Dare to be different

Published:  26 February, 2014

Shopping centres come alive with marketing activity in the run up to Christmas, with rival centres fighting it out to put on bigger and better events in a bid to pull in people and pounds. Increasingly, it’s quirky and unusual events that are winning out over the tried and tested options. 

After years of putting on a celebrity Christmas light switch event each November, Liverpool One decided to do something different last year, enlisting the Lantern Company, a local business whose team of artists specialise in making puppets, carnival floats and sculptural lanterns, to help them with a community-led lantern parade. 

“We wanted to move away from the celebrity light switch-on event,” says Miles Dunnett, head of asset management, Grosvenor Liverpool Fund. “They generate a lot of people but not necessarily spend, the crowds make it difficult for people to move, and they have to strain to see what’s going on on stage.” 

The aim was to appeal to the outer catchment areas of Lancashire, Chester and Blackpool and with input from both the local council and BID, the team at Liverpool One was keen for it to be a city-wide event, with the parade snaking its way not just around the centre but around the city. 

Liverpool One commissioned the Lantern Company to make a lantern of the Liverpool skyline, the centrepiece of the 100m long parade, which involved children from local schools and their own lanterns made in creative workshops. 

“We wanted to improve the quality of the experience,” adds Liverpool One’s head of communication, Janine Ross. “The lantern parade involved local people, it was interactive, and everyone could get a good view. We got live coverage on ITV regional news and it’s something we want to grow and improve this year.”

When it comes to Christmas installations, grottos are a failsafe for many centres, but while a meeting with Father Christmas delights children, what is there to entertain the parents? Entertainment and events company, Maynineteen, came up with an alternative in the form of the Grown Up Grotto at The Brunswick shopping centre in London. 

Aimed predominantly at adult urban shoppers without children, the centre wanted to create a VIP area where customer spend was rewarded with complementary festive treats including alcohol. 

Maynineteen’s answer to the brief took inspiration from European Christmas markets and they installed a traditional wooden cabin on site, complete with a bar and food counter, where shoppers were rewarded with complimentary mulled wine and mince pies. 

The cosy cabin was kitted out in a kitschy Nordic style, complete with moose antlers hung above a mantelpiece and decorations made from old Christmas jumpers and vintage wrapping paper. And there were giant retro games like Jenga, Hungry Hippo and Connect Four as well as a twist on the game Wheel of Fortune

“A spin of the wheel revealed if shoppers were on Santa’s nice or naughty list with prizes for everyone available from the corresponding sack of ‘nice’ or ‘naughty’ presents,” explains Jo Prosser, marketing manager at Maynineteen. “Data captured customers were automatically entered into a grand prize draw for a chance to win one of two hampers filled with indulgent festive treats and goodies donated by the centre’s retailers.” 

Shoppertainment put on a similarly quirky event at St Johns shopping centre in Liverpool for the VIP launch of its new food court on 27 November, with invites sent out with a mince pie in a branded gift box. They provided a decor package to tie in with the centre’s own Christmas decorations and set up a VIP entrance including a red carpet, fake paparazzi, and waiters who greeted guests on arrival, and later burst into song for an element of surprise. 

 “Christmas is a vital time of year for centre managers,” says Clare Andrew, Shoppertainment’s managing director. “It is important to drive footfall and dwell time through eye-catching events, often involving celebrity switch-ons, polar bears and kids parties. All are fantastic fun ways to increase spend and generate great PR but for St Johns we decided to do something different and targeted at Christmas. Each point had an element of surprise from mince pies with the invites to singing waiters, all set in a festive Christmas scene. The new food retailers benefited from social media, PR, and exposure at the busiest time of the year.” 

On the community side, workshops are becoming popular, and Maynineteen runs them every weekend in November and December, as well as during school holidays, on behalf of shopping centre clients including Intu Trafford Centre and Golden Square in Warrington. 

One of the most popular workshops is ‘Letter To Santa’ in which children are invited to prepare their Christmas wish list on printed templates with help from ‘Santa’s elves’, before posting them in a traditional red post box.

The second most popular is ‘Elf Yourself’, as Prosser explains: “Friendly elves invite children into the workshop to undergo a transformation and become one of Santa’s little helpers for the day. This festive, fun craft workshop kits out participating children with elf hats and collars and face paint, and children are encouraged to whisper a secret Christmas wish to the elves which completes their magical experience.”

“Kids also enjoy making a variety of crafts at our more general craft workshops,” she adds. “These change regularly and are exclusive to each centre and include decorating Christmas baubles with ribbon and sparkly adornments, hand stitching Christmas stockings, and making and decorating photo frames to give to family members as gifts.” 

The workshops usually run between 11am and 4pm, and cater to an average 200 children per day. 

“Walkabout acts are also popular with our clients at Christmas,” says Prosser. “Our roller skating Christmas puddings for example are a fun and entertaining addition to the malls during the busy shopping season.” 

Christmas is a great time for marketing teams to get their creative juices flowing, providing their customers with quirky activities that can’t be experienced elsewhere, and with endless possibilities enabling marketers to up the ante each and every year, there is bound to be a new tranche of inspirational event ideas for this year’s Christmas.

Ice rink

Ice rinks have become a popular way of creating a festive destination for shoppers that is fun for all the family.

Arena Structures, part of the Arena Group, is a specialist in creating bespoke temporary ice rinks to enhance existing retail environments. 

“Ice rinks and festive attractions have become very eye-catching and highly lucrative enterprises within the retail and leisure industry,” says business development director James Thomas. “Last year our ice rink division grew bigger and better with new installations across the country, as clients looked to diversify their offering and capitalise on additional footfall during the festive period.”  

The team were contracted by Broadgate Estates to design and install a 450 sq m temporary ice rink in a new location at Exchange Square. 

“Arena Structures provided us with the practical knowledge, experience and passion required to create our elegant ice rink and Bar BBQ on Ice pop up restaurant,” says Samantha Rush, head of marketing, communications and events at Broadgate Estates. “Our occupier and guest feedback has been extremely positive.  The ice rink seamlessly combines a unique retail and leisure offer, with skaters able to enjoy the area’s culinary and shopping delights at their leisure.”

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