Experience marketing year in review: imagination and reinvention

Great brands took experiences to unexpected heights this year. How will you reinvent yours in 2020? Chantel Covey offers some inspiration.

Chantel CoveyWhen you think of brand experience, what comes to mind? A pop-up? Exhibition? Festival activations? Technology and digital design is rapidly catapulting the methods we use into a progressive future and challenging ideologies on how to create successful activations. Through it all and at the core, connection remains human. 2019 is just a snapshot of what we can expect for brand experience moving into the future. Take a look.

1. The future is 3D

It’s time to get onboard or miss the train. No, 3D isn’t new, it’s been creeping into our imaginations for years. I remember standing in front of magic eye prints in the ’90s and desperately trying to reveal the 3D image hidden within. A couple of years back it seemed like every blockbuster was released in 3D, equipped with funny glasses and 3D TV. It almost became a thing. The technology has been simmering but in 2019 and into 2020, progress is explosive. 

Thanks to advances in 3D software and the ever-expanding technology of augmented reality (AR) bringing your work to life, 3D has never looked so good or been so easy. 3D allows us to recreate the world around us. Inserting new ideas and layering in new dimensions. Expect to see designers from all fields use 3D elements to enhance web pages, bring typography to life and use AR to alter our environments. 

This year saw tech giant Apple inspire its consumers with free AR sessions in-store. In a global public art project, Apple explored the limitless creative possibilities of AR by teaming up with seven famous artists to create their first AR artworks. The [AR]T walks sessions were offered at Apple Stores around the world (pictured above). They included an interactive walk around the city led by an Apple Store member, in which guests could view the interactive artworks and take photos and videos of the pieces, followed by an in-store [AR]T lab session that taught the basics of creating AR using Swift Playgrounds. 

In October, we saw artist Jon Emmony install a five-storey augmented reality experience, called Digital Falls, in the atrium of Selfridges department store in London, making it Europe’s largest AR experience. We have been saying for a long time now that retail needs to reinvent itself and 3D technology is having a huge impact on how it does so. The progression is creating destinations and experiences, not just shopping spaces is the undeniable future. 

Selfridges leads the way again with its mind blowing in-store AR experience for footwear label Auxiliary. The premium footwear brand stocked by the store launched ‘Continuous Play’, an AR campaign, the first of its kind using Facebook’s Spark AR platform. Selfridges said in a statement it would “redefine immersive retail” and I have to say, I agree.

2. Realm of the senses: human-centric design

Is it a rebound from our ever-digitalised world, that artists and designers are focusing more and more on our human senses? Texture, softness and tactility are some of the key features in design right now, from interiors to fashion and product design. How can we inspire a generation of people obsessed with the flat image planes of Instagram and Pinterest to want to reach out and touch something? How can we emotionally connect with people’s physical bodies that are living in a digital world? The trend is human-centric design: embracing a future in which technology is seamlessly incorporated into our lives but where we don’t forget the physical needs of the human body and the effect design can have on our neurosystems. 

A new book called The Touch – Spaces Designed for the Senses by Nathan Williams of Kinfolk and Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen of Norm Architecture explores this concept. The book details more than 25 inspiring spaces where interior design is not only visually appealing but engages all of the human senses. Each chapter hones an element of touch, educating readers on the ‘building blocks of human-centric design’. 

Immersive sensory experiences are the future of event spaces. At the Venice Biennale, the work Chromo Sapiens by Artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir/Shoplifter and curator Birta Guójonsdóttir transformed a warehouse into a multi-sensory environment where sound, colour and furry textures created an alternative world. 

The past two years at Milan Design Week has seen Google explore the concept of human-centric design with visionary trend forecaster Li Edelkoort. The vision for a more tactile approach to designing technology evolved from a concept first developed by Edelkoort in 1998, which she called ‘Softwear’. It predicted a future in which there is a balancing act between work and home life, requiring devices to be integrated more seamlessly into the comfortable and tactile spaces in which, she believed, people would want to live. Google have incorporated this ethos into its product designs taking on minimalist forms and incorporating tactile fabrics such as the recycled plastic net on the new Mini devices. 

This year, Google also teamed up with neuroscientists to measure people’s brains as they wandered through rooms designed to create different sensory experiences.

3. Death of the runway: reinvention

“The fashion show is so archaic,” says creative director Willo Perron. Anyone who saw the hour-long Savage X Fenty show/spectacle this year might tend to agree. I was personally left in awe after the experience of watching the part-documentary-behind-the-scenes-meets-fully-recorded-performance that was aired on Amazon Prime. Amazon described the SAVAGE X FENTY SHOW as “a shoppable visual event, giving us a look into Rihanna’s creative process for her latest lingerie collection. Modeled by incredible, diverse talent; celebrating all genders and sizes; and featuring performances by the hottest music artists, nowhere else will you feel this kind of empowerment.”

 

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Not only could you watch the incredible and exclusive creative process and performance, you could then shop the looks on the Amazon site. Instead of the current standard 15-minute event with fashion elites and celebrities seated either side of the catwalk, the Savage x Fenty presentation was an hour-long show and opened with a performance from Rihanna herself. 

The set design and creative direction was a mash up of architectural styles and created an incredible canvas forever transforming lighting design. The choreography was out of this world. Though Parris Goebel has been working with Rihanna over the past five years, the choreographer (known professionally as Parri$) says her most recent collaboration on the singer’s Savage x Fenty show has without a doubt been the magnum opus. 

The casting was the first expression of true diversity I think I have ever seen. There were women of every size, shape, colour and ability. “Rih doesn’t just pick girls for the way they look, she picks them for their spirit and their energy. Within the cast, you will see girls that are just so un-stereotypical, but who genuinely love themselves and they love their bodies,” Goebel adds. 

I think it’s important to note that this wasn’t just a spectacle for spectacle’s sake. It was a visionary brand experience that shouted the values from the rooftop, exploded into your home and pulled you in. You couldn’t help but become a brand advocate after experiencing such artistry. 

The concept of fashion runway reinvention has always been strong from Alexander McQueen’s theatrical runways to Chanel’s awe-inspiring set environments. But is it time to take this brave and creative thinking into all arenas? Beyoncé didn’t just headline Coachella; she sold the rights to Netflix to turn it into a documentary special and released the entire performance as a live album, expanding her revenue from the performance threefold. (Like a true queen).

To quote Henry Rollins, “One defines oneself by reinvention…. To be yourself. To cut yourself out of stone.”

How will we take brands into 2020 and beyond through reinvention? Through transforming what has been done before for a new world and a new audience.

What is an event, or more importantly, what should it be? A book? A live-streamed interactive spectacle? A microsite? A pop up space? A touring show? Can we expand our thinking to deliver experiences that go beyond the traditional and carve ourselves out from the rest as the leaders of the future? 

Yes we can. And we know how: reinvention.

Chantel Covey is creative director at Sense Group.