"We rock, we roll,” says Ernie Hahn with a laugh as he discusses the Infinium Spirits Wonderbus, a new activation concept he launched on March 17. And that’s really the best way to describe it, in a nutshell: Serving as a sort of “concert on wheels,” the Wonderbus is a branded double-decker bus with a fully functioning stage and sound system that has been hosting COVID-safe concerts throughout San Diego.
Bringing brands to the people has become something of a trend during COVID-19, with companies ranging from skincare brand Ole Henriksen to Amazon Studios using buses, trucks and other vehicles for socially distanced activations. And it’s a natural fit for live music, allowing large branding opportunities on the side as passersby take in the performances from a safe distance.
Hahn had been playing around with the idea for Wonderbus for a while. He’s been working in San Diego’s sports and entertainment industry for the last 30 years—most notably as the general manager of the Pechanga Arena San Diego. In November 2019, he was one of the co-founders of the inaugural Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival, a three-day event held in downtown San Diego, featuring 129 acts on seven stages. And if that wasn’t keeping him busy enough, in mid-2020 he teamed up with longtime marketer Bob Ridgeway to launch Dream Hahn, an experiential marketing company.
Launching a new experiential agency during COVID was no easy feat, and Hahn and Ridgeway knew they had to think outside the box for their first big client, Infinium Spirits, which had recently relocated its corporate headquarters to San Diego. In addition to clever tie-ins with the San Diego Padres—including the “Make it a Double” program, where fans at Petco Park and local bars get two-for-the-price-of-one shots of the brand’s Templeton Rye whenever players hit a double—Dream Hahn created the Wonderbus concept.
“I always dreamed of taking a double-decker bus and converting it, putting in a stage on top, a drum riser, all the production,” says Hahn, adding that he envisioned the interior as a VIP section with a cocktail bar. “It’s this one-of-a-kind stage that can roll to different locations, and can do pop-up concerts and corporate events.”
When the pandemic hit, Hahn had the time to make his longtime dream a reality. Dream Hahn bought its first bus in October, and Infinium Spirits quickly signed on as the naming sponsor for the first year. Now dubbed the Infinium Spirits Wonderbus, the bus is now on the road about three days per week, either making preplanned stops (that are promoted on Instagram) or doing what Hahn calls a “slow roll” through the city, playing music as a surprise gift to passersby.
“We wanted to bring music to the people—and the smiles, the reactions and the social media posts have been incredible,” he says, adding that it’s also allowed local musicians to showcase their music in a time when traditional music venues are shuttered. “Bands are donating their time, and we’re giving them the resource to do that.”
In addition to giving back to the local community, the bus has served as a unique promotional vehicle (literally) for Infinium Spirits. “As they launch into San Diego, it really gives them a distinct advantage that nobody else,” Hahn explains, noting that the bus can travel to different bars and restaurants that serve the spirits brand and help host happy hours.
An added bonus? The bus has become a natural way to promote the Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival year-round—an important asset for the brand-new event that was forced to cancel its 2020 edition. Organizers hope to host the second edition of the event from Nov. 19-21, 2021—and until then, they are making it clear that the music on the Wonderbus is powered by the festival team.
“Until we can put that festival on again, we’ll bring that music to you,” Hahn explains, adding that the buses will likely have a presence at the festival itself too. “We also want to do ‘Roads to Wonderfront’-like events ahead of the festival, where we can showcase live bands that will be playing. … It becomes a really cool, one-of-a-kind activation.”
He adds, “We want people thinking about Wonderfront the way they think about the Padres—this is your local festival, this is your local team. We don’t roll in one week a year from somewhere else. This is your local team that’s thinking about you when times are tough, and this is your local team that’s going to be here when things turn around.”
To build on the success, Hahn is launching a second bus this month that’s geared towards corporate and social events. This one won’t have a naming right partner—which means that it can be fully branded for corporate meetings, trade shows, birthday parties, weddings, you name it.
Hahn also sees this concept continuing well after COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror. He envisions it serving as a unique option for pop-up events and festivals; the buses stay securely parked in San Diego, so the process is easy and fast to bring them anywhere without having to coordinate extra equipment. “The possibilities are endless—it’s fun, and from the experiential side it becomes a huge asset to brands.”
This story was originally published on Connect's sister site, BizBash.com, here.