We’re all feeling many different emotions relating to 2020, but my guess is they’re broadly in the same space: Fed up.
And, much as everyone is looking forward to seeing the back of the year, as we approach Christmas there is a palpable sense that we are collectively limping towards a festive season that will lack the anticipation, excitement, and sparkle that normally awaits us at the end of another year of hard work.
But all need not be lost.
Out of the gloom of 2020 is emerging a thriving appetite for a new breed of live-entertainment, one that is satiating our desire to find new ways to have fun. Covid may be keeping us apart but through this emerging sector of immersive events on the internet, friends, and colleagues can still find ways to come together for all the fun and frivolity of a social engagement - without having to resort to yet another Zoom quiz.
And, crucially, brands too can find new outlets through which to engage with audiences.
When brands find an effective way with which to interact with their customers it allows them to communicate in a more impactful way: the mindset of a consumer at an event or voluntarily engaging in an experience is different from any other form of marketing interaction. There is space for subtlety, the opportunity for personality, room for authenticity, and the time to secure a unique two-way communication that will leave a positive lasting impression on the audience.
But for creative agencies new to this form of communication, it requires a multi-skilled approach in order to reap all the potential rewards.
When it comes to really memorable online entertainment, people want to interact with content and feel swept along by it, not simply consume it as they would a TV show, movie or piece of social media content. All of this means that brands wishing to engage people in any form of entertainment that takes place on a screen - however engaging - must first overcome the battle of screen ennui.
We are often told that in the midst of every crisis comes great opportunity, and if Covid is the crisis then online immersive entertainment is surely the opportunity.
Brands have had to find new and innovative ways to speak to the public and as we approach the party season we are now seeing a steady increase in brand experience and creative agencies embracing the new online opportunities that are proving a huge success with the public.
Online experiences offer opportunities around accessibility and scalability that a typical experiential event does not offer.
When done right, online events can deliver the same level of engagement as live experiences using a range of vehicles such as theatre, film, live music or gaming, and placing people at the heart of the action. Think escape rooms online: Brands can capture audiences’ attention for longer with a narrative that takes them out of their own lives and living rooms and allows them to briefly drive forward a new and alternative existence.
When it comes to immersive entertainment the onus is on the creators to carry the audience along.
It is their responsibility to use a unique combination of imagination and technology to dream up new methods of storytelling that capture the viewer’s attention and, crucially, keep it. Those wishing to enter this new world must be mindful of the need to create virtual entertainment that is ‘lean-forward’, that is fully engaging and engrossing.
In the same way a Virtual Reality headset will see the wearer physically respond to the action, so a truly engaging immersive experience should do the same, but in a much more social way.
By putting people at the heart of the action, including playing a direct role in the outcome of the storyline, brands can get as close as possible to replicating the real-life experiences we are all missing.
At Swamp Motel we recently partnered with Verizon Media, developing an immersive theatrical event called Project Midnight, a virtual escape room within Verizon’s Immersion 2021 event. This is just one example of a brand putting investment behind an innovative creative concept that promises to leave a mark on those who engage. In Project Midnight, groups of players had to work together to solve puzzles, working through the escape rooms together using different interactive technologies and multiple screens.
We have precious few opportunities to get out and have real, 3D fun this Christmas, but that provides brands with the perfect opportunity to provide much needed fun and escapist entertainment for consumers at home. And if the idea of escapism is ever-appealing, surely it is in the cold, dark evenings of winter 2020.