Incorporating pop culture into events can be an effective way to engage millennials and Gen Z, but it’s not as easy as it looks. From “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead” to Pokemon Go and Beyonce and the latest Superman movie, event planners almost need a cheat sheet to keep up with what’s trending right now.
“You really need to understand the fandom,” says Will Curran, founder of Endless Entertainment, an event production company that has worked with the likes of Amazon, Target and Zappos, as well as Phoenix Comicon and Emerald City Comicon. “If it’s not authentic, it’s not going to match up and the fans might be mad.”
As March Madness tips off—a cultural event itself—take note of these five tips for incorporating pop culture into your events.
If you don’t understand a pop culture niche, find people who love it.
Scour microsites to do research on various pop culture trends. Instead of only focusing on social media, Curran recommends checking out blogs to find experts in pop culture subcommunities. “Most people are able to tell if something is just tacked on,” notes Joe Boudrie, director of programming for Phoenix Comicon
Use pop culture references onstage.
Find keynote speakers or a master of ceremonies who understands a cross-section of pop culture and can incorporate it into your event. The goal is to keep the references funny and lighthearted. Curran points to Grant Imahara of “MythBusters,” who is not only famous and has a science background, but also is in the know about what movies are coming out, “so he can make jokes about it and have fun with it,” Curran says.
Pre-poll your event attendees on social channels.
Even if you aren’t bringing in a celebrity, you want to find out who resonates with your audience. Maybe there’s a huge group of Madonna fans in your audience, or maybe your crowd goes wild for Ne-Yo. You can use that information to plan entertainment accordingly. When Boudrie wasn’t sure if Bob Morley, an actor from TV show “The 100,” would be a good fit for an event, he polled a couple hundred people on Facebook. Once he had enough data to justify hiring Morley, they marketed his appearance in Facebook posts targeted at women who mentioned they were fans.
Video, video, video.
When his company was managing the Fiesta Bowl Block Party, Curran created custom music videos that were mixed and scratched together. “Creating fun content that has people smiling and saying, "Oh, I know that!" gets people to go crazy,” he says.
Think like a theme park.
Mike Armstrong, event director at ReedPOP
, which oversees New York Comic Con, jokes they think about Disney a lot. If you’ll have long lines during an event, have DJs playing music and throwing out pop culture trivia questions. “Having a shared passion is what the pop culture community is about,” Boudrie says. “When you can share that, you can achieve great engagement.”
Photo credit: Huffington Post