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Industry Forum: Have large-scale events lost their ‘wow’ factor?

We asked: Have large-scale events lost their ‘wow’ factor?

Amanda Fox-Pryke

Deputy managing director at Performance Communications


And they are unlikely to lose it either. The fundamental principle that makes any large-scale activation a success is simple: it is the extent to which it engages with and captures the imagination of its audience. While there were predictions during the pandemic of a shift to experiential digitisation, we are seeing that this hasn’t happened. People want to come together, as we see from the crowds at airports around the world, or at sold-out festivals. There is a willing audience waiting to be captivated and to enjoy experiences in person. People still want to be there for the next big ‘wow’ event.

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Marwah Eltom

Assistant marketing manager at Al Masaood Group


However, what was defined as a large event is not large anymore as certain brands, mostly luxury and fashion brands, have taken mega events to a completely different level. Brands that cannot keep up are opting for more intimate events.

Many brands are now shifting from mega events to experiential ones, where they focus on social media influencers for amplification through their large follower base. With the acceleration of virtual and hybrid events, the overall sentiment for large events has declined with budgets shrinking, as digital is eating away a part of the pie by proving to be a more cost-effective option.

Ghada El-Kari

CMO at W Group


Large-scale brand activations will continue to be a central phenomenon and a rising trend in the world of experiential marketing. These activations are gaining momentum and are becoming a prerequisite to marketers’ brand campaigns, especially those aiming to forge a lasting emotional connection with their target audience and get a solid return on investment in the process.


Thembi Hlekane

Head of creative at BE Experiential


They lost their wow factor because we tend to focus more on creating a wow factor than on presenting the brand experience.

When it comes to large brand activation, its value proposition has changed with time. Yes, the creative ways that used to attract people no longer have the same effect, but we also need to admit that we have started pushing wow factor without thinking about the brand and the audience. We have been focused on putting up the biggest and shiniest ideas to catch the eye, but it doesn’t always make sense to the consumer and their needs.

The importance of the client budget and winning the project has surpassed building something important for the consumer. At some point people stopped paying attention to what we were supposed to do and started paying attention to its PR value. You shouldn’t build an event for the shock value, because if you do it well enough for the audience’s sake, you get organic PR.

Therefore, brands must rethink what value they provide to people in their large-scale experiences and be more audience-centric. Start creating exhilarating experiences that present their brand value and product and using creativity to bring that brand to life for its audience.

Saheba Sodhi

Head of strategy at MCH Global


While the pandemic scared us all for a bit, it also offered an opportunity for brands and marketers to reimagine large-scale activations. The truism that ‘bigger is better’ doesn’t necessarily hold true anymore. Rather, it allows us to rethink the notion of ‘scale’ – shifting from lots of consumers in one place to lots of different audiences experiencing something curated for them.

The euphoric feeling of being able to gather with a like-minded community to witness something impactful will probably never lose its charm, but just freebies and Instagrammable photo-ops won’t cut it anymore. Brands will have to offer greater value, belonging, utility, inspiration and a deeper connection to get people to come out and participate.

Safwan El Roufai

Executive vice-president – MENA at VMLY&R Commerce


No amount of digital or virtual experience will have the same impact as a physical, multi-sensorial experience.

After the long halt of physical experiences, due to social distancing and lockdowns, people are in need of human interaction; being in a physical space together, talking and discussing in real-time.

People are keener than ever to be part of activations for many reasons. These reasons are: the FOMO and thirst for new things; making up for lost time and experiences; and being part of live multisensorial journeys. The more time we spend online, the more FOMO we develop. We see our friends attending and experiencing concerts, exhibitions and activations, and we want to be there too. We live in a world where there is something new to see and experience every day, and we all want to be part of that.

We all missed the human interaction, the collective experiences and the activations with other people.

Reham El Didi

Head of corporate communications – Middle East at Stellantis


The event industry continues to change with the emergence of innovative technology and new ideas. As events and PR professionals, we need to continue to adapt. The definition of ‘large-scale’ has changed and the metrics of a successful event have been redefined. Five years ago, this may have meant that an event with over 5,000 attendees was a success.

Today, where customer experience and personalisation are key, large-scale events are defined as being driven by technology and bespoke experiences rather than visitor numbers alone. Audiences have become less passive, and they expect to be drawn in to interact with brands. Large-scale activations need to drive and measure this engagement.

Petra B Spanko

Regional director at Katch


They are still as special and appealing as ever. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and large-scale activations have gone through quite a transformation in the last two years. I would say they are now back with even more appreciation from the audience than ever before. Only the size and scale have changed, for safety reasons, but the wow factor and sparkle still remain.Online streaming is also giving the market a whole new perspective. Technology can afford a much wider audience for the chance to be involved, without having to be present at the physical location.

Lynn Al Khatib

Group head of communication at Chalhoub Group


Today’s consumers are looking for experiences that resonate with their personal values and allow them to express themselves, while associating with the brand’s identity. Large-scale events are being redefined in terms of purpose, meaning and reach. Brand activations are curated and localised for the region with proper targeting taking place in exclusive locations and focusing on immersive experiences. One of the positive outcomes of Covid-19 is the ability to deliver hybrid events that can simultaneously delight, connect and engage people all over the world.

Lara El Khoury

Senior regional marcom manager at Choueiri Group – DMS


Despite, the ease of organising meetings or events remotely, the events industry has experienced a resurgence in popularity. The live experience has become more popular with  people and brands, which means more connections with the audiences. When marketers want to research products and services, learn about trends or look into the future of their industry, conferences and trade shows are always the primary source of information.

Now that we have experienced what it’s like to be informed through online connections, we’ve learned that human contact is more valuable.

In spite of the potential of online events, it is difficult to satisfy attendees, compared with the real world. As event organisers are stepping out of their comfort zone, they are creating out-of-this-world activations that still amaze people, and they make you wonder what’s next.

Experiential marketing is still alive and well, but it’s only a matter of time before those events shift to a fully digital experience, where the sky will be the only limit.

Khaled AlShehhi

Executive director – marketing and communication at UAE Government Media Office


There is no doubt that people are solicited more and more, across multiple channels and platforms, thanks to their increasing time with media. With 13 hours in a day, we’re exposed to around 10,000 messages in multiple forms. No wonder attention spans are dropping, now standing at about eight seconds. How do you break through that noise and warrant some of that attention? You need to be relevant, of course, but also excite, surprise and entertain. Today, large-scale activations do that job, but again they’re not enough on their own. You need social media to amplify them and make them rise to the top of feeds. Just look at what we’ve achieved with The Warmest Winter, the World’s Tallest Donation Box while raising millions for the needy, celebrating the opening of the Museum of the Future or accompanying the Hope Probe to Mars. All these provided results beyond our expectations and were award-winners. Large-scale activations do work, but you need to work harder for them to succeed.

Judy Bakieh

Influencer marketing manager at Gambit Communications


It has been 10 years since Red Bull’s famous supersonic jump with Felix Baumgartner, and people still remember it for the sheer scale of the activation and ambition behind it. It’s true that the primary determinant of an activation’s success isn’t size; it is originality, brand authenticity and the ability to engage the audience. However, if you have achieved these factors then scaling up to make it bigger definitely increases the wow factor.

Unfortunately, today it is harder than ever for marketers to be creative with their activations, as brands constantly copy each other’s practices, so the audience rarely feels surprised or special. Whether large-scale or small, brands need to look at activations as an opportunity for experiential storytelling that is original, engaging and personal.

Jo Webber

Vice president – client relations at Spiro


They have changed forever. Gone are the days of creating a large-scale brand activation and expecting most of your customers to experience it in person. In the ‘new now’, the constantly shifting and changing landscape of today, your customers will engage with you how they see fit, across time zones, channels, platforms and more. You can still create a large-scale activation, but now it must cater to customers in many places, unrestricted by a physical space or digital platform. Today’s activations must first discover where customers exist and then build an experience to meet them there.

Zahraa Hachem

Communications manager at Red Havas Middle East


The answer to that question is contingent on other key variables that are more consequential than the activation size, such as, the delivery of the campaign, whether it was guided by rich insights and driven by creative imagination, whether the right channels were leveraged and how well the target audience engaged with the activation and if the impact led to action.

It is important to re-evaluate how the wow factor is measured as it’s not just about the grandiosity of the stunt and activation, but about how that puzzle piece fits into the larger picture.

Farah Abu Salah

PR and communications manager at Arabian Automobiles Company


For marketers focusing on large-scale events and brand activation, the value and strategies of these experiences were affected by Covid-19. Though things are slowly returning to a consistent state of normalcy, people are still emphasising safety measures and social distancing. In the past, audience size was a metric for success, but things have changed. Now, brands need to rethink the value that large-scale activations provide to audiences,  at a time when they are still required to emphasise safety and preventive measures to inspire people to attend.

Euan Megson

Managing director at Action UAE


However, they must be fit for purpose. Large-scale activations remain an important tactical option, within wider marketing and communications campaigns, for brands, products and events. While demanding a significant share of any project budget, major activations boast an inherent ability to offer a broad suite of experiences to potential audiences and consumers. Historically, large-scale activations are usually physical and offline in nature, although the integration of VR, AR and other digital technologies add online components that simultaneously open other owned, earned, and paid channels to promote the activity, drive footfall, and increase engagement and conversion.

Emad Raja

Digital marketing and social media specialist at Active DMC


The bar has been raised so high in Dubai that it’s no longer visible.

Even advertising on the world’s tallest building is no longer dazzling. It has become the new norm with its repeated use by not only companies but also  individuals for marriage proposals, birthday wishes and even gender reveals.

Nowadays, due to the unmatched diversity of the audience in the region, you might find that focusing on multiple smaller niche campaigns that deliver impact could be your ‘out of the box’ idea that sets you apart from the crowd.

Diego Florez

Creative director at TBWA\RAAD


But large-scale copies or mediocre activations have. The industry is getting used to replicating activations by copying what’s already been invented and then replicating it on a larger scale. Being innovative pushes the culture forward and gives audiences the wow factor. And it makes us proud of being the first ones to do it. Let’s replicate less and get into being the first ones more.


Craig Borthwick

Partner at Lightblue


I side with the no camp on this in general terms, but it would be easy to say yes, given some that don’t put experience at the heart of the activation. The reality is generating ‘wow’ comes down to creating a tiered, mind-blowing experience that is built around every detail of the audience journey, and there are still many that have done this recently. Take Mdlbeast in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a perfect example.

Step back and put yourself into the position of the audience, every step of the way through planning, and if you’re not impressed, don’t expect anyone else to be.

Cherry Fu Qiuhui

Marketing director – GCC at Oppo


We believe in creating and delivering the wow factor through our large-scale activations that communicate to our audience and inspire those who are yet to explore our brand. By employing contemporary tactics for two very different audiences for our recent launch events and the use of a now record-breaking TikTok campaign, both launch events proved to be incredibly successful. They generated great engagement and pushed the boundaries of digital marketing by blending the creativity of social media users and influencers.