Secret Cinema. Goosebumps Alive. The Crystal Maze. Despite Netflix and UK cinemas both posting record figures of late and 10 million adults still tuning in to watch Britain’s Got Talent, not a week goes by without a new immersive theatrical experience being discussed around watercoolers across the UK.

With passive entertainment arguably at an all-time high, why are consumers flocking to take part in these unique experiences and how can brands capitalise on this zeitgeist?

Immersive theatre centres on non-linear storytelling, where the attendee is not just passively consuming the performance, but is an active participant in the unfolding action, forging their own path through the story.

Speaking at Advertising Week Europe, Felix Barrett of iconic theatre company Punchdrunk, suggested that the growing popularity of such events is because they allow attendees to revisit a childlike place of curiosity.

Unsurprisingly, this appetite for partaking in unique events is particularly strong among millennials, with a recent Mail Online/Metro research study finding that 76% of 16-34s welcome brands organising or sponsoring events.

If executed well, an immersive brand experience offers audiences something that they aren’t expecting – a captivating real life opportunity to be surprised and delighted while completely submerged in the realm of the given brand.

The quarterly IPA Bellwether Report published last week measured a marked increase in event budgets of +6.3% so it is clear that some brands are already dabbling in this space. Recent examples range from an installation which builds out from the core campaign ad, such as Cadbury creating a musical chocolate fountain from ‘Joyville’ in Westfield London, to Silverpoint, an Absolut/Punchdrunk collaboration project, which was an intersection of a mobile-based game and live roleplay where participants became the protagonist of their own living real-time game.

If a brand is considering an immersive brand experience, there are a few considerations to bear in mind:
Trust – Felix from Punchdrunk commented that the most fruitful partnerships that he has worked on involve a truly collaboration approach where the brand team are open-minded and willing.
Tech – technology should support and enhance the experience, rather than being the core touchpoint to ensure optimum engagement.
Exclusivity – Paul Saville of Wasserman Experience suggests that the best immersive brand experiences are actually not for the masses, but instead are high quality productions targeted at the most influential members of your target audience.

Done correctly, an immersive brand experience can be exhilarating, visceral and tangible, leaving participants with a unique and memorable impression of the brand that they will tell others about – driving invaluable word of mouth as the next generation of brand storytelling.

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