Blog: Immersive is experiential 3.0

Greg Saunders, co-founder and creative director at White Label, discusses the evolution of branded events and the importance of 'pushing the peanut'.

Greg Saunders is co-founder and creative director of agency White Label
Greg Saunders is co-founder and creative director of agency White Label

In the 90s branded events tended to be quite straightforward and usually involved little more brand engagement than popping up a few banners onto a wall. Then came experiential, the brave new face of branded experiences, allowing a deeper dive into the world and stories of a particular brand. And as brands started to be experienced rather than simply consumed, so came the realisation that face-to-face consumer interaction at experiential events just may be the future of marketing.

Immersive consumer experiences then came to the fore with site-specific theatre doyens like Punchdrunk. They turned conventional theatre on its head, with a 360-degree experience that involved all the senses, putting audiences at the heart of the performance.

Having first experienced a Punchdrunk production, [The Firebirds Ball] in Wapping in 2005, we wanted to collaborate with them at the earliest opportunity. Five years of gentle cajoling later and we finally got the chance. In 2010 White Label UK became the first agency to partner with Punchdrunk Theatre Company, creating an immersive bar for Courvoisier, deep within the actual set of their 2010 ‘Duchess of Malfi’ collaboration with the English National Opera.

In audience terms, London is now teeming with creative explorers, bloggers, IG’ers, snap-chatters - most of whom embrace brand experiences and actively seek out exciting new content to share. We no longer think of entertainment in silos, and are used to an ‘ents fusion’ where multiple disciplines combine to create an overall experience. 

Brand experiences are a staple of millennials' diaries and an ingrained part of London’s social landscape, and as clubbing declines and nightclubs close, shows like Secret Cinema sell out in minutes. This demonstrates a shift in mind-set. Audiences demand deeper and more engaging experiences, and if a brand wants to interact with these new and potential consumers, they have to really ‘push the peanut’ further, breaking new ground to capture their imaginations.  

Collectives like The Gingerline, which fuses theatre with food, create not just dining experiences but new dining realities to transport guests to. The demand for more immersive and designed nights out has evolved further into amazing ‘one on one’ experiences, that make the guests the star of the show. You, Me, Bum, Bum Train thrusts punters into the spotlight, as 100s of actors pander to just one person at a time. Consumers want to feel special, and this trend will continue, as brands jump on this bandwagon with mixed results.

It’s worth remembering that ‘bad immersive’ is just like bad theatre, painful to experience and not worth the time or effort. Employing a few promo staff to dress up and re-live their theatre studies A-level does not an immersive experience make, and if a brand wants to create a deeper piece of involved storytelling and engagement, they must plan and deliver the story with sensory detail and conviction. At White Label we are working deep underground in a bunker developing what Experiential 3.0 might look like – I’d personally love to create something around music, theatre and beer with partners like Punchdrunk and Gingerline… ‘Meantime the Musical‘ anyone? 

More: Five things to remember when creating an immersive experience for your brand

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