Why going exclusive doesn’t always work

For several brands targeting a higher end target audience or aiming for an “aspirational” brand image, exclusivity in events may be a common strategy.

For instance, Alexis Tang, senior brand manager - whisky, Pernod Ricard tells Marketing Events that exclusivity is the way to go for its Chivas brand, which holds 6-7 exclusive events annually.

The brand invites only the top or valued customers for its events. For instance, during the Chivas 12 Here's to Real Friends event, the guest list was only extended to media, close working partners, regular Chivas drinkers, film students and Chivas 12 Singapore Facebook fans.

Otherwise, its other event, Chivas Luxury of Time, a whisky tasting session, the event was only open to 20-30 people who were also watch enthusiasts aged between 18-25 years old.

According to Tang, the reason why the brand goes for exclusivity in events is to garner a greater PR value for its events. "Everyone wants to feel special in an event."

Also, there are practical purposes, such as space constraints for guests. “There is a need to control the crowd as capacity is limited," Tang added, saying that there were many instances where the brand saw several gatecrashers at its events.

Other brands such as San Pellegrino and American Express also regularly create exclusive events as a key strategy.

For the former, its target audience includes the trade, F&B and fine dining people while the card company targets its premium card members when it comes to events.

According to Estee Wu, marketing assistant for San Pellegrino, going exclusive for event is a way of establishing its presence in the fine dining scene.

As for American Express, Yoshimi Nakajima, Singapore country manager said that going exclusive for its events is a "natural correlation" to engaging its card members.

While both declined to name business results, both brands claimed that organising events that targets a certain crowd has led to increased brand awareness.

Use with caution

However, there are several drawbacks if an “exclusive” event strategy is not well considered.

According to Darren Kerr, general manager, Hong Kong & Macau, Imagination, exclusive events tend to have a fixed or restricted membership and can have a direct negative impact on capping the scope of an events sociability factor.

“While exclusive events are good for recognising important individuals and consolidating pre-existing relationships, a major downside in hosting exclusive events is brands investing money and time in preaching to the converted,” said Kerr.

“In doing so you are potentially robbing yourself of the opportunity to grow your audience/customers/market and the opportunity to identify and cultivate new brand champions of equal potential value. Balance is required,” he added.

Andrew Brown, events manager, Laxton Events concurs with Kerr, adding that there could be potential profit loss if the brand or event organizer is overly selective for events if fewer than anticipated guests attend.  “This may affect the event’s ability to break even or to generate sufficient profit (after paying for F&B, AV, lighting etc) to allow it to be sustainable or viable in the future”, said Brown.

“Failing to generate profit may lead to sponsors pulling out of the event in the future and the event being seen as “devalued”. If the event decides to make cut backs due to lack of funding, this could lead to negative press, making it even more difficult to secure potential sponsors,” he added.

Successful non-exclusive events

According to Brown, there are a number of successful events that are non-exclusive such as the GFI HKFC Tens held at the Hong Kong Football Club.

“The entry cost is free/ minimal and this allows for a wider range of spectators, not specifically rugby enthusiasts, but those who are learning and taking an interest in the sport, to enjoy watching future and past stars on show. This in turn creates a good atmosphere in which sponsors like to be associated with as the event is seen as fun and entertaining,” he added.

Kerr added that the lure of successful non-exclusive events is the ability to interact freely with people with the same purpose.

“That's why people attend these events - not for the corporate booth confines. It's been my experience that at most exclusive events, if they are not genuinely immersive, unique and memorable, most exclusive event guests at some point will attempt to shake their handlers and venture forth... or go home!”