Why immersive? Why now?
Ian Hambleton, February 2016

Immersive content is everywhere: from live events and pop-ups, to retail and corporate environments, our real and virtual worlds are combining in ever more exciting ways. But where has this phenomenon come from, and where might it lead?

There’s definitely an increasing thirst for impactful emotive experiences in the developed world. Could this be a response to our collective acknowledgment that we’re becoming more isolated from our feelings, and from other people? Human life is more comfortable than it’s ever been, but arguably less exciting because of that.

How often in our daily routine do we feel a real sensation of thrill, joy or even fear? Compare that to 50, 100 or 200 years ago when life was definitely a lot more ‘real’. Of course things were a lot harder, but we discover what we’re made of when we’re challenged — we feel more alive.

 

 

Over the past quarter-century, there’s been a migration of experiences from real to desktop computer, to mobile. And now we’re returning to real-world experiences once again — in many cases interwoven with ever deeper layers of technology. People love this, but it’s still in its infancy.

 

Experience over objects

The focus of this post is the emergence of experience over the objects we own, and the increasing socialisation of this process.

Adam Neumann from WeWork says:

“Millennials are increasingly more comfortable with the idea of sharing, not owning”.

And whether it’s music, cars or office space, more and more of us are becoming more comfortable (maybe even happier) not owning things.

 

 

Phrases like the ‘sharing economy’ have become familiar. Because, if you can demonstrate to people that it’s cheaper and better to take an Uber rather than buy a car, they’ll adopt that thinking for the long-term. If it makes more sense to have a membership to a workspace community like WeWork and enjoy all the benefits and flexibility this offers, they’ll sign up.

Music collections, once something to collect and be proud of, are no longer meaningful when we can just have ‘anytime/anywhere’ access to the world’s largest music collection on Spotify.

 

Experience as social currency

One of the main reasons this is happening is that we are now able to record and share experiences with our friends and beyond. We talk (and brag) about where we are, and what we’re doing. Rather than showing-off the ‘stuff’ that defines us, we’re defined by the things people see us do.

That’s why Millennials aren’t going to nightclubs anymore. They want to show off all the different places they go to, and repeated shots of samey interiors won’t keep an Instagram feed fresh.

Ian Burrell sums this up well in The Independent:

“After a week listening to favourite playlists on Spotify, when friends on Facebook and WhatsApp have looked out so many other attractive weekend adventures that will make far better shots on Instagram, another Friday night at Mystique just doesn’t do it. And, as for pulling, there’s always Tinder.”

 

Hipster Barbie

As with all things, there’s a fine balance to strike. In reaction to some of the more extreme examples of over-amped experience sharing, a photographer in the US set up a spoof Instagram account for ‘Hipster Barbie’. It does a great job of lampooning this sort of humble-bragging, and highlighted the backlash that can arise when authenticity, inspiration and humility become nothing more than a trend.

 

 

What are the opportunities for brands?

So, how can brands start to quench this thirst for experience? Here are some examples of brands creating their own, or where teams are creating experiments that might inspire partnerships with the right brands.

As with Technology Will Save Us in London, littleBits started out selling DIY electronics kits in 2011. They’ve since grown rapidly, and in July 2015 they opened a store in New York focused upon people experiencing their kits and learning at the same time.

 

 

Our sister agency Allez! Studio recently worked with Penguin Random House to create an immersive midnight launch for the release of Terry Pratchett’s final novel, The Shepherd’s Crown. At Waterstones’ Piccadilly store they delivered an experience that would take fans into the world of the book, providing an unforgettable memory for those who attended.

 

 

Bombass & Parr ‘create fine English jellies and curate spectacular culinary events’ for brands and themselves. Their most recent self-initiated project, Alcoholic Architecture, suggests potential for authentic collaborations with a forward-thinking drinks brand.

 

 

I’m also a huge fan of Domestic Data Streamers. They’re a small collective who create installations that visualise data in amazing ways. They created an amazing voting experience for the Laus Audience Awards in Barcelona, allowing people to walk around the exhibition and vote for their favourite exhibits using Twitter.

 

Care to share?

What’s interesting is how experience and amplification — whether through imagery, commentary, or simply word-of-mouth — are interwoven at the core of the ideas above. All too often we see an overt drive towards sharing, which can feel stage-managed.

 

 

Perhaps it’s time for brands and agencies to consider how much they expect and request audiences to share. Considering how truly human connections are increasingly rare in daily life, an experience that creates one should be encouragement itself.

Should you really encourage people to act upon the compulsive urge to brandish their smartphone? Secret Cinema and Gingerline actively prohibit people using their phones, and their attendees cherish the feelings and memories they gain from those experiences. The pay-off is that they share their enjoyment after — without diminishing the impact of the moment.

 

 

Maybe this is smarter. If, by dissuading or preventing people from sharing at the time, we make the experience itself more powerful, would it then become more shareworthy? It clearly differs for each event, but is worth considering as you craft your own immersive experiences.

Remember to think about your audiences as humans. Let them be excited by ideas, magic and craft. Give them time and space to enjoy it, to immerse themselves fully. Don’t force them to share. If it’s a good enough experience they’ll do it themselves, and it will be more powerful as a result.

More than ever before, now’s the time to invest in immersive brand experiences that will grab the attention of your audience, and never let go.