The results are in! Four of our experiential projects have been shortlisted for the Campaign Experience Awards 2021. The Uncensored Library, the Air Jordan XXXV unveil, Super Saturday Night and BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.
While these four experiences span six award categories—capturing a breadth of digital experiences and what they can accomplish—they perhaps more interestingly trace the evolution of experiential throughout 2020, from before the pandemic touched down in the Western world to today’s lived reality. But despite these changes, one through line has remained clear in our approach to experiential: leveraging digital technology to enable brand new experiences that were never possible before, which bring people together in unexpected ways. Here’s how that core aim has translated throughout a year of ingenuity.
A Digital-First Mindset Made the Pivot Easier
While in-person events that draw large crowds still aren’t possible in the present moment, experiences like Super Saturday Night, a Lady Gaga concert on the eve of last year’s Super Bowl, can offer a peek into what experiential might look like in coming years by reimagining and modernizing the concert-going experience for a digital age. Through a series of activations, the experience used cutting-edge 5G connectivity to power to connect with fans—for example, transforming the standard “step and repeat” into a screen that reflected attendees’ every action through a monster-themed digital double. These moments not only encouraged social sharing, but helped Gaga fans get into the “little monster” mindset before the show.
And while challenges in the past year have largely migrated experiences online around the world, our Experiential team has long advocated for activations that combine broadcasting and in-person events to meet faraway audiences, an approach we call live experiential. “For us, experiential has always been focused on online amplification, regardless of whether the experience is physical or virtual,” says Ciaran Woods, Executive Producer of Experiential and Virtual Events. Woods notes that this digital-first mentality primed the team well for its quick pivot to virtualization. “The transition, albeit at lightspeed, has felt very natural and evolutionary,” he says.
Online or Off, Interactivity Remained Key
Virtual events exist to connect people—and a big part of that means giving the audience just as strong of a voice as the performers. In setting out to redefine live events for a new, digital-first era, the north star of the Virtual Solutions team has been to enable true, two-way interaction between both sides of the screen.
Think about the buzz a musician gets by seeing and hearing the crowd in front of a stage. A desire to capture that same sense of energy gave way to the development and release of LiveXP, our internal live storytelling tool enabling visually rich elements shaped in real time by the interaction of the crowd. “We realized virtual events needed a deeper level of interaction where users can experience live, personalized experiences and one-on-one interactions,” says Travis Craw, Executive Producer of Experiential.
Among the first major events that LiveXP brought to life was BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, a long-running outdoor music festival enjoyed by New Yorkers every summer. With people unable to gather in large crowds because of the pandemic, we brought music fans together through a two-day livestreamed event on YouTube. Performances were augmented by trivia, live Q&As, Spotify integration (allowing fans to save songs to a playlist with a snap of their mobile camera) and more. Each of these elements showcased how drawing together myriad digital interactions feed into a memorable moment and opened the hyper-local festival to a global stage.
Virtualization Brought New Experiences to New Audiences
Last year, brands didn’t have much time to thoughtfully pivot from experiential to digital. Some missed the mark by trying to translate in-person experiences to digital ones—an impossible task that sets oneself up for failure. The brands that truly delivered, meanwhile, aimed to build experiences that weren’t ever possible before, leveraging digital tools like immersive virtual venues.
The Uncensored Library that MediaMonks built in collaboration with Reporters Without Borders is an excellent example of how virtual venues may be used to overcome traditional experiential constraints. We transformed a library of forbidden knowledge—news articles written by journalists who are censored or were killed in their home countries—into a literal library that could be accessed by readers everywhere via Minecraft.
Nick Fuller, SVP of Growth, notes that digital environments also have the potential to deliver more relevant experiences to audiences. “Personalized experiences are easier to deliver at scale through digital platforms, in a way that is trackable and measurable, not only for engagement purposes but for tracking ROI and lead generation.”
But there’s another key benefit to overcoming physical constraints through digital platforms: accessibility. By eliminating a need for travel, doing away with physical constraints (like seats available in a theater) and lowering the cost to access, virtualization opens up experiential activations to entire populations of people who would never have been able to take part in them before.
Digital’s Influence will Remain
While virtual experiential is a must-have for brands to continue showing up for online audiences today, what might they look like when the pandemic subsides and in-person experiences become commonplace again? One possibility is that they will feature a more persistent digital layer. “Extended reality will play a stronger role, with experiences like the use of Oculus Venues during Facebook Connect,” says Woods.
But extended reality can enhance in-person experiences, too. When Jordan Brand unveiled its new Air Jordan XXXV shoe via livestream to industry insiders, the Monks showed up with a digital drop using AR that gave viewers the chance to check out the shoe up-close—a “had to be there” moment that was a foot above a standard reveal. One could easily see how such a feature could build on showrooms by giving all attendees a chance to inspect a product—or extend that experience to audiences from afar.
On that note, we may also see hybrid experiences that are spread across several locations. “I believe a hybrid approach will become a standard offering for live events like trade shows and conferences, mostly to survive,” says Marcel van Overveld, Business Director of Virtual Events. “Brands will have to develop other income streams, looking at data gathering and adding a digital layer on live physical events to benefit from that opportunity and maintain or extend their reach, thus staying relevant for their target audience.” For example, his team is looking for ways to use data to virtually emulate the serendipity of bumping into someone with a shared interest.
No matter the form digital takes in the near or distant future, one thing is clear: it will enable experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. For those reasons, digital’s key role in experiential will remain well into the future. “We’ve seen the benefits first-hand,” says Woods. “Bigger reach, better ROI, more accessibility, more user-centric and more sustainable—virtual events are here to stay.”
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