Pop-up activations are here to stay as FMCG brands look to mix-up shopper marketing tactics

pop-up activations

By Nick Adams, CEO at Sense

In FMCG, success hinges on more than just having a quality product. With fierce competition and ever-changing consumer preferences, never mind the lasting impact of covid on shopper behaviours, it’s crucial for brands to deploy effective shopper marketing tactics, such as pop-up activations, in order to increase engagement and drive sales. 

Understanding the challenges of communicating with consumers, to the importance of knowing your brand values, to what shopper marketing tactics work for your particular brand, can make all the difference between a brand thriving or surviving.

The lay of the FMCG land

First things first, let’s recognise how the FMCG landscape has evolved.

As various sectors continue to suffer during the cost-of-living crisis, data from the last 12 months by YouGov suggests food and household supplies have experienced the highest increase in spend. Almost half of consumers have spent more on food and beverages (48%), and over a third have increased their spend on household supplies and toiletries (37%). There are thoughts this shift could be due to either increased prices in the supply chain, or consumers preferring to cook at home to save money, but it’s not clear yet.

On top of economic disruption there has also been a shift in consumer sentiment, especially with younger generations. There’s an increased demand for products to mirror attitudes and outlooks, with sustainability being a key consideration. These shifts are causing FMCG brands to break away from traditional shopper marketing tactics to encourage consumer evaluation in their decision making.

The challenges of communication

Pre covid, it was still relatively easy to target shoppers in supermarkets. However,  research from Barclay’s shows millions of shoppers have permanently switched to ordering groceries exclusively online, seriously impacting how FMCG brands can utilise historic shopper tactics such as ‘retail-tainment’.

Now FMCG brands have been forced to diversify how they engage with consumers as habits change. Brands that may not have originally thought about utilising pop-ups, or spent too much time focusing on price and value messaging over brand, may be more inclined to explore this option to heighten the chance of making an impact on their target audience.

Celebrating pop-up activations

Pop-up experiences have been around for a long time such as Magnum’s Pleasure Stores which first launched in 2014, but we’ve recently seen increasing numbers of pop-ups executed by Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) disruptor brands such as Beauty Pie, through to more traditional retail brands like Walkers and Propercorn. Many pop-ups are taking place in central London, where brands are able to engage with target audiences and avoid the cost and competition of being stocked in a supermarket.

A Google survey found brands that had experimented with pop-up shops, reported a 46% increase in sales, a 51% rise in market visibility, 66% greater brand awareness, and a 46% spike in social-media engagement compared to when they didn’t have a pop-up. With results like these it may seem like a no brainer to take this route. However this isn’t right for every brand and there is a need to strike a balance between what shopper tactic to deploy when, and where to communicate effectively with a target audience.

Choose your shopper tactics wisely

The right tactic not only depends on when and where, but also on a brand’s objectives.

Pop-ups work well for brands who want to deliver a theatrical moment for their target audience and interest is driven by the fact the experience is only going to be there for a short time, so people don’t want to miss out. McVities leaned into this when it delivered the cuddle café – a pop-up for two days where tea and biscuits were provided in exchange for a cuddle. This brought the brand to life in a visible and authentic way, creating positive sentiment as a result.

If pop-ups aren’t the right fit, then consider something on a larger scale like a big event. These work well for brands who want to raise awareness with a target audience group in an area with high footfall.  They provide the opportunity to leave a lasting impression based on the creativity of the event while also clearly communicating a brand’s messaging. Live events can also create more of a community atmosphere around the brand, playing into certain generational desires for those who want to feel part of something bigger than just picking a product up off the shelf. It’s here where loyalty starts pulling through.

Despite supermarkets not being frequented as much as they used to be, if a brand’s objective is purely to drive sales, switch at shelf and achieve brand penetration, then a retail experiential event is the right tactic. Hard-working sales mechanics, whether placed in the car park or a foyer of a supermarket, will still have an impact but it’s clear to see experiential plays an important role across each one.

One size doesn’t fit all

It’s easy to look at a competitor or the latest disruptor brand and copy their shopper tactics but that’s not the best solution.

Each brand has its own messaging, budget, goals and target audience. A bespoke plan must be designed to heighten the chances of engagement with its target audience and maximise ROI.

It’s also important to bear in mind shopper tactics don’t have to work in silos either – they can work well together. Tony’s Chocolonely and Ben & Jerry’s collaboration celebrating their ‘Chocolate Love A-Fair’ range is a great example of this. This campaign saw a dual approach from the brand with a high-impact live pop-up takeover in central London. Alongside the pop-up shop, the partnership was also leveraged through multiple in-store touch points, including on pack.

Even though shopper behaviour has changed in recent years brands shouldn’t disregard shopper tactics such as retail-tainment if it’s the right tactic to achieve specific goals. There is a need for a variety of shopper marketing tactics to capture and respond to the wide range of consumer shopper habits seen today. It’s just about choosing the right tactic, at the right time, in the right place.


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Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy or amplify your retail marketing moves. Get them here at The Futures Lab.


5th Floor Century House
100 Oxford Street

New York

243 E 14th
#2 C/O SQ
New York
NY 10003


Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy here at The Future Lab

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Whether it be Festivals, Trade Shows, PR Stunts, Installations or Pop Ups to name a few, we believe brand experiences are one of the most powerful forms of marketing to impact consumer perception and attitude towards a brand. They can create real behaviour change when born out of a deep consumer insight allied to a compelling idea. And it’s these fundamentals we look to get right whatever the live, virtual or hybrid task in hand.


Sampling is all too often perceived as an unsophisticated, somewhat ‘blunt’ marketing tool. Over the last 16 years Sense has pioneered a set of strategic principles which underpin our unique approach to sampling and which are highly measurable from both an ROI and consumer behaviour change perspective. We will happily guide brands through the myriad of sampling channels and products available so whether it’s mass face to face sampling, in offices, digitally, at home or just a strategic framework that you are after, we can provide a blend of tactics to fulfil both brand and sales objectives.


With many clients now focused on activating in channels more closely associated with a sale, our heavyweight retail experience closes the loop on a typical shopper journey by encompassing the moment of truth in store. Be it prize promotions, shopper toolkits, key visual creation, path-to-purchase communications, category strategy, B2B campaigns or Amazon optimisation, our goal is to create forward-thinking retail experiences that deliver demonstrable brand value. We aim to make ‘retail fail’ a thing of the past for ambitious brands looking to thrive is an ever-competitive landscape and believe our streamlined team is perfectly placed to do this.


Knowing what will keep a brand bright, exciting, and vital means we need to keep one step ahead of the curve. Our thought leadership hub, The Futures Lab, helps us to understand the marketing trends of tomorrow. It’s also the origin of strategies and methodologies which have created over 65 award-winning campaigns. 


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