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  • Nathan Black

The ABC's | How Brands are Using Drive-Ins to Standout | Vol.4

2020 has been the year of adaptability and creativity as businesses have had to pivot on short notice to keep their doors open. One of the most nostalgic trends that has made a resurgence is the return of the drive-in movie theater. We’ve seen the Miami Dolphins turn Hard Rock Stadium into a temporary pop-up theater during the offseason, and an airport transform to makeshift cinema in Santa Monica California.


What was once considered out of date and a fading pastime, has now returned as a family fun alternative capable of adapting to COVID-19 demands of space, separation, and isolation. Where cool ideas and trends emerge, brands are quick to follow suit and find ways to activate around these opportunities.


Netflix was swift to capture on the drive-in craze creating a “Drive Into” experience for the town of Hawkins in from the hit show Stanger Things. Within the world of Hawkins, guests are brought through live reenactments of the show’s most popular scenes and get to interact directly with some of the most infamous characters from the comfort of the car.



In November, Lexus launched the Lexus Culinary Cinema, at LA LIVE’s Event Deck in downtown Los Angeles. Lexus didn’t put on the drive-in movies themselves, but instead elevated the typical drive-in via the unique ancillary experience.


Through a program called Lexus Culinary Masters, the luxury auto-maker periodically taps into some of the countries best chefs as ambassadors to enhance or elevate events throughout the country. These chefs are considered to live by Lexus’s brand values of, "human-centered craft, innovation, curiosity, and hospitality". There are currently nine chefs on the roster, all of whom are either James Beard award winners or Michelin star recipients



For just $25 per person, movie goers at the Lexus Culinary Cinema were treated to a movie screening, gift bag, and a three-course meal based off the theme of the movie of the night courtesy of chefs Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, Ludo Lefebvre, and Carlo Mirarchi.


The Lexus Culinary Cinema was a success, selling out all three nights, although a sellout only constituted for 100 cars per night.


Walmart is taking drive-ins off the screen and into the sky with the Walmart Holiday Drone Show. In conjunction with Intel, Walmart has coordinated a three-dimensional holiday light show synced up to a holiday soundtrack using over 1,000 Intel drones to adorn the sky conforming as snowflakes, reindeer, snowmen, and other holiday themed depictures. The Drone Show will visit eight different cities along its tour including Kansas City, Dallas, Phoenix, and Sacramento to spread holiday cheer throughout the communities.



All three activations had different goals, objectives, and end results in mind, but it’s clear each was designed to provide an experience for their target audience.


Netflix has and avid following for Stanger Things, and many are anticipating the debut of season four which is set to launch in 2021. Filming had to temporarily go on hold in March due to the Pandemic, but Netflix was able to keep the show relevant by offering people the drive in experience. Instead of going dormant through the Pandemic, Netflix was able to pivot, and create an experience that otherwise may have never existed.


Lexus is known for luxury, and they were able to deliver what’s probably the only three-course Michelin star drive-in dining experience ever. At first glance, there may not have been a natural tie-in to movies for Lexus, but Lexus found a way to integrate luxury and elegance into the drive-in concept. If a patron was sitting in a Toyota Camry while watching the movie that night, he was probably more likely to associate the night’s experience with Lexus in mind.


Walmart is provider of all-things family and home related. While many may not be enjoying the holidays with family in the normal fashion this year, Walmart was able to provide a glimmer of positivity to those who attend the light shows. Walmart also pushed the boundaries, and looked to see what could be done that hadn’t been done before, which speaks to how the brand has been able to evolve for almost sixty years.


It would’ve been easy to give any brand a pass this year due to the current health and economic state of the world, but these brands pushed the envelope, with their consumers top-of-mind. According to the Harvard Business Review, “…consumer goods companies that were able to increase share of voice by maintaining or increasing their advertising spending captured market share from weaker rivals.” It’s to be noted that Netflix, Lexus, and Walmart are all dominant forces within their industries, but this shouldn’t take away from the fact that brands thinking outside the box and spending now will ultimately gain more market share. In a year where the typical playbook is off the table, it’s fascinating to see how brands are able to adapt, change and provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences in the face of unprecedented challenges.

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