the shop gets more attention when people begin arriving for departing flights. “We’ve seen thousands and thousands of people,” an employee explains. Though hard numbers are difficult to come by, it’s easy to imagine the station processing 1,000 people in a single day, based on the counts Popertee observed while on site.
Meet Oculus Rift
Like Amazon and Google before it, Facebook is using pop up shops to raise awareness for new tech. The item of the day is Oculus Rift, a virtual reality system Facebook picked up as part of its purchase of tech start-up Oculus roughly two years ago for just shy of $2 billion. Unlike Amazon and Google, there is seemingly no relationship between Facebook’s flagship product and the latest tech they’re selling, which makes promoting it an uphill battle. But, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of this and sees Oculus as part of a long-term plan. “Strategically we want to start building the next major computing platform that will come after mobile,” he explained shortly after the acquisition.
Indeed, the VR system is on the cutting edge of technology. For those who haven’t tried it (we did!), users don a headset and headphones, which totally blocks out the real world and emerges them in a virtual world that feels incredibly real. There are many competitors on the market though, and as Octavio Herrera, co-counter of VR brand Lucid Sight says, “Facebook got everybody else off their ass.” Competition is mounting and there’s much speculation about which brand will win the war to become the predominant VR platform. Most are presently focusing on bringing VR into homes as part of a game system or general entertainment platform including movies, though Zuckerberg is using the pop up shops to demonstrate practical applications, such as sharing experiences between friends and family or “visiting” faraway places.
5 Ways Facebook Nailed their Pop Up Strategy
Overall, Facebook did a great job with the setup and operation of their kiosks. We’ve picked five areas they did remarkably well with, to serve as inspiration for your own pop up shop deployments.
1. They Chose High Foot Traffic Areas
At this stage, few people are aware of emerging VR technology outside the tech and gaming industries. Getting it in front of a wide range of people to let them experience it first-hand is paramount. Facebook choose airports and malls across several major US cities for their pop up shops, thus ensuring people from all over the globe would be able to try it out.
2. They Designed Inviting Pop Up Shops
Their fishbowl-type displays allow people passing by to experience VR and become familiar with its presence without ever actually trying it out. All signage further served as a welcome mat as well, by simply saying, “Wanna Try VR?” On top of this, the kiosks were set up as a streamlined process, with a check-in area and obvious flow, making it easy for anyone to feel comfortable about stepping inside.
3. They Integrated Social Sharing
While it probably goes without saying, Facebook made sure to include social networking in their strategy. People coming into the shop had their photos taken while wearing a VR headset and the images were then converted into branded GIFs that visitors could have sent to their inbox for saving and uploading directly to Facebook or download to their devices later.
4. They Created a Unique Experience
When asked what his favourite part of the experience was, a teen named Jeff excitedly declared, “The dinosaur!” Visitors were treated to a two-minute VR experience that took them across the galaxy, out on a small boat, to the centre of a basketball court mid-game, as well as to the rainforest during prehistoric times. The technology is undeniably epic and so life-like that people in the testing areas have real world reactions to what they’re seeing on the screen. “It was weird because I wanted to back away from it,” Jeff’s older sister Meghan added, “but some part of me still knew that backing up wouldn’t help.” Despite being startled by the dino, the pair agrees that it was more fun than scary.
5. Visitors Left with Physical Reminders
In addition to the GIFs and social sharing, visitors left with a magnet featuring the Facebook “Like” symbol. While it may only be a small token, sending these home with people ensures that they’ll remember the event and the magnets will become conversation pieces.
5 Things Facebook Should Have Done Better
Despite the fact that Facebook is a huge company with an enormous budget, they still biffed it with some aspects of their pop ups.
1. No Marketing Campaign
As far as we can tell, the pop up shops were not marketed at all. Individual venues mentioned that they were hosting Facebook kiosks and some media outlets picked up on it, but very little info about the shops is available overall. The employee we spoke with expressed genuine surprise that we made a trip out to Sky Harbor just to try out their tech, thus suggesting these aren’t destinations for people, merely places to stop into while already there. They could have generated a lot more buzz and had more traffic by promoting the pop up shops.
2. Age Restrictions
Facebook did not allow anyone under 13 to try out the headsets and this wasn’t clearly stated anywhere, though it may have been in the super tiny print on one of the various signs by the entry. This led to a lot of hard feelings as families were forced to forgo the event entirely or split up so those old enough could try it. For example, Jeff and Meghan were part of a family with four children and the younger two sat out with their mom while their dad took them in. We asked the staff about the restrictions and were told it was because of concerns over damage to their vision, though the scientific community doesn’t seem to back this worry. In fact, some experts think VR can actually help detect vision problems in children, not cause them. While it’s understandable that the company would want to avoid legal concerns, they could have prevented heartache by making their rules clear before kids got up to the front of the line.
Undeniably, it’s tough to be at an airport all day trying to sound peppy while working with exhausted travellers, but most staff members seemed less than excited about their jobs. This was a chance for Facebook to really get people excited about VR and, although the team was professional, they didn’t come across as guides to the future. The process was more along the lines of, “Here it is and this is what you do,” versus, “This is new and exciting. Wait until you try it.”
We had lots of questions after trying the headset out. How will it work? What does Facebook plan to do with this? How can this integrate with my life? The staff couldn’t answer most of the questions and seemed disinterested in promoting the brand.
Final Campaign Observations
When other companies have included pop up shops as part of a marketing strategy or awareness campaign, the results have been obvious. Take, for example, the data we gathered on Kanye West’s pop up shops. You could see how his stores directly influenced his popularity on Google and on Twitter. When we checked out Facebook on Google Trends, there’s not even the tiniest uptick to show interest in the brand increased with this campaign.
We decided to check on the popularity of Oculus as well.
Still nothing. All this is happening at a time when interest in VR is mounting.
In other words, it doesn’t look like Facebook made the most of their campaign opportunities. They really did a great job of designing the pop up shops, but they didn’t market them (or did so very ineffectively) and missed out on a major PR opportunity. We don’t know what metrics Facebook was using to measure the success of this campaign, but if the goal was to raise awareness for the technology, they haven’t done so in a measurable way. Even while interest in Oculus Rift should be growing, reports about how it’s falling well behind HTC Vive are emerging; Vive is actively outselling Rift two-to-one, according to PC World. At the height of a campaign like this, it should be the other way around. On the other hand, this very well could have been a test for Facebook based on the select few kiosks they opened and perhaps the brand has plans for a second wave with a more comprehensive campaign. Time will tell.