If you had told me at the beginning of 2020 that it would be the year that the American pastime of going to the drive-thru would have been revived, I would not have believed you. But 10 months and a pandemic this year, I watched the Drop Dead Drag Pageant at the Lakeshore Drive-In in Chicago. As the drag queens danced in their Halloween elegance, cars honked, and I sipped the brand-sponsored drinks, I became curious about what other socially distant drive-in events people flock to. Social media data confirmed that movies, political rallies, sports screenings and scary season are happening at the drive-in.

Using Sprout’s social listening platform, we looked at recent conversations about the drive-in trend to understand what types of creative events companies are hosting, what people are saying about them, and what the mood is for this renewed pastime . In the two weeks from October 8 to 21, 2020, we analyzed more than 95,000 messages on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit and on the Internet. Even in this short period of time, the growing interest in the drive-in was growing clear.

The popularity and number of drive-in theaters in the US has declined over the years, but in those two weeks more than 65,640 unique reports of drive-in theaters were posted on social networks, resulting in nearly 1.7 billion potential impressions. COVID-19 may have disrupted most personal experiences this year, but drive-in theaters have become a haven for entertainment and interaction that people missed during the pandemic.

What’s going on at the drive-in and where?

What activities get people buckling up and going to the drive-in, as after most of the year near their home, people are increasingly eager to experience something new? The top five drive-in activities start with a classic and give us an idea of ​​what is most important these days.

  1. Movies – 18,564 News
  2. Political rallies – 14,711 messages
  3. Concerts – 5,764 news
  4. Baseball – 5,022 messages
  5. Halloween Activities – 3,957 Messages

These drive-in experiences are more popular in the US than any other country, and the top five states are talking about social drive-in events in the country.

  1. California
  2. Texas
  3. Florida
  4. Illinois
  5. New Jersey

Of these activities, people have the most positive attitudes about:

  1. Concerts – 51% of the news was positive (16% negative, 33% neutral)
  2. Baseball – 49% of the news was positive (24% negative, 27% neutral)
  3. Movies – 48% of the news was positive (20% negative, 32% neutral)
  4. Halloween activities – 48% of the news was positive (25% negative, 27% neutral)
  5. Political rallies – 42% of the news was positive (28% negative, 30% neutral)

Let’s see some of the most popular – and cutting edge – drive-in experiences happening right now.

A tradition restored

It may not come as a surprise, but movie screenings are still the most popular drive-in events – and in fact around 28.6% more people posted about drive-in movies than the most talked about activity, political rallies. In fact, they were so popular that the Oscars updated the terms and conditions so that films shown in drive-in theaters qualify for this year’s awards show. And just like in the 1950s and 1960s, the drive-in movie has become a destination for dates and evenings with friends.

Fall classics like “Hocus Pocus” or new releases like “Honest Thief” – movies at the drive-in have regained their crown as one of America’s top leisure activities.

Other artistic activities are among the activities that audiences enjoy the most: live concerts are fans’ favorite when it comes to positive social feelings. 51% of the messages are rated as positive. Concert series such as Concerts in Your Car and Live From the Drive-In host everyone from indie bands to the world’s most famous musicians.

Two great American pastimes, one screen

Live sports have all but disappeared in the first few months of the pandemic. Even though the games are now back, they are still closed to fans. Drive-in sports screenings are a way for fans to watch their favorite teams together while they still socialize – and when it comes to drive-in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers games make up most of the conversation.

Since the MLB’s National League Championship Series started, Dodgers fans have been making a lot of noise on social media for watching their team on a 60-foot screen in the parking lot at Dodgers’ Stadium. Now that the Dodgers take on the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, fans may only be able to honk and roar loud enough for their team to hear.

The emotions during games may be everywhere, but social listening analysis shows that LA fans feel good watching their team drive-in: 49% of social conversations about drive-in games were positive and only 24% of the news was negative (a surprise for any sports fan). Drive-in sports watching parties bring fans together, take advantage of an empty lot, and generate revenue for stadiums and other venues during a challenging time.

Voters and politicians gather

As politicians across the country camp before the elections, they hold drive-in rallies to mobilize voters. When we filtered the drive-in listening data to only look at rallies, we found that this topic received an average of 29.6 engagements per message – 81.2% more than the average for the overall drive-in conversation . And most of those engagements come straight from Washington, DC

COVID-19 has led polarizing political talks. By holding publicly known drive-in rallies and appearing in mask, politicians are making their stance on the pandemic clear. And when speakers like President Barack Obama have their say, locals are encouraged to come forward. Former President Obama stepped onto the stage during Presidential Candidate Joe Biden’s drive-in rally on Wednesday October 21 – and on that day alone, the drive-in rally topic generated more than 6,270 messages and nearly 265.7 Millions of social impressions.

Political candidates’ marketing strategies are getting smarter and faster. These drive-in rallies are an opportunity to bring the core messages of a campaign home, get more content for campaign ads and social feeds, and chat with local voters before the polls are completed.

Halloween 2020: not canceled, just different

This year’s spooky season has called for creative approaches for everything from trick or treating to classroom celebrations. And from the safety of their cars, people enjoy haunted houses, scary movies, and other Halloween experiences.

Get the Halloween mood this weekend with a drive-through haunted house in Virginia, drive-in scary movies, or a real crime thriller walking tour. https://t.co/OE6hhDel1e

– NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) October 10, 2020

Even streaming services use the personal opportunity for drive-in events. Brands like Hulu are hosting a drive-in experience called Huluween in LA that brings together the trend for drive-in 4 movies and seasonal fun.

The Halloween trend is a good example of another target group for drive-in activities: parents and families. More than 7,160 of the social messages about drive-in events also included mentions of family members, children, or parents, and that volume has increased as the weather gets colder. That news was largely positive too: 58% of the news about families at the drive-in was positive.

Buckle up for more creative experiences this winter

As winter approaches, I know a lot of us feel pretty crazy after spending so much time at home. But as entertainment venues, brands, and even local governments get more creative, we will likely see even more drive-in and virtual experiences to brighten our days.

Social listening can be a valuable tool for your research if you are interested in learning more about emerging trends and what to expect this winter. Read our article on Using Social Listening for Consumer Research or request a free Sprout listening demo to learn more.