The Marketing “Message” In Your Exhibit


Arguably the most misquoted and misinterpreted 20th-century book title is Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Massage.” Correct. Massage. No, not “message.”

Writing in 1967, McLuhan told us:

“Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication….It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the working of media….Out time is a time for crossing barriers, for erasing old categories—for probing around. When two seemingly disparate elements are imaginatively poised, put in apposition in new and unique ways, startling discoveries often result.”

He labeled his book “a collide-oscope of interfaced situations.”

The massage of the brand experience

We are in the business of providing a massage with the face-to-face medium. And the massage that we are providing is a positive brand experience. We can download product information on thumb drives, we can create in-booth theater, we can demo our technology or our medical device—all in the interest of getting our message across—but if there is no massage, no reassuring, positive, revitalizing experience with our brand at trade shows, we are wasting an opportunity for creating something memorable for our exhibit visitors.

The power of the face-to-face message (the trade show medium)

Do we understand the power of the face-to-face medium? Do we acknowledge that this encounter with our brand is the embodiment of how we want the market to perceive us?

The fact that we work in a medium that is one of the last bastions of interpersonal interaction is almost a cliché—one that could be losing its power to motivate us to provide a “massaging” experience in our exhibits.

Creative bravery

At Access, we use the term “creative bravery.” A direction rather than a destination, it motivates us to go beyond the same old, same old.

And while we’re on the subject of overlooked truisms, in the planning for our exhibit, do we consider sensory appeal? Really? The sounds, the touch, the tastes, the sights, the tactile that visitors to our exhibits experience? A very simple exercise to kick off exhibit marketing is to map out how senses are engaged. Challenge the level of engagement; take it up a notch or two.

The massage of sensory engagement

How to do that? Let’s look at some opportunities.

  • How creative are your catering offerings? Have you thought about food or drink in your company’s or brand’s PMS colors?
  • How do you deliver sound in your exhibit? Are you competing with all the other sounds in the hall or are you using sound domes or some other device that delivers auditory messages effectively–and creatively?
  • Is the visual experience of the exhibit itself compelling and attractive (in the truest sense of the word)?
  • Are you using interesting materials?
  • Is there movement to your materials? Is there a good balance between static and movable components?

In a future post, we’ll talk about how the people in your exhibit help engage visitors, but first the environment has to be right.

Understand how the trade show medium works

The “massage” of the trade show medium can be soothing, it can be invigorating, it can be thought-provoking, or it can be breathtaking. We control how customers perceive our brand—a unique opportunity. Or as McLuhan wrote, “The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments [and] all media are extensions of some human faculty.” And of all media, face-to-face is the most human.