Remember that time? When we gathered? In a group? For an in-person marketing event? Perhaps it’s still a vague memory?

The pandemic decimated last year’s conference, convention, and special-event landscape. And it’s not looking hopeful for this year either. Marketers who relied heavily on small- or large-scale in-person events are getting whiplash from the back-and-forth decision making on whether to plan for the return of live events this year. But just returning to business as usual isn’t one of the options.

An unexpected player may be leading the way to a re-entry into the world of in-person activities. Anheuser-Busch, the makers of one of America’s most trusted fraternity beverage brands, Natural Light, recently unveiled in Grand Central Station the most expensive piece of art in the world  designed to illustrate the impact of college debt.

Connecting the dots between a beer company and college students is no mystery. But figuring out the connection between a beer company and fine art leads to a bit of head scratching. The company launched the “Natural Light College Debt Relief” program back in 2018. The art installation, made up of thousands of real-life diplomas, was scheduled to go on display in 2020, but was canceled due to…well, you know.

So the Natty Light team decided to try again, this time for just a few days, with all the appropriate social and safety protocols in place. (If you happened to miss it, you can find it online and the Augmented Reality app in Snapchat).

The story is fascinating, but it begs the question:

In the absence of in-person events, how do we deliver marketing experiences that will hit the right note with our audience and help us achieve our marketing goals?

Anheuser-Busch’s creativity should inspire us all to get back in touch with our most creative selves and think about how we can safely bring in-person experiences back to our marketing menus again.

In the not-too-distant past, you’d see great examples of experiential marketing in then-named “guerilla” tactics. Notwithstanding yesterday’s flash mob (those of us who have been trapped in the middle of one hope they stay in the past), unconventional marketing “tricks” got a lot of publicity.

From billboards to live “statues” to life-sized nail polish, some great ideas have made it to the streets. Check out this list of fun guerilla marketing examples…we’re partial to the free air guitars!

What yesterday’s flash mob and today’s beer-sponsored art have in common is that they are unconventional campaigns. They drive curiosity, excitement, and if you’re lucky, they’ll go viral.

Did viewers of the Natty Light “DaVinci of Debt” installation stop at the store for beer on the way home? We’ll never know. But the experience they had was unique, unexpected, and safe. And all kidding aside, the installation brought a lot of attention to the unsolved and serious problem of college debt.

If you canceled an in-person event in the past 10 months, raise your hand. Now take that hand, pick up pencil, and start brainstorming. Because when it comes to finding a Plan B (or C or D or E), good marketers always know that where there’s a will, there’s a creative way.