Pharell Williams

Aaron Levant, founder of Agenda and senior vice president and head of fashion at Reed Exhibitions, wanted attendees at the recent Men’s Wear Summit to forget that he works for a trade show event organizer.

Traditional trade shows — and shopping malls — are dead, Levant said. “The only metric that matters is energy,” Levant explained. “And trade shows and malls have no energy.”

Instead, Levant said brands can find success by going direct to consumers. But he’s not talking about selling products directly online to them — or opening brand stores. That’s needed. What Levant is talking about is interfacing with consumers directly, in person.

Levant cites the success of his ComplexCon event as an example. The event was essentially a trade show for consumers where musicians, fans, foodies, techies and fashion influencers converged. “Fans paid $55 to go shopping,” Levant said of last year’s event, which generated $10 million in sales, on site, over a two-day period. The event, which he also described as a festival, is Complex the magazine and web site transformed into an experience.

ComplexCon was held last November at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center in California. The lineup included Snoop Dogg, 2 Chainz, Migos, Chief Keef, Kamaiyah, DJ Sliink, Bïa and Jubilee, among many others. There were pop-up shops inside spotlighting “music, sneakers and art.” Pharrell Williams served as the event’s cultural director and host committee chair while Takashi Murakami designed the festival’s “visual identity” and “overall aesthetic,” Levant said.

The narrative that drove people to the event was designed to resonate mostly with Millennial men as well as women: a place where people “can share your digital obsessions.” Of the fans that showed up, 30 percent were female. Ages ranged from 11 to 50 years old.

From the event’s web site: “If our demographics are right, you’ve probably never been to a conference, and honestly, we’re really jealous of you. Most conferences are stuffy affairs, packed to the gills with ‘insiders’ trying to ‘network’ — whatever that means. Even if there’s a musician you want to see, they usually end up playing rushed sets to industry hacks glued to their iPhones.”

Levant said there were more than 160 vendors, and 60 speakers and musicians. “It’s hyper-consumerism,” he told summit attendees. “We don’t have consumers, though. We have fans. And more than 35,000 fans showed up.”

Levant said what differentiates ComplexCon is the convergence of fans, influencers and musicians. The next event is slated for November.

“It’s Instagram come to life,” he said.

More on Marketing News from WWD:

Think Tank: Why Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Aren’t Going Away

Consumer Survey Reveals Generational Differences With Markdown Expectations

Survey Shows Preference for Mobile Shopping, Impact of Push Notifications

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