A text arrives. You need to be in Bermondsey by 8. Cryptic directions lead you down shady alleyways until you reach what seems to be an abandoned warehouse. You knock gingerly on the door, thinking all the while ‘surely this isn’t right?’ The door opens and you’re escorted through dark corridors before finding yourself in the midst of a secret fairytale. You devour a mythical feast, trading secrets with Snow White and drinking curiously coloured cocktails. No, this isn’t the plot for a new BBC drama; just your average Thursday-night hosted by the ultimate immersive experience pioneer, Gingerline.
In the past few years, immersive experiences such as this have become de rigueur in London, with the emergence of brands such as Punchdrunk in 2001 – a company that turned conventional theatre on its head with its hyper-immersive site-specific productions – and Secret Cinema in 2007, which spearheaded its own immersive reinvention of the cinema experience. Both have continued to grow in ambition and stature, now accommodating thousands with Hollywood-like cinematic events. However, the current doyen in immersive experiences is the aforementioned Gingerline, which launched its first interactive supper club at a secret London venue in 2010.
The popularity of immersive experiences comes as part of a wider shift in emerging spending habits; new generations including millennials are increasingly keen to trade in products for experiences. This Christmas, however, the experience market is set to reach new highs and a study by Barclaycard predicts millennials will spend a total of £1.6 billion on experiences this Christmas – a 115% increase on last year. It appears we are no longer satisfied by a traditional book or gadget; more than ever before we’re craving unusual and individualized experiences that stimulate the senses and enhance the flavor of life.
But why are we so keen to forgo material possessions in favour of things less tangible? We’ve all been to a show before, we’ve all been to a concert and we’ve certainly all been out for dinner, so why are these experiences gathering new popularity this Christmas?
We live in a time when sharing our experiences is the new social currency and where the holy grail for brands is to create shareable content that turns consumers into ambassadors. 13% of those polled in the Barclaycard study admitted that a key consideration for them was whether the gift they bought would create exciting content for social media. In our Instagram-laden world, the ability to share a singular image that says ‘I was here, and this is what I saw, did and ate’ has assumed greater value than a new material possession, and therefore gives a greater joy to the receiver.
So what is the implication for brands? The experience economy is clearly maturing at a rapid rate and millennial-focused brands need to think seriously about how they can leverage these events as part of their marketing strategies. Partnering with experience events could be one option as they usually last for a minimum of two hours, providing brands with maximum exposure. Brand storylines can also be organically intertwined into the storyline of experience events, without being force-fed to consumers.
The question you need to be asking yourself is how can your brand delve into the experience economy? Faced with a generation who don’t care about having it all, but instead want to experience it all, how can your brand connect?