The vast New Mexico sky yawned in rays of gold and blue. Hot pink clouds hugged the horizon as people scurried about amidst the early morning chill. A tall, thin man, obviously in costume, comments on the festivities while news cameras roll live. He's here for the 45th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta; an event that draws over 900,000 visitors each year.
This year, the nine-day festival also drew the attention of the global brand this man represents, Hotels.com-- a company who understands the value of creating unique offline experiences for their online consumers. As the inaugural year for Hotels.com to attend the Balloon Fiesta, the company believed that there was no better way to offer tangible and compelling value to website users than by participating in one of the biggest festivals in the country.
"Everyone has their own wanderlust," says Taylor L. Cole, travel expert and head of PR for Hotels.com in North America. "We [at Hotels.com] wanted to be part of something that would allow us to join people on a trip and invite them along with us. The Balloon Fiesta is one of the most iconic, unique and long-running American events. It gives us an opportunity to meet not only our American audience but also our global consumer."
"EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN WANDERLUST."-- Taylor L. Cole
Hotels.com is not the only company jumping from constant digital interactions to investing in reality based connections. The best and brightest brands understand the need in our culture for experiential marketing. "Audiences want to feel special with exclusive access to people and places," says Evan Carroll, founder of Attended Events. "Experiences don't have to be grand, but simply must wow and trigger FOMO for their friends."
Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta is an event that will induce #FOMO. The 'twinkle twinkle glow'--spread across 54 football fields and triggered by the over 500 balloons that attend burn at dusk-- send excited chills through event goers bodies. Little children and senior citizens meander between lanes and lanes of balloon canvases, wicker baskets, and chase vehicles while waiting for ascension. It's unreal how massive the event is; it's magical how unlike anything else it remains.
Captain Obvious, the face of behind the Hotels.com commercials and the brand, adds another element to the balloon festival experience. His recognizable face and out-of-place attire garners many a photo moment and inquisitive look from both children and adults. Kids run up asking for trading cards; a staple of Albuquerque's balloon fiesta throughout its history.
Captain smiles and graciously interacts-- handing over the artfully designed card etched with a hotels.com discount code instead of the traditional balloon and pilot facts. There remains a radiant energy; a genuine excitement. Witnessing experiential marketing in action is proof that the most successful companies are meeting consumers where they want to be; in their activities and during their adventures while adding additional value along the way.
As a busy, over-stimulated consumer, exact details of travel are often forgotten in the fray, but etched in our memories are those 'once in a lifetime' moments. As one long-term, Fiesta attendee said so eloquently, "You will have a hard time explaining what this is all about."
We don't always remember the exact hotel name, restaurant location, or nice bar when we travel. But, we can easily recall a deep blue New Mexico sky dotted with hundreds of colorful flying devices and that man with a beard and red jack waving to us from above.
Because that-- it doesn't happen every day.