On Purge Night, party planner Marian likes to make sure all the protective measures are in place: doors locked, security cameras on, barbed wire up—and hunker down with her friends to play cards.
For those who want to “go out and hootenanny,” it’s also a great way to pregame.
“I never sleep; it’s too exciting. I could never sleep,” she said, directing those at 2018 San Diego Comic Con through USA’s cheerful “one stop shop for the perfect Purge Night,” pointing out emergency candles and disguises; Duct tape and rope; celebratory ‘Survive the Night’ hats and T-shirts; board games and bumper stickers.
Based on the movie franchise from Blumhouse Production, The Purge revolves around a 12-hour period when all crime, including murder, is legal.
“The film franchise itself is really a satire at heart,” said Colleen Mohan, SVP brand marketing and strategy for USA and Syfy. “Our marketing needed to meet that over-the-top nature.”
The series, premiering September 4, is set in an altered America ruled by a totalitarian political party, and follows several seemingly unrelated characters living in a small city. As the clock winds down, each character is forced to reckon with their past as they discover how far they will go to survive the night.
The show is undeniably dark, but USA’s Purge City activation—inspired by seasonal pop-up stores—went in the other direction by celebrating the holiday with exaggerated enthusiasm, partnering with creative agency Campfire and collaborating Blumhouse Productions to create an interactive experience that remained smartly on brand.
“It makes the show accessible to everyone,” Mohan said.
Customers entered the store and were given $20 ‘purge dollars’ to stock up on whatever supplies they’d need to survive the night. The 75,000 items for sale ranged from general supplies like water bottles, creative options such as “Purge Away Vicious Stain Depurgent” for the messy morning after, and more detailed merchandise aimed at superfans, such as baptista flower seeds to grow plants that in the films and series are put out to show support for Purging.
To get people into the store, the network blanketed Comic Con with shopping flyers and tear-off tab posters featuring the location. Once in, USA hired actors who memorized scripts and never broke character as they showed customers around, and held live demonstrations every half hour, such as the one below.
The store was also designed to be easily photographed, and generated a ton of social media chatter. Like any good retailer, Purge City also offered specials such as a ‘refer a friend’ discount where a shopper who took a picture and tagged someone in it on Twitter received extra Purge dollars on the spot.
Mohan and USA’s brand marketing and promotions team, including Vice President Jodi Arden and Senior Manager Kayra Girsang and Alexandra Shapiro, EVP of marketing and digital, drew from past experience creating interactive activations for shows such as Mr. Robot. They wanted to create a world where those who entered Purge City would be forced to access how they would handle such a night.
From the show’s horror-based perspective, to the more satirical approach of the activation, the proposeratious nature of The Purge itself sparks a singular marketing theme:
“People will stop and think,” said Mohan.