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Company: FirstFruits Marketing LLC Event: Opal Orchard NYC Event: Opal Orchard NYC Objectives: Increase awareness of the Opal brand of apples via media attention and face-to-face engagement with consumers. Strategy: Open a temporary space in New York capable of attracting passersby and garnering press coverage from a large number of local and national media outlets. Tactics: Convert a two-level art gallery into an "Instagram museum" with multiple photo activations and product-sampling opportunities. Conduct a pre-event public-relations campaign to court the interest of local influencers and media reps. Results: Attracted more than 1,600 participants, earned 54 media placements, conducted 10 face-to-face press interviews, and netted a total of more than 44 million social and media impressions. Creative/Production Agency: Department Zero Inc., www.departmentzero.com; Sets and Effects LLC, www.setsandeffects.com Creative Agency: Golden Sun Marketing Inc., www.goldensunmarketing.com Budget: $100,000 – $199,000

To boost awareness of its Opal apple brand, FirstFruits Marketing LLC stages a three-day, Instagram-centric activation in New York that lures scores of passersby, attracts the eye of the press, and harvests more than 44 million media and social impressions. By Brian Dukerschein
Raising and maintaining consumer awareness of their companies' names, logos, and products is a top concern for most marketers – a challenge made even more difficult when they operate in an industry in which their goods are viewed more as generic commodities than belonging to a readily identifiable brand. Take the fresh produce department of a typical grocery store, where branding opportunities are scarce and busy shoppers tend to be more concerned with price, appearance, country of origin, and seasonality than the dime-size branded sticker on a piece of fruit. Such is the business landscape of FirstFruits Marketing LLC, a group of orchards growing multiple varieties of apples, pears, and cherries on more than 6,000 picturesque acres in southern Washington.

In addition to offering common apple varietals such as Granny Smith and Red Delicious, FirstFruits is the exclusive U.S. grower and shipper of Opals, a nongenetically modified hybrid of the Golden Delicious and the Topaz. Featuring a honey-yellow skin, generous size, and crisp, sweet flavor, the Opal is especially prized for its ability to resist oxidation, i.e., it retains its whiteness even hours after it's been sliced. As such, Opals are marketed to parents as an ideal source of apple slices for snack times and school lunches.

Historically, FirstFruits has gone about conveying Opals' attributes to consumers via product-sampling activations at community festivals, charity run/walk fundraisers, and other family-friendly events. Coming into the 2018 picking season, however, the company was bracing for a bumper crop that prompted it to broaden its brand-building horizons. "We first started growing Opals in the early 2000s," says Joe Vargas, marketing manager at FirstFruits. "Trees that were in their adolescent stage just a few years ago are maturing and bearing more fruit, so the 2018 Opal harvest was going to be the largest we'd ever seen." Facing this historic spike in supply, FirstFruits and its marketing agency, Golden Sun Marketing Inc., felt the time was right to stoke demand with a similarly scaled campaign to plant the Opal name in as many consumers' minds as possible.

Seeding the Soil
From the onset, FirstFruits and Golden Sun envisioned a two-prong approach to their awareness-building endeavor. First, they wanted to stage a consumer-facing activation in a heavily populated locale that allowed ample opportunities for product sampling and learning about Opal apples' unique properties. It was also important that this engagement inspire participants to share their experiences on social media. Second, by holding the event on Oct. 21 and leveraging the timeliness of National Apple Day, they planned to incentivize media outlets into giving Opals bushels of news coverage.

Based on these objectives, FirstFruits needed a location that offered both a large population and a concentration of print, online, and TV media. Nearby cities such as Seattle and San Francisco were plausible options, but seeing as how FirstFruits' public-relations firm, Carolyn Izzo Integrated Communications (CIIC), is located just outside New York, the company fittingly set its sights on the Big Apple. After all, New York boasts not only a high population density but also countless media operations, many that were already familiar with CIIC and therefore would be open to hearing a pitch on Opal's behalf.

With the destination city set, FirstFruits and Golden Sun brought in Kansas City, MO-based experiential-marketing agency Department Zero Inc., which had assisted with previous Opal-brand events, to help brainstorm concepts for the activation. One initial idea was to construct a large apple tree in a busy outdoor venue, but Matt Jenkins, managing director of Department Zero, and his team suspected that FirstFruits' objectives could be better achieved by capitalizing on a burgeoning trend in experiential marketing, especially in New York: the Instagram pop-up.

Popularly known as "Instagram museums," these temporary engagements trace their roots to Maryellis Bunn, a former executive at Time Inc., who opened the Museum of Ice Cream in Greenwich Village in 2016. Filled with playful props – think supersized ice cream cones and gummy bears – and engaging vignettes (e.g., a small swimming pool filled with candy-colored sprinkles that attendees were free to dive into), the activation was an instant experiential blockbuster tailor-made for the Instagram era. Bunn's brainchild, which she expected to remain open for a couple of weeks, drew lines of hashtag-happy ticketholders for three months before moving on to successful runs in Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. A slew of food- and beverage-inspired imitators soon followed, including Candytopia, Rosé Mansion, and the Museum of Pizza.

Jenkins believed that a similar experience would draw the consumer and media attention FirstFruits desired. "By 2018, these engagements had been around long enough that the idea was easily understood by most New Yorkers but not so long that the concept felt tired," he says. His team pitched the idea of staging a multiday, Instagram-centric pop-up that would bring the wholesome, American-as-apple-pie experience of strolling through an Opal orchard into the heart of Manhattan. FirstFruits approved the proposal but specified that the activation must include an apple tree and space for an Opal expert to interact with and educate the masses.

Low-Hanging Fruit
Now it was up to Midwest-based Department Zero to find a suitable East-Coast venue for a company in the Pacific Northwest. And while apples may grow on trees, money certainly doesn't. "We had a budget of less than $200,000 for this project, so we had to set a strict maximum for the site's rental cost and square footage," Jenkins says. "We didn't want to end up with a huge space that we couldn't afford to properly build out." During a site visit to New York, Jenkins discovered a 1,450-square-foot art gallery on the bustling Lower East Side with a street-level storefront and a finished basement. "The walls were already painted white, it had a ton of great lighting – a big consideration for a photo-centric activation – and it was the ideal size and layout," Jenkins says. "We couldn't have asked for anything better." It must have been kismet, as the venue's address was none other than 156 Orchard St.

Jenkins and his team immediately got to work with Sets and Effects LLC, a Brooklyn-based design-and-build firm specializing in events and studio sets, on ways to furnish the Orchard Street space without upsetting FirstFruits' budgetary apple cart. As plans for the venue came together, CIIC's PR reps got to work drumming up media interest via outreach to their established contacts at local event listings, online and print publications, popular parenting blogs, and TV stations. Select outlets received a six-pack of Opals, and press reps were invited to a sneak peek of the pop-up before it opened to the public.

The countrified setting inspired arriving visitors to whip out their smartphones and start taking selfies.
CIIC's biggest coup, however, was securing a segment on a Saturday-morning broadcast of Fox News' "Fox & Friends" on Oct. 20, midway through the pop-up's run and the day before National Apple Day. Per the agreement with the show's producers, FirstFruits would be able to stage an apple-themed festival on the plaza outside Fox News' headquarters in the center of Midtown, engage in cooking demos with the "Fox & Friends" hosts, and bring its marketing messages about Opal apples to a viewership that averages roughly 1.7 million.

In addition to CIIC's efforts, brand ambassadors walked the streets of the Lower East Side and distributed flyers announcing the arrival of Opal Orchard NYC to local businesses and posted them around the neighborhood. The signage proclaimed that "An Orchard is Growing in the City!," touted the pop-up's free admission and photo ops, and listed the event's days and operating hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The stage was set, and it was time to see if an Opal-themed Instagram museum would bear the kind of brand-awareness fruit the marketers desired, namely no fewer than 1,000 attendees during the three-day run and 10 million media and social impressions.

The Apple of New York's Eye
Pedestrians walking past 156 Orchard St. first encountered a wooden farm stand positioned along the storefront that tempted passersby with crates full of golden Opal apples. Upon stepping into the pop-up, New Yorkers were immediately transported to FirstFruits' pastoral acreages thanks to a 22-foot-long, floor-to-ceiling, vinyl-printed panorama of its apple orchards that lined two perpendicular walls at the front left of the 19-by-44-foot space. Here stood FirstFruits' requisite apple tree, a roughly 8-foot-tall, 3-D construct fabricated from laser-cut plywood and dotted with hand-painted leaves and apples. Hay bales and weathered crates and bushel baskets teeming with apples perfumed the air. A smattering of gourds, rustic metal pails, and other agrarian accouterments enhanced the countrified setting and inspired arriving visitors to immediately whip out their smartphones and snap selfies with the arboreal element. "Apple picking is a fall tradition for a lot of people across the country, but we felt many New Yorkers don't have easy access to it. So we wanted to draw heavily on the look, feel, and overall experience you get when visiting an apple orchard," Jenkins says.
An L-shaped counter near the entrance served as a product-demo space. Opal expert Paul Esvelt manned this station and imparted his knowledge of the produce, handed out apple slices, and shared his favorite recipes. A custom chalkboard mounted to the wall behind him featured copy extolling Opals' selling points and introduced the pop-up's hashtag, #OpalOrchardNYC.

After passing a wall covered with multicolored wooden tiles laser-etched with apple-themed text and iconography, visitors moved to the back of the space and encountered their next photo op: an approximately 8-foot-wide freestanding wall decorated like a country-modern living room, complete with quirky wallpaper, framed apple prints, a white bench, and a side table topped with a kitschy apple-shaped lamp. Three of the frames were actually cutouts, and visitors could either pose for selfies on the bench or have a group photo taken in which some participants stood behind the structure to make it seem as if their portraits were hanging on the wall.

A number of brand ambassadors, dressed in white T-shirts printed with the iconic "I Love NY" logo but with the familiar heart emblem replaced by an Opal apple, were on hand to help take photos and remind visitors that tagging their pictures with the event's hashtag would automatically enter them in a contest for a year's supply of Opals.

The back of the first-floor space also featured two additional engagements positioned at opposite ends of the technology spectrum. A wooden picnic table functioned as a crafting area where children could create their own apple-stamping artworks. Pint-sized participants were welcome to take their projects home or add them to a clothesline-like display for all to see. And to give visitors a high-tech look at its operation, FirstFruits offered a pair of Samsung Gear VR headsets loaded with 360-degree videos of its orchards and sorting facilities.

Descending the stairs to the lower level, visitors discovered the remaining pair of photo ops. The first involved another orchard backdrop, this time augmented with a "rainstorm" of more than two dozen Opals hung from the ceiling with filament and a similarly rigged umbrella that participants could pose with. The final vignette was the most dynamic and included an element Jenkins encountered time and again when researching Instagram pop-ups: a rope swing. This version was sturdily mounted to the ceiling and positioned amid a flurry of suspended apple slicers. The lower level also featured a dedicated staffer who offered to take visitors' pictures using a tablet. Guests then entered their email addresses and received their photos augmented with an Opal-branded overlay. Before exiting the pop-up orchard, New Yorkers were invited to revisit the 3-D Opal tree and "pick" an edible souvenir from a small shelf built into its trunk.

"This pop-up made a very traditional industry look cool. Who knew apples could be so fun?"
In between talking up Opals' attributes at the demo counter, Esvelt engaged with members of the media who had scheduled appointments. And in the wee hours of Saturday, Oct. 20, he made his way to Fox News headquarters, where Department Zero and Sets and Effects transformed the building's plaza into an extension of the pop-up. The result was a made-for-TV fall festival rife with bales of hay, potted mums, picnic tables, and product-sampling opportunities for members of the outside audience.

Esvelt appeared in two three-minute segments, during which he led the "Fox & Friends" hosts through cooking and cider-pressing demos, all the while working in multiple mentions of the Opal name and the apple's key selling points in an effort to sow the seeds of brand awareness among the show's considerable viewership.

Bearing Fruit
FirstFruits set out to replicate the lure of the Instagram museums that inspired its event, and it's clear the Opal Orchard NYC pop-up didn't fall far from the proverbial tree. The three-day pop-up attracted more than 1,600 visitors, exceeding the company's goal by 60 percent. Those photogenic apple fans snapped thousands of photos, and judging from the smiling faces found in an Instagram search for #OpalOrchardNYC, FirstFruits was indeed successful at appealing to its target audience of parents with young children.

If the pop-up's goal-shattering traffic was a slice of warm apple pie, then the media attention it generated was the scoop of ice cream on top. CIIC was able to score 10 on-site press interviews with journalists from the likes of Health and Better Homes & Gardens magazines, and the PR blitz ultimately resulted in 54 media placements in city guides, news websites, influential blogs, and more. Factor in the "Fox & Friends" spot and pop-up visitors' social-media posts, and FirstFruits reaped more than 44 million media and social impressions with an ad value of almost $2.5 million.

Corporate Event Awards judges were duly impressed with how FirstFruits courted the press, and were even more taken with the activation's charming design and high level of engagement. "This pop-up made a very traditional industry look cool. Who knew apples could be so fun?" said one judge. "The space was friendly, inviting, authentic, educational, and not overproduced." In other words, judges felt that Opal Orchard NYC succeeded because the event was much like the apple itself: wholesome and natural to the core. E

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