Beating the giants

Imagine being at a trade show, listening to a seminar or collecting some freebies, when out of the corner of your eye you see streakers running past, logos spray-painted all over their nude bodies. Impactful, sure. Tasteful? Who cares?

Imagine being at a trade show, listening to a seminar or collecting some freebies, when out of the corner of your eye you see streakers running past, logos spray-painted all over their nude bodies. Impactful, sure. Tasteful? Who cares?

This scenario hasn’t happened yet (as far as we know) but if Peter van Stolk has his way, it will soon enough. As president and founder of Urban Juice & Soda (makers of the ultrahip Jones Soda, among other products), van Stolk is a big believer in pushing the envelope at trade and consumer shows. And the streaker plan is just the latest in his seemingly never-ending list of ideas to demand attention at shows. ‘We’ve always approached shows slightly differently than other exhibitors,’ he says.

This in-your-face approach is not just fun, he argues, it’s necessary. Seattle-based Urban Soda is in the unique position of being a miniscule player in a huge category, battling against two of the best-known brands in the world. So every time the company visits a show – which is somewhere between five to 10 times a year – it needs to reinforce its position as the cool alternative.

While the company has pretty much the same objectives at both consumer and trade shows – ‘just trying to get people fired up on our products’ – the strategy employed by the company differs for each.

At consumer shows, Urban usually sets up original themed sampling stations – a ’50s style diner where the ‘employees’ sport bright pink hair, and a ‘white trash’ trailer where participants could relax and enjoy a Jones Soda are two recent examples.

The emphasis here is on generating buzz – not an easy task on a show floor full of exhibitors well-accustomed to making noise. Most of the consumer shows Urban Juice shows up at revolve around extreme sports, music and fashion.

‘You’ve got to be really creative to move this thing to the next level,’ van Stolk says, adding that each show requires its own style in order to reach the audience. ‘It’s always a different approach but it’s all about having fun, being real and pushing the envelope.’

As for trade shows, ‘We don’t believe [we're] going to get noticed inside a trade show,’ he says. ‘It’s very difficult because someone has always got a bigger and better booth than you do.’

So rather than emphasizing show floor presence, where Urban is overshadowed by the industry giants, the company is forced to look outside the show and arrange stunts to attract attention. ‘We try and figure out a place where everybody is going to be where we’re not going to be fighting for them.’

At the latest InterBev conference in Houston, for example, the company found out where most of the delegates were staying and sent branded cigars to their rooms. Urban also had limousines driving around that would stop at the conference centre and various hotels.

‘It would park in front and an entourage would jump out in bright orange jumpsuits,’ says van Stolk. They’d hand out samples of Jones and jump back into the limo. ‘It was kind of weird,’ he adds with a chuckle. But these are the sorts of guerrilla efforts that don’t go unnoticed.

And while the big bottlers always keep an eye on what hip beverage consumers are doing, the benefit of being small is that offbeat endeavours are better match for the brand. So says van Stolk, who seems willing to try just about anything – including streaking, he promises – to get that precious attention.