News August 22, 2018

How to harness the power of the pop-up according to music’s merch wizards

Former Assistant Editor
How to harness the power of the pop-up according to music’s merch wizards

Music is no longer the single yardstick by which to measure the success of an artist.

As much is it may pain the purists, it’s 2018, and an artist is a brand.

Whether they’re used to explore the concept of an album, sell limited edition merchandise, or provide a space for a meet-and-greet, pop-up stores are a great platform to launch products, generate hype and build your artist brand.

With big budgets and even bigger fan bases to work with, major artists embracing the power of the pop-up include Kanye West, whose Saint Pablo tour included 21 near-identical stores around the world.

Working their magic behind the scenes of this series was the subsidiary of Universal Music Group, Bravado, who produce merchandise and merch-related events, including pop-ups.

Graeme Jack, head of Asia Pacific, spoke to TMN on the day of 5SOS’ Sydney pop-up a few weeks back, which saw over 200 superfans through the doors.

He says that pop-ups are a powerful marketing tool because “they connect the fan and the artists. With music streaming you have no physical product for the fan to own, so merchandise is becoming the item that they can engage with.

“We had a group of 18 to 24-year-olds in store, all singing 5SOS songs. The crowd of 200 out the front all joined in. They are all tied by their passion for the band and they get to go to a store that is solely focused on that one point of connection.”

While the quality of merchandise is key – “If it’s a great product it will sell. If it’s not, it doesn’t matter what you do in the experience, it won’t sell” – pop-ups are more than just a T-shirt and signings.

In January, the Foo Fighters ran a series of pop-up pubs selling their own (see: Young Henry’s) beer in Sydney and Melbourne.

The events involved taking over two pubs – the Hollywood Hotel in Sydney, and The Cherry Bar in Melbourne – and turning them into Foo Fighters Hotel and The Fooie Bar respectively. For a few days, punters could purchase the limited edition Foo Town beer, play trivia, attend parties with cover bands, buy and win exclusive merch and even catch a live Triple M broadcast.

Similarly, DZ Deathrays celebrated their album Bloody Lovely in January with (another) Young Henry’s collab – Pills ‘N’ Thrills Pilsner. The band were present at each pop-up to play a DJ set.

In another installment, Arctic Monkeys took over Golden Age Cinema & Bar in Sydney on the day of their sixth album release, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, selling limited edition merch and, more interestingly, showcasing films the band programmed for the cinema over the weekend, including five of their fave ‘70s-era films such as The Coversation, The Last Waltz and Inherent Vice.

“We did a pretty amazing event for Migos. It wasn’t about sales, it was about their brand,” remembers Jack.

“We took over a dive bar in King Cross, Sydney… This wasn’t a retail store; it was dark, it was loud and they walked in and just owned it.

“They did an impromptu rap for a crowd of 200 and just blew the roof off the place… It was just one of those events where we all just looked at each other and went ‘did that just happen?’ That’s a good sign you just did something special.”

We asked Jack and Rowena Crittle, managing director of The Araca Group, Australia, about how to nail a pop-up event and capitalise on the engagement potential.  


What are the factors to consider when brainstorming concepts?

“We analyse a lot of data on the artist,” says Jack. “Music streaming allows us a detailed insight into the fanbase.”

Crittle adds, “Pop-ups for us aren’t so much about marketing; it’s really about expanding the customer’s experience and creating an opportunity to buy exclusive merchandise.

“You want to ensure you tell a story that is unique to the tour merchandise line, and you communicate this through digital marketing campaign in the build-up to the pop-up event.

“Whether it be a colour theme for each city, a fashion collab or simply an exclusive range sold only at these locations for the mega fans.”

A pop-up should also be a clear reflection of the artist’s brand and vision, as well as being exclusive to that artist. “If you want to build the brand then it’s about having a clear proposition to immerse the fan in the artist’s world,” says Jack. 

There are certain processes that can be used as a formula for success, but these aren’t to do with the creative side: “The ‘tried and tested’ elements should mean you get the product mix right, the quantities of stock right, the things people don’t think of like staff levels and security, the right location for the store,” he continues. 

Crittle also recommends investing in a basic transportable fit-out that can be replicated to model for other artists.


A lot of pop-ups play on the element of surprise – how do you still get people through the doors?

“City-centric merchandise works really well to create hype,” says Crittle.

“We focus on limited runs and exclusive collectable items that enables us to tell a story in each city and leak it on socials in the days prior to the shop opening.

“The usual tactic is to block out view into the shop… which also helps create a visual element of surprise on the day.

Jack adds that harnessing fans on social media is key to a successful pop-up. “Getting all channels working at the same time with the same message, all targeted toward the consumer.

“Music streaming data allows us to better target our consumers to allow us to effectively open overnight.”


How important is artist involvement?

Crittle and Jack agree that artist involvement in driving the ideas behind their pop-up is beneficial, but being hands-on with the event itself isn’t necessary.

“The artist brings the brand, we bring the commercial experience to make it happen,” says Jack. “We create a fan experience that is both brand building and it delivers a commercial outcome for the artist.”

“If they post about it on their socials it doubles the traffic coming through the shop,” adds Crittle, “but if not if we can get access to their audience on socials we can create traffic through a digital marketing campaign with an aggressive ad spend focused on re-targeting ads.

“Basically, we do paid ads on socials to create the interest and our own audience, then we create an event page to market to that audience to get them hyped.”

In terms of physical appearances on the day, “we see a huge spike in social posting when an artist appears and that, in turn, drives awareness and drives traffic to the next event ultimately driving better commercial outcomes,” says Jack.

But, a lot of the time, logistics get in the way.

“Obviously we’d love an artist to appear, but usually you’ll find an artist doesn’t due to security or availability issues,” says Crittle.

“We usually expect they won’t appear.”

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