The Event Professional's Guide to Fashion's Night Out: 8 Experiential Efforts to Check Out

By Anna Sekula September 6, 2011, 12:15 PM EDT

Last year, Mattel brand Barbie put models dressed as Ken dolls inside a glass-paneled truck and encouraged shoppers to track its movements via Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. This year the company will create a social scavenger hunt involving QR codes, a dress-up closet inside a double-decker bus, and Twitter.

Photo: Diane Bondareff/Barbie

With the participation of more than 1,000 retailers packing their stores with games, prizes, celebrity appearances, and social media contests, Fashion's Night Out is not only a massive shopping initiative, but a platform for creative experiential marketing concepts. Conceived and organized by Vogue, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and NYC & Company in 2009, the consumer-focused effort was born out of the recession and designed to boost flagging sales. So rather than offer discounts, stores devise alternate ways to get the crowds to shop. And it's more than just free food and drink: Since its inception, Fashion's Night Out has seen knitting circles and a petting zoo of live goats at Barneys, Gant models showering in the windows of its Fifth Avenue store, outdoor fashion shows from Teen Vogue, and a tailgate-style installation by Tommy Hilfiger in the pedestrian plaza outside Macy's. This year will be no different, and the promotions are already shaping up to be the most innovative yet.

For event professionals looking to shop for smart new marketing ideas, here's a guide to some of the highlights on tap Thursday, September 8:

1. Bloomingdale's
Building on last year's initiative, which promoted HBO show Boardwalk Empire with a 1920s-themed window display, the Midtown department store has teamed up with NBC to showcase fall entertainment and fashion. The partnership will bring to life four of the network's new TV series—The Playboy Club, Prime Suspect, Up All Night, and Whitney—with actors in elaborate sets created in the store windows. Moreover, through an augmented reality-enabled mobile app, the cross-promotion will allow consumers to snap a photo of themselves with stars from the shows and enter to win a walk-on role in The Playboy Club, a $5,000 shopping spree, and a trip to Los Angeles for a set visit. (1000 Third Ave.)

2. Barbie
In the past few years, Mattel has been busy promoting its key brand Barbie, celebrating the doll's 50th anniversary in 2009 with a life-size Malibu Dream House and marking Ken's 50th year on the market in 2010 with an exhibit at Christie's. The toy maker has also become an active participant in Fashion's Night Out and plans to make a big splash this year with a social scavenger hunt. Its iconic doll and accompanying fashions are the focus of the promotion, which will flaunt new collections from Alice & Olivia, Alexis Bittar, Tracy Reese, and Rogan inside a double-decker bus. The bus will stop at various locations, where consumers can search for doll-size replicas of the designs and scan QR codes to enter sweepstakes to win new outfits. (Multiple locations, including 37th St. & Fifth Ave., Houston & Bowery, Bleecker St. at Seventh Ave., Spring St. & Broadway, and 34th St. between Broadway & Seventh Ave.)

3. Target
The opening of its Harlem store last year hasn't stopped the Minneapolis-based retailer from flaunting a marketing concept it has almost perfected. On September 8, Target will open a pop-up shop to sell its Missoni for Target collection, taking over the same Bryant Park-adjacent space it used last March for a Liberty of London pop-up store. Target is expected to redesign the 5,000-square-foot site with allusions to the Italian fashion brand's signature zigzag pattern and draw a big crowd. (1095 Ave. of the Americas)

4. Net-a-porter
Interestingly enough, Fashion's Night Out offerings are not just limited to companies that sell clothing and those with a brick-and-mortar presence. This year, a number of spas, food shops, online retailers, and even J&R Computer World—yes, the downtown electronics store—are getting in on the action. Among the efforts from Web-based shops, the one from Net-a-porter is perhaps the most interesting, looking to bridge the divide between online and in-person shopping. Net-a-porter will decorate the windows of a SoHo space with vinyl graphics of designer merchandise and shoppers who download the “Window Shop” app will be able to buy the pieces online. (155 Mercer St.)

5. Hugo Boss
Another leveraging mobile technology is Hugo Boss, which is using an app and Facebook as an incentive to get more consumers to its stores. Using the Facebook Places application “Go” from Brand Networks, the first 100 shoppers who check in to all three Hugo Boss downtown locations will be given V.I.P. access to an after-party that will include a surprise guest performance. (401 West 14th St.; 555 Broadway; 132 Greene St.)

6. Bergdorf Goodman
In terms of activities and designer appearances, Bergdorf Goodman has one of the most packed schedules on tap. For the second year in a row, the department store will hold the “BG Best in Show,” a competition for designers and their dogs. Bergdorf's will also play host to live window performances, a roundtable discussion on facial hair moderated by GQ's Glenn O'Brien, and a contest known as the “BG Wheel of Fashion.” (745 Fifth Ave.)

7. Macy's
Heavily involved since the first outing, Macy's is once again making the most of its connections to fashion, music, and culinary personalities. In addition to live performances by Kelly Rowland and Joss Stone, a Sandra Lee cookbook signing, and having model Coco Rocha on hand to guide shoppers through the new Karl Lagerfeld for Impulse collection, Macy's Herald Square flagship will also bring its Culinary Council chef Marc Forgione and Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern to share recipes and entertaining tips in a promotion dubbed the “Ultimate Dinner Party.” (151 West 34th St.)

8. The Fragrance Foundation
Not all Fashion's Night Out activities are about apparel, and the Fragrance Foundation's participation is an unusual one. The nonprofit organization responsible for the annual FiFi Awards will place colorful flower carts in strategic locations around the city—including Macy's in Herald Square—to promote perfume. (57th St. & Fifth Ave.; 61st St. & Madison Ave.; Macy's Herald Square, 151 West 34th St.; 48th St. & Fifth Ave.)

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