How ComplexCon is Changing Experiential

The Challenge

In 2016, Complex magazine pivoted into becoming a digital media brand with an idea for becoming the main go-to for youth culture. It wanted to redefine the cultural "con"s, to stand apart, to become a launchpad for new and innovation.

It knew that retail would be key using its audience likes to buy things. They shop digitally and in real life. Yet, content had to come first. And, it wanted to support the emerging, the new music, talent, and creators, people focused on youth culture.

"We set out to do something new," Isis Arias Clermont, Executive Producer, ComplexCon, Complex, told our Publishing Insider Summit on Saturday in Austin. "We had to define what it is. Not a conference, not a mall but have a marketplace. Like TED but we're not TED. We love music, but we're not a music festival.

The Execution

Using its secret sauce, it took Culture, multiplied that by Curation, added Community and got ComplexCon. It defined culture as the attitudes, attributes and behaviors of a specific social group. The audience loves hip hop, style, sneakers, eating cool things, and being engaged with. "Passion points," she calls them.

Curation involved allowing its editorial point of view to stand out, a certain tone. "We know what our audience needs and we have to do this right, with the right partners and talent." They called in major global creatives to help shape and mold what ComplexCon could look and feel like. Brand partners had to be right. "How you participate is key," Clermont said.

And community matters. While Gen Z and Millennials are famous for preferring experience over things, Complex's audience does like to buy things so they were looking for an area in which to connect buyers and sellers, asking themselves, "Who is coming up?"

They thought of is as "bringing URL to IRL," she said, with collaboration and unique cultural moments involving merch, food, art and sports.

"Complex Conversations is our TED," she said, a place where they do a deep dive into things Complex is covering editorially. 

With its Brands to Watch, it focuses on who's next. Editorial supports brands, she added. And, the event is educational with art being a premiere platform for innovation and discovery. "We created touch points that are very different from any other event."

Among its brand activations are Cadillac, which is working on what the brand means to youth. It had a photo booth with LED floors and neon flowers. It blinged out a chain with the Cadillac logo, which was given to one lucky attendee.

McDonald's created an adult playground its first time with ComplexCon and then came back with customization stations to make jackets and T-shirt's.

Adidas wanted to democratize sneaker drops so it integrated AR function in the ComplexCon app so users could unlock the ability to purchase at the drop, but could buy just one pair.

The Results

ComplexCon attracts people ages 16 to 35 with a 50-50 male/female ratio. 

It has created 50 billion impressions to date because its audience likes to share. 

It attracts 60,000 attendees.

It creates an average of $20 million in sales. 

Have partners that do operations and logistics for a living.

Create milestones on your timeline to know how much runway you need.

Set parameters in order to keep curation intact.

Survey the teams because data is super important.

Ask hard questions of yourselves.

Pay attention to your audience, give them what they want.

Do something new, bring your brand to life.

Create vision, understand formula, create boundaries, push boundaries, make magic.

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