A tech enthusiast slides around in e-skates, a retired investor swings sticks through the air as he drums without a kit, and a swarm of students taste plant-based burgers and eggs. This isn’t a typical Wall Street Journal (WSJ) event, but it does typify The Future of Everything Festival, an annual event hosted by WSJ that explores ideas for advancing technology and society. 

The second annual three-day festival was held in May 2019. It featured more than 70 talks and interviews with groundbreaking leaders, innovators, and change makers. This year, we partnered with 34 companies, including Aerodrums, Segway, and Beyond Meat, to create interactive experiences, like the Augmented Reality-powered air drum, for the Festival’s 3,000+ attendees.

Bright, attention-getting posters in the subway and other strategic outdoor locations raised awareness about The Future of Everything Festival.
Bright, attention-getting posters in the subway and other strategic outdoor locations raised awareness about The Future of Everything Festival.

When I started at WSJ in 2015, The Future of Everything was a magazine supplement in the newspaper, and it was distributed to more than a million WSJ subscribers. It was bold, bright, and quirky. The stories provided a unique look at the currents redefining business, technology, medicine, science, and culture. Content was housed digitally on WSJ.com and proved popular among members. 

While we suspected a similar appetite among non-traditional WSJ audiences, it wasn’t until we launched our paid digital campaign in 2017 that our hypothesis was validated. Our campaign broke social records for WSJ, bringing in the most subscription orders of any content series — up 300% from previous issue.

But what distinguished it from other campaigns was its ability to reach a primarily young audience of men and women under 34 years old. Traffic continued to grow, up 316% from previous issue, with subsequent data showing that engaged members who read The Future of Everything are far less likely to churn. 

As the magazine thrived, the brand expanded. The Future of Everything now boasts a dedicated digital platform with a newly refreshed Web site, a podcast, newsletter, print section, satellite events, and the festival. We developed a formula for marketing the content, but the festival gave us a chance to really extend our creative chops. 

The Future of Everything festival in 2019 featured 34 partner companies and more than 70 groundbreaking leaders, innovators, and change makers.
The Future of Everything festival in 2019 featured 34 partner companies and more than 70 groundbreaking leaders, innovators, and change makers.

Our task for the inaugural festival in 2018 was to build brand awareness and boost ticket sales. We created a concept that centred around a neon “jetpack man” inspired by a story from a previous issue. It was the visual thread that tied all our marketing efforts, including OOH, e-mails, social ads, house ads, and on-site branding.

We continued our creative exploration by commissioning 12 artists to illustrate their visions of the future, and splashed them across New York City through Wild Posting outdoor advertising and with limited-edition merchandise distributed at the event. Our activation idea was aimed to drive buzz with a branded 40-feet-tall hydroponic freight farm parked in a busy New York City thoroughfare in the 10 days leading up to the event. 

This year, we continued our brand-building efforts, content integration through live experience, and artist contribution with a city-wide takeover across New York City that included striking OOH animated displays and an Artificial Intelligence robot at Hudson Yards. These efforts boosted brand recognition, as evidenced by a comment from an attendee at the sold-out festival: “These are the posters I keep seeing on the subway.” Music to any marketer’s ears!

As the media industry continues to evolve, media organisations often need to take bold steps of innovation and experimentation in order to keep up. In this sea of change, WSJ created an entirely new suite of products and experiences that gave access to a coveted audience segment and new revenue opportunities. The Future of Everything has shown remarkable growth in a short period of time, proving that even a 130-year old legacy brand can stay fresh and forward thinking if it challenges itself to do so.