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EVENT INNOVATORS 2017

Top 10 Innovative Brands 2017: #7 National Geographic

The brand’s most significant event marketing has supported its television channel’s programming.

By Ian Zelaya June 14, 2017, 6:22 AM EDT

At National Geographic’s 2017 SXSW activation, a robotic chalkboard artist sketched guests’ Twitter photos using the equations, symbols, and words of Albert Einstein. The activity promoted the new National Geographic Channel series Genius. Deeplocal invented and produced the activation. 

Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for National Geographic

National Geographic is rooted in innovation, and in the past year, the brand has made it a priority to bring its identity to life through tech-forward interactive events. Much of its recent event marketing has been focused on promoting new series and films on National Geographic Channel, a joint venture with 21st Century Fox.

“Behind every innovation, exploration, and photograph is a storyteller, and these storytellers are our inspiration in everything we do, including our events,” says Chris Albert, executive vice president of global communications, events, and talent relations.

The marketing push for Genius, an anthology drama about the life of Albert Einstein starring Geoffrey Rush that premiered in April, has been one of its most involved yet. Promotions have included a chatbot that allowed Facebook users to interact with the series’ titular character on Facebook Messenger. Leading up to the premiere, National Geographic activated a free Genius-branded Wi-Fi network at a recharging tent at the March for Science in Washington.

The brand also promoted the series at an activation called Further Base Camp at South by Southwest in March. Produced by Civic Entertainment Group, the multiday event featured a robotic chalkboard artist that sketched portraits of guests by rendering photos sent via Twitter in Einstein’s words, symbols, and equations. Attendees also experienced augmented reality through the cordless Microsoft Hololens headset, which visually interpreted Einstein’s theories.

“Our marketing and digital teams have really embraced new technologies,” says Albert. “It’s not just reaching consumers on a linear level, but also by using cutting-edge technology to get our premium content across all platforms.”

Virtual reality factored into the promotion of the 2016 series Mars with its “Experience Mars” activation in New York. Four geodesic dome tents offered NASA rover replicas, virtual-reality experiences that included the recreation of a Mars landing by pairing VR with a moving ride, and a station where guests wore compression pants and walked in low-gravity treadmills while watching footage from a Mars rover on Fusion VR headsets.

The Further Front in April showed how it’s reinventing its upfronts, too. “I think you would be hard-pressed to find any other upfront event that featured four astronauts, an explorer just back from Antarctica with never-before-seen video, and a Skype chat with a photographer and adventurer live from Mount Everest,” says Albert.

He continued: “We want people to leave our events saying, ‘I didn’t expect that from National Geographic, but it makes total sense.’ We are a global super brand, and our events reflect the power of the yellow border, whether on a small scale or large scale.”

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