So there I was, stood in the remote space port of a planet in a galaxy far far away, surrounded by sand and storm troopers. Members of the rebel alliance, scarves and goggles hiding their faces, shuffled this way and that, whilst droids and cloaked alien life forms added to the cacophony of noise. It was indeed a different world to the one I had inhabited only minutes before.
I was, in fact, in an old print factory near Surrey Quays in London, enjoying the latest experience from the Secret Cinema team, who this year have undertaken the huge task of transporting people to the world of Star Wars with elaborate sets, interactive theatre and meticulously themed entertainment. That you felt totally immersed in the film was testament to the level of detail given to the project.
The product placement had been equally well thought out and there were opportunities to spend money at every turn, ranging from themed cocktails in the famous Cantina, to personalised screen prints of iconic Imperial starships. People were spending freely (having already spent north of £70 on a ticket) and were abandoned to the notion that they should partake in all opportunities in order to maximise their personal experience.
So what had loosened the purse strings? Well in short it is down to removing people from their everyday lives and submerging them in an alternate reality where they feel liberated from financial constraints and can escape the clutches of common sense. This was a captive audience, that had been nurtured through an engaging sequential email campaign and pre-conditioned to spend money. They showed us Tatooine and we salivated. Pavlov would have been proud.
Alternate realities are ever-present in branding and marketing. Whether it be the experience-based theatrics of Secret Cinema or the digital community that is Facebook. When presented with a different environment we behave differently and apply a different rationale to our decision making. We become different people with a different sensibility and altered view of the world. It was Jean Baudrillard that talked of self-actualisation and the affects of simulacra and simulation on social relations, determined by the forms of communication that a society employs. Brands are queuing up to promote their message through the digital medium because that is where their customers feel compelled to graze and we as customers are far more likely to make a buying decision when it’s only the click of a mouse away, compared to the realities of the physical world where we’re dragging our everyday lives around with us. We feel much freer when online and brands know that consumers will spend, perhaps beyond their personal expectations, when the shackles of reality are off.
The creation of new realities help the customer to forget their own. They are disorientated and susceptible to suggestion. Take the Secret Cinema example, it is a dizzying cocktail of escapism, stimulation and product placement. The customer is immersed in a reality of the brand’s making and it is the brand that is dictating the sales process. Brands are achieving great success by creating such an experience, be it physical or digital, around products and sales. These experiences become the vehicle for sales and engage the customer, nurturing loyalty and endorsement. The customer in turn is looking for new ways to engage and communicate with brands, seeking more from the process of buying than just the end product. Brands that are successful in creating such an experience will increase their equity.
This may all sound a bit cynical but it’s just the reality that we find ourselves in as consumers and marketers. This is the age of hyper reality where we are challenged to create new experiences and environments around the products and services that we offer our customers and bring them to life.
May the Force be with you, always.