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How Fashion Brands Create Instagrammable Moments at Coachella

A preview of what H&M, Revolve and Popsugar have in store this weekend.
A rendering of H&M's Coachella tent. Photo: courtesy of H&M

A rendering of H&M's Coachella tent. Photo: courtesy of H&M

Coachella's natural desert setting — replete with hills, palm trees, cacti, sunsets and a ferris wheel — is Instabait in and of itself. But as brands — particularly big ones in the fashion realm — work to capitalize on the annual music festival, it has become increasingly important for them to create Instagrammable moments of their own. (Just one more way Coachella is seriously turning into fashion week!)

It's one thing to host a party or erect a pop-up shop on or around the festival grounds, but if guests don't document those activations for their social media followers, the ROI is significantly lower. If they do, an event with a thousand-person capacity could be broadcast to millions.

Official Coachella sponsor H&M will once again set up an interactive "experience" for festival goers — unlike many fashion and apparel brand activations, this is open to the public — with the chief goal of getting people to share. According to Marybeth Schmitt, H&M’s North America head of communications, it's all about creating a one-of-a-kind experience that, basically, guests can't help but want to post. Last year, the brand had success with a "transformative video experience where guests appeared to be mystically traveling through a magical desert landscape," explains Schmitt. "If you give guests options that they've never seen or experienced before, those are the moments that get them share." And this year's activation, the way she describes it, certainly checks the "unique" box: "Guests begin by going through a garage that has a concave video booth that gives the illusion that you are dancing inside of a kaleidoscope. The garage gives way into a living room that features a larger-than-life sofa including a separate room that revolves around a mountain peak with suspended clouds giving the impression that you are floating on top of the Coachella Valley."

A rendering of H&M's Coachella tent. Photo: courtesy of H&M

A rendering of H&M's Coachella tent. Photo: courtesy of H&M

Sounds tailor-made for a Snap or an Instagram story (assuming guests are, uh, sober enough to operate their cell phones). The brand hopes to draw people in with "creature comforts" like air-conditioning, a water bottle refill station and charging stations; in addition to creating Instagrammable moments, it's also pushing its sustainability message by showcasing garments made from recycled materials.

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A different kind of brand hoping to similarly reach a significant audience through social at Coachella is Popsugar, which, for the third year in a row, is hosting an invite-only pool party as well as a brunch in partnership with the CFDA for influencers. "Coachella is a tentpole moment for Popsugar editorially; it's something that we've covered for years and it's something that resonates with our audience," explains Popsugar CMO Anna Fieler of the decision to do a live activation. "As you can imagine, even though we have a big activation, we can only maybe get 1,000 people through the Popsugar Cabana Club; social media helps us reach more of our audience." 

On Saturday, Popsugar starts the day with the more exclusive brunch for influencers where there may be fewer people but the potential reach is still large because of said influencers' following. Then, the pool party opens up to a broader audience and guests are immediately given bracelets with hashtags; hashtag signs are also placed throughout the event and there will be a "Popsugar Studios pop-up" where guests can have an actual social media video director create videos specifically for their social media accounts. The pièce de résistance will be a new 360-degree camera — the same kind used during E!'s award show red carpet pre-shows — for guests to capture (and share) their Coachella looks from all angles. "It will produce this amazing 360 slow-mo effect done to music with a beautiful, whimsical colorful background that is reminiscent of the scene from the Cabana Club," explains Fieler. "It will make for an irresistible social moment to share." For Snapchat, which the company is "doubling down" on this year, Ulta is sponsoring a "Beauty Cabana" from which one of the site's beauty reporters will be reporting on the platform.

Last year's Popsugar camera. Photo: Getty Images for Popsugar

Last year's Popsugar camera. Photo: Getty Images for Popsugar

Revolve, whose Coachella digs and parties are routinely among the festival's most Instagrammed, will of course be getting un on the action as well, bringing out influencers to take part in, and share, a number of experiences throughout the weekend. Guests will stay at #hotelRevolve and events include a two-day daytime #Revolvefestival party (Revolve's brand language includes a lot of hashtags) and "Desert Nights" after parties. And with the physical setting, Instagrammability is always the goal. "Creating Instagrammable moments is always top of mind when we're planning social activations. From Revolve Social Club to influencer brunches to festival parties, we aim to create aesthetically stimulating experiences that organically encourage sharing via social," says Raissa Gerona, chief brand officer. "Everything we do, we do it for the 'gram." One of the brand's most successful moments was last year's giant "Revolve" sign made out of flowers. Details were scant on this year's Instabait elements, but the brand did note that this year's #Revolvefestival activation will include a roller skating rink.

With the increasing popularity of video platforms like Instagram Stories, Snapchat and Facebook Live, it seems that brands are focusing their efforts on moments that are more experiential and mobile; and in most cases that likely requires even more time, effort and money. Activations are typically planned months prior, built offsite and transported to the venue a couple of days in advance to get everything set up.

Of course, these aren't the only brands competing for shares at Coachella. There are more than enough events to keep an influencer busy during every minute of the three-day weekend — and that's excluding the music festival itself — all powered by brands hoping to reach the millions of people following along on social media. With all this competition, it will be interesting to see whose activation comes out on top and if Coachella is at risk for the Instabait fatigue we've seen at recent fashion weeks.

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