The last rock concert I attended as a fan was probably Rod Stewart at the Orange County Fairgrounds in the early ’80s. I’ve seen a lot of amazing artists in my time—including Elvis, the original Beach Boys, and KISS—but eventually the thrill of seeing the performers live got drowned out by the negatives: the cost of the tickets, the crowds (who always seemed to be drunk or high), and worst of all, the disgusting outdoor toilets. Who knew that 30 years later, the online retail geniuses at Zappos would manage to turn the infamous porta-potty into an experience that’s truly a “head” of its time?
Zappos has created the “Porta Party,” currently in use (and in high demand) at Caesar Entertainment’s Lake Tahoe Summer Concert Series at Harvey’s Outdoor Arena, running now through Labor Day weekend. The Porta Party is an inviting, state-of-the-art, wi-fi-connected mobile restroom featuring a motorized squatty potty, 40-inch waterproof television monitors playing concert promos and music videos, a selfie station and the relaxing scent of lavender. It also features prizes such as gum, lip balm and glow sticks, dispensed after each flush, because “Zappos likes to reward good behavior,” according to its website. The company is even working on a “mobile queueing option” that will enable customers to wait in line virtually and be notified by text when it’s their turn to use the Porta Party; they’ll then use their smartphones to unlock the door.
The Porta Party was conceived when the Zappos team started looking for its next big customer service problem to solve. “Somebody started talking about what a terrible customer experience it was to use portable restrooms,” says Andrew Coon, Zappos experience and community manager. “It was completely out there, but everyone in the room laughed and started talking about our most terrible portable restroom experiences. We wondered what it would take to make it a good experience and, from there, the idea was born.”
Zappos’ ingenious activation is just one of the many brand partnerships that Caesars hosts at the Lake Tahoe concert series. Now in its 16th year, the series attracts more than 700,000 guests each summer to see such stellar artists as Paul Simon, Lenny Kravitz, Third Eye Blind, Jack Johnson, and Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey. While Caesars has many star-studded properties in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and elsewhere, the Lake Tahoe concert series is unique in the Caesars universe. “There’s no better place to spend a summer than Lake Tahoe,” says Penny Truttmann, vice president of brand alliance for Caesars Entertainment. “The concert series on the lake can’t be replicated anywhere else.”
Brand partners at the Lake Tahoe Summer Concert Series enjoy “a guaranteed number of shows and strong ticket sales projections, which offers brands a consistent music platform, a guaranteed number of eyeballs, and a longer-term opportunity to engage with a new audience every show.” But the music is always the star attraction, says Truttmann, who started her career as a junior publicist for David Bowie; so “the brand partners must offer something that hits a real chord with our fans.”
While many of the brands represented at Lake Tahoe (MillerCoors, Sierra Nevada, Corona) are typical of what you would expect to find at a concert, their activations engage consumers on a new level. “Sierra Nevada did an educational booth where they discussed the type of hops and ingredients they used in their beer-making process,” Truttmann says. “LG took a more B2B approach to this, providing top-of-the-line equipment to the VIP skyboxes and creating a more personal and up close feel to each concert.” Fender guitars “invested in an activation that embraces our music fans by hosting a one-of-a-kind interactive opportunity to try out the newest technology in guitars and hear from the experts who work with these amazing instruments.
“And Zappos’ Porta Party “took their activation to a whole new level by truly elevating the ‘surprise and delight’ for customers.” Plans for 2018 include an extended stage and a virtual reality experience.
All of this brought back a flood of memories of my time as a spokesperson for Mattel, when we participated in the groundbreaking US Festivals in San Bernardino, Calif., in the early ’80s. Created by Apple’s Steve Wozniak as an antidote to the “Me Generation” of the 1970s, the US Festivals were intended to create a sense of community as fans and musicians—U2, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Willie Nelson, and Fleetwood Mac among them—celebrated the intersection of music and technology. So there I was, in the middle of the desert in 110-degree heat, inviting sweaty press and consumers to play Mattel video games.
Actually, it was an amazing experience, and a brilliant way for companies to align themselves with some of the biggest names in the music business and the most innovative names in tech. But why, oh why, couldn’t it have been held on the sparkling shores of Lake Tahoe?