A blog header image featuring a spooky Halloween background, two superhero silhouettes and the blog title: Trick or Treat? Unmasking the Marketing Success of a Pop Culture Convention

Trick or Treat? Unmasking the Marketing Success of a Pop Culture Convention

Halloween came early for the team at Marigold this year. We were tasked with selling as many tickets as possible to an event for a client without leveraging two of a marketer’s most valuable tools: urgency and context. That’s scary stuff! 

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The client hosts a B2C pop culture event in a major metropolitan area of the United States. They headline celebrity guests and give attendees the chance to see the casts of their favorite franchises up-close-and-personal.

It’s a format that’s proven successful multiple times over, but this year the Hollywood writers’ strike turned what should have been a walk in the park into a stroll through a haunted house. 

We could use the individual celebrities’ names and images in ads, we were instructed, but could not link them to the franchise they were associated with. That’s like when a kid marches up to your front stoop, proud of her costume and expecting you to remark with recognition, but all you see is a vaguely familiar outfit completely void of context. 

Would our conference attendees feel the same way? Could the celebrities’ name recognition alone drive purchasers, even without the logos, intellectual property, and context provided by their franchises? 

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We faced another jump scare when we learned that there were no urgency periods built into the sales cycle. Ticket prices will often increase several times leading up to the event, giving marketers natural urgency periods to drive sales. There was nothing that incentivized attendees to buy their tickets and buy them now. 

Our toolbox lighter, we forged into strategy mode like a six-year-old dressed like Iron Man.

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Were We Working on Frankenstein’s Monster? (AKA A Tale of Convention Marketing)

A black and white image of a spooky forest with the outline of Frankenstein's monster

The venue allows for nearly unlimited scaling, and we were told by the client, “There is no sellout number,” when we asked about it. Our mission was clear: sell as many tickets as possible for the budget we were given.

We reviewed the client’s marketing efforts the previous year to ascertain what kind of results were possible. The bar was high, with strong volume and low CPAs all around. We did a thorough analysis of exactly what prior efforts worked and which we would abandon. We want to undertake each new client and campaign with a well-formulated understanding of the landscape in which we are working.

Due to the nature of the audience, we knew that dialing in the interest groups was going to be one of the primary keys to success. Warm traffic was important, but in order to sell as many tickets as we needed to, we would have to find the right users and show them the right ads. 

Crafting MMG Magic: Selling Tickets to a Pop Culture Convention

Proper targeting would be key to success, we knew. We created audiences within ad sets that most effectively represented the likeliest avatar of an attendee given the celebrity guests attending. Some guests’ fan bases were flourishing in multiple sectors, and we used multiple adjacent interest groups to locate interested users. These audiences and their lookalikes proved to be integral to the campaigns’ success.

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The client maintains a strong organic presence, and in order to ignite the energy amassed by social proof, our team used well-performing social posts of guest announcements as ad creative. We ran these alongside designed graphics and videos but celebrity-led creative far outperformed anything else. Our efforts were to get the right ones in front of the right users, causing the algorithm to do as little work as possible to pair the two.

Geographic targeting was another piece of the puzzle we had to get to fit. Since the event was held in a major metro area, we targeted geographically broadly for most of the sales campaigns. The last several weeks were spent targeting users within driving distance of the event’s location.

Implementing this strategy required agility, as we had to shift budget and focus multiple times in the duration of the campaign. A month before the event, we were tasked with selling celebrity photo op and autograph packages. We leveraged the existing interest-driven audiences and the celebrity creatives that were producing purchases in a series of campaigns. 

Then, with the event several weeks out, we were directed by the client to shift focus from the photo op and autograph sales, and once again shine the light on volume since the CPAs were so low and ROI was surpassing expectations. They could make more money by selling tickets than they initially expected, the event organizers realized. 

Unearthly Success: The ‘90% Sold Out’ Strategy That Haunted Our Pop Culture Convention

An image of a spooky forest with the heading: Unearthly Success: The '90% Sold Out' Strategy That Haunted Our Pop Culture Convention

A week out from the event, we began running “90% Sold Out!” campaigns for an event that we were told didn’t have a sellout number. 

On Meta platforms, we sold 1,258 tickets (41% more than last year!) with a CPA of $7.60 and 33x ROAS. We sold an additional 610 photo ops/autographs with a CPA of $5.18 and 48x ROAS. On Google, we sold 5,927 tickets with a CPA of $2.11 and ROAS of 118x. 

“Know your audience” is so common it’s become a marketing cliche, but in this instance, it proved true for a reason. With the platforms relying so heavily on the algorithms, the onus is on us as marketers to provide it the best information possible. By addressing the avatar from all available sides, tightening the location targeting at the right times, and leveraging social proof, we produced an “overwhelming” number of attendees according to the client, and made their on-site team earn their paychecks! 

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