Major studios are investing a large portion of their marketing budget to fund activations that are popping up all around the nation. Midsummer Scream invited major players in immersive activations to discuss their experiences. Christie Decker, of the IT Neibolt House walkthrough, David Wally, of the Westworld activation at SXSW, and Josh Randall, who developed The Strangers and Hulu’s Castle Rock activation, discussed their experience producing major marketing events.
Panelists highlighted the major intention of activations are to construct experiences that make guests feel like they are “inside the idea” without duplicating plot points. This primarily makes a connection with the heart, not the mind. Panelist stressed the role of social media creating “noise” around the event to drive audiences to want to attend the experience and may translate into consuming the product.
Challenges with creating such events largely surround getting all individuals involved to agree on the concept and execution of activations. This is generally the first goal among creators: creating a dialogue regarding what the experience should accomplish. Whereas some funding sources allow for free range and are trusting of the creators, others can be more restrictive and require approving all decisions made by the creator. Constant communication between the creator and funding source can prove to be a tiresome process. The main goal is to integrate perspectives and try to “get everyone to be looking at the same thing”. Thus, fostering agreement and trust in the process is primary.
In addition, creating experiences within a budget can be limiting. Part of the challenge is to create an effective and unique experience within the budget allowed. The largest portion of a marketing budget is usually allocated to the activation and a lot of pressure is placed on the experience to be successful. It is paramount that creators are active in their role to set expectations of what the project needs to achieve. The goal is to make the experience as compelling as you can within the budget you have.
In the future, panelists predict that the marketing budget for immersive activations will grow significantly. However, it is difficult to quantify the effectiveness of activations on consumers. It was calculated that it costs roughly $600 per person for guests to attend Hulu’s Castle Rock activation and perhaps more for the IT Neibolt House. Ultimately, the funding source will be tasked with justifying if activations are worthwhile in promotion and helping to sell the product.
In LA, oversaturation of the immersive market can push creators to stand out by using the art-form in new ways. The future of immersive activations may be more fully realized in settings where research and development can take place. When creating activations that are longer than days and weeks, creators must develop experiences that are repeatable with well developed business plans. Companies like Meow-Wolf and Two Bit Circus are exploring these experiences in greater detail and pushing the art-form in new ways. Because it is a live performance, there is always something magical about going through a show knowing you can never get the same experience twice.
Companies are moving to blend alternate reality and virtual into immersive experiences, however, some argue the technology is not fully developed yet to make a smooth transition. Virtual reality is used to elevate and complement and experience however it is not fully perfected and takes time to construct seamlessly into an experience. The future of VR is mostly unknown and met with speculation regarding its future among immersives.
In closing, the panelists highlighted activations as a new and growing artform with unlimited potential.