A new event is taking place at Hamburg Messe
from 28 to 30 October. Polaris is something of a hybrid between a gaming
exhibition and a convention with a hint of an amusement park about it.
If the response to the Polaris trailer is anything to go by, this upcoming event cannot be anything but a success. Within a fortnight, it attracted over 1.8 million views on social media and video portals, including 1.7 million on TikTok alone. Why is it that people are showing this level of interest? “We want to bring together all the various gaming groups or communities at Polaris,” explains Bernd Aufderheide, president and CEO of Hamburg Messe und Congress. “We want to really give visitors an experience, whatever their particular gaming enthusiasms are.” In addition to gaming, there will be e-sport, influencers, food, Asian pop culture, anime (Japanese animation) and cosplay (a portmanteau of “costume” and “play”), in which people dress up as specific fictional characters.
At Polaris, visitors will be able to shape their own trade fair experience using an app and “design their own adventure”, as Aufderheide puts it. Since this is all new territory for Hamburg Messe, the company is organising the event together with Super Crowd and Rcadia. The collaboration is working in much the same way as the one with the Reeperbahn Festival for Photopia – or with Ramp106 for the new mobility summit Future Moves. “Not only is it a lot of fun; it enable everyone involved to develop. There is a lot we can learn from each other,” says Aufderheide, who is clearly enthusiastic about working with external partners.
In addition to the exhibition, there is also the Polaris convention, with a programme spread across six different stage and studio offerings. “It’s one of the reasons we say the event has a hint of an amusement park about it,” explains Aufderheide. Visitors will have the opportunity to meet their favourite influencers at meet-and-greet events. Or they can use the app when they are there to go through different adventures with their avatar and move on to higher levels. The halls at Hamburg Messe will thus serve not just as exhibition space but also as a real-life playing board.
Polaris is the name of the pole star, which is very close to the celestial north pole and useful for navigation purposes. The hope is that Polaris should be perceived as a “shining star in the north” at which the various communities can come together, according to Aufderheide. The idea emerged in a brainstorming session based on the recognition that an event like this had previously been missing in Hamburg. Polaris was initially just a working title. As things progressed, it became clear that the name best described what was wanted. And the star may one day shine on other parts of this Hanseatic city in the same way. “We imagine that in the medium term the event will not just be restricted to the trade fair centre,” explains Aufderheide (www.hamburg-messe.de).
Bernd Aufderheide, president and CEO of Hamburg Messe und Congress, on formats with festival flair.
Festival-inspired event concepts wouldn’t necessarily have been conceivable at German trade fair companies ten years ago. What brought about this rethink?
I wouldn’t describe it as a rethink; it’s more a case of just continually developing our ideas and then implementing them. It’s not just us in Hamburg who have recognised that our business ultimately has to be about more than just selling exhibition space. Both visitors and exhibitors increasingly want more of an experience, a greater element of participation. Consequently, well organised events with the character of a festival enjoy great popularity.
How does an event like Polaris pay for itself?
We have a mix of revenue from sales of exhibition space and tickets as well as sponsorship. Some of the event’s highlights will be streamed live on our own Twitch channel, for example, and will thus have a significant digital reach – which makes it more expensive to be included in the stream. Companies can reach large numbers of people with their trailers and secure a high level of visibility for their products. They can thus be part of the event even without having an exhibition stand.
What are the expectations for this kind of format in the medium term?
Particularly when it comes to B2C events that have a young target group, a personal connection, identification and the experience all play a big role. An event like this is in competition not just with other trade fairs and conventions but also with festivals, amusement parks and, in the online world, with streaming services. We want to offer a physical location where people with a shared interest can come together for three days, make new friends and meet up with old ones.
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