Drive-Ins Aren’t Just for Movies Anymore

With the current pandemic putting the kibosh on in-person gatherings of all sizes, marketers, content creators and brands have had to get creative to find ways to engage with consumers. The result has been the revival of a format that was almost extinct – the drive-in.

A wide range of organizations from retailers to food brands are turning to improvised drive-ins – and drive-thrus – to get facetime with consumers when other kinds of experiential activations aren’t possible.

The Rise of the Drive-In
Pre-pandemic estimates had put the number of remaining drive-ins across the whole of the US at just a little over 300. Enter COVID, which has ushered in a reversal no one could have seen coming, as traditional movie theaters struggle to keep their doors open and the drive-in becomes the distribution platform of choice for everything from film festivals to tentpole releases. At the traditional kick-off to summer blockbuster season in May, just 320 theaters were open across the U.S., and half of those were drive-ins.

The In-Car Experience
Of course, movie screenings weren’t the only events that fell by the wayside this summer – pop-ups and other experiential activations that would normally populate the season were almost non-existent. Here are few examples of companies creating car-centric experiences to continue engaging with consumers in the midst of COVID.

  • In a goodwill gesture that surely couldn’t have hurt the effort to get wary shoppers back into stores after lockdowns lifted, Walmart began using its parking lots to screen films this August at 160 stores across the U.S. The program continues through this month.
  • Actor and comedian Kevin Smith hosted a one-night-only drive-in screening of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot followed by a live Q&A. The event also featured the Mooby’s restaurant pop-up, the real-life incarnation of the fictional restaurant from several of Smith’s films.
  • Impossible Foods’ Great Patty Pickup Party offered motorists free car washes and a sample bag of the brand’s new pre-made meatless patties.
  • The English National Theatre created a drive-in opera experience in London and Uber got in on the action with an “Uber Box” offering – cars that could be booked specifically for the event and were touted as the “best seats in the house.”
  • S. Presidential candidate Joe Biden has hosted a number of drive-in Town Halls as he campaigns across the country.
  • Hulu took over an outdoor space at LA’s Griffith Park last week for a “Huluween” experience designed to promote the streaming service’s seasonal horror content. The event included a “drive-and-repeat,” Halloween-themed performances, live DJ and “scare packages” of popcorn and hand sanitizer before visitors watch a feature film.
  • On Halloween day, both Walmart and Target plan to turn parking lots at select locations into contact-free trick-or-treating sites with socially-distanced activities. Walmart’s activation includes Halloween Camp in the lead up to the big day, a series of family-friendly on-site events developed in partnership with experiential retailer CAMP.

The Takeaway
As the holidays approach and with social interaction looking like it will be limited for some time still, we expect to see brands get more and more creative with automobile-based experiential solutions.


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