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Industry Innovators 2024: Evan Starkman

The president and founder of The Bait Shoppe wants to create valuable encounters between brands and consumers that ultimately produce memories worth sharing.

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Photo: Courtesy of The Bait Shoppe

Evan StarkmanEvan StarkmanPhoto: Courtesy of The Bait ShoppeEvan Starkman is the president and founder of The Bait Shoppe. He's based in New York.

How he got his start: "When I finished grad school in 2012, I had the opportunity to work on a global experiential program for Miller Genuine Draft. It became immediately obvious to me that there was a massive disconnect between what a brand thinks the consumer wants and what the consumer actually thinks is cool.  

By fate and a lot of luck, I convinced the MGD global team to let me ‘bid’ on the next version of the Miller Music Tour. Their only question: 'Do you have an agency?' My answer: 'Now I do!'

In less than a month, I founded The Bait Shoppe. My belief then is the same as it is now—that experiences are the best predictor of consumer behavior, and that brand experiences should turn consumers into advocates. We won the MGD business and have been on our way ever since."

What innovation means to him: "When I think about the role innovation plays in my career, I think about brand building. Historically, brand building used to rely on awareness, where simply being available and making people aware you existed was the main predictor of success. The internet swapped awareness for engagement, where brands needed to compete for attention, not awareness. Today, we are in the experience era, where brands win by offering innovative solutions that make the consumer's life better and/or easier."

Where he finds inspiration: "Without sounding cliche, I am most inspired by others. Specifically, I believe that memories are the most valuable predictor of future behavior. With social media, we now all have access—at scale—to memories and experiences that consumers feel are worthy of sharing. We are inspired as a company to identify experiences, which will create valuable encounters between a brand and consumer that ultimately produce a memory worth sharing."

For a Natural Light campaign, The Bait Shoppe used these actual diplomas to create 'The DaVinci of Debt,' the world’s most expensive piece of art.For a Natural Light campaign, The Bait Shoppe used these actual diplomas to create "The DaVinci of Debt," the world’s most expensive piece of art.Photo: Courtesy of The Bait Shoppe

Memorable moments: "A great project for us was the 'Da Vinci of Debt' for Natty Light. It was the perfect mix of an unexpected idea combined with beautiful creative and flawless execution.         

In 2018, Natural Light launched the College Debt Relief Program. Natty Light wanted a program to promote the initiative, engage its consumer base on social, and also generate earned media.

We started with an ambitious idea—could an inexpensive beer create the world’s most expensive piece of art? The program started on social by asking college graduates to rent their actual diplomas. The initial social program went viral, earning over 154 pieces of media placements and 75,975,377 impressions. In just under six weeks of social activity, we collected over 3,000 actual diplomas.     

Then, we used these actual diplomas to create the 'Da Vinci of Debt,' the world’s most expensive piece of art. While most pieces of art are valued arbitrarily, such as a single banana (which sold for $120,000), the value of the 'Da Vinci of Debt' was derived from the average total cost of a four-year college education: $180,598.08 [multiplied by] 2,641 diplomas. The result was a piece of art valued at $470 million, besting the most expensive piece of art ever sold at public auction ('Salvator Mundi,' a 600-year-old Da Vinci painting that sold for $450 million in 2017).   

The results were astounding: 596 earned media stories and more than 196 million impressions.  

In addition, a Snap filter was accessible to anyone over 21. Using the Natural Light AR lens, Snapchat users were able to view the exhibit virtually and learn more about the college debt crisis in America. The social activation resulted in 58,630,531 social media impressions."

His vision for the future of experiential: "According to Forrester, 84% of brands aspire to be a consumer experience leader. But in reality, only 20% of brands have aligned their brand promise and consumer experience. Brands are like 5-year-olds—they're good at making promises but aren’t very good at keeping promises. 

The future of experiential marketing will be about how brands specialize their experiences for each consumer. Brands can start by:

  1. Identifying consumer pain points and frustrations. These are powerful opportunities to spark joy and create brand love.
  2. Designing consumer experiences that create solutions or turn pains into gains. These are the magic moments that can help brands stand out in the hearts and minds of consumers
  3. Creating measurement systems that quickly track outcomes and allow for agile reprogramming."

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This feature is sponsored by Gladiator Productions, a new kind of production company igniting magic in the arena of live events, entertainment, and experience. We consistently partner with our clients by providing high-touch service through every step of the production process. 

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