Events and brand experiences as a marketing tool is not a new thing. Whether we’re talking about large corporations holding glamourous board dinners or presidential candidates leveraging events as their soapbox, experiences have had a long and illustrious history in marketing.
To mark Jack Morton Worldwide’s 80th anniversary this year, vice chairman and president international Julian Pullan spoke to Campaign about the trends, changes, and signature attributes of experiences in the past decades.
1930s to 1950s
This era marked the start of a demand for music and entertainment in business meetings and conventions, which signaled the merging of Hollywood and Broadway with business. Incidentally, this was Jack Morton’s first foray into the experience industry.
“At the time, most US big corporations would have an annual general meeting and I don’t mean that in the form of a sales meeting or what we refer to as AGM today,” says Pullan.
“But they would bring together all their colleagues or their shareholders and partners, and they were generally big dinners with a couple of speeches. Typically, you would have a company speech by the chief executive about how things have gone in the business, or what they have coming up.
Pullan continues: “And then after dinner there would be entertainment or an after-dinner guest speaker or a comedian. And then dancing. Based on the photographs, I think most people were there with their partners.”
There were most certainly huge Hollywood stars brought into these events, Pullan added. Proof is in photos of Jack Morton having his photograph taken with the likes of Bob Hope and Jack Benny.
1960s to 1980s
As Jack Morton moved in the direction of full-service corporate communications, briefs included more conferences, trade shows, sales meetings, product launches, and incentive events which included elements of industrial theatre.
“They would bring elements of theatre into the business. But often as well, sales scenarios might be acted out on stage,” says Pullan.
The signature of this era was multi-image audio visuals, a trend that carried on all the way to the late 80s where things were very theatrical, and large multi-images were used.
“Basically what we were doing then was combining storytelling and moving image content created by multi image audio visual,” he says.
The other big thing that came in at the time of multi-image audio visual was the usage of 35mm slides projected by single or multiple slide projectors.
“The way you would create this was you would have multiple projectors. These are 35mm projectors which had a computer which would be programmed to work in sync,” says Pullan.
“You could actually do stop frame animation, and through a number of different slides or projections, you could actually create a moving image. The advantage was that you could create very large screen images in very high quality. This started in the 60s.
“If you think of conference, product launch, trade show, incentive, or sales meetings that would today project a Power Point presentation onto the screen, in those days, multi-image was the bulk of the business. You would usually have a minimum of three projectors but in the late 1980s, you could have had 120 projectors.”
As one can imagine, working with multi-image slides are labour- and time-intensive. For instance, a 120-projector presentation would have three magazine changes and approximately 120,000 individual slides. Each slide has to be clearly art-worked if it had text in them, and then photographed. In some cases, you might have three or four different pieces of film in a single slide frame.
“You would need a large physical space to programme because you’ve got multiple projection rigs. You need a big theatre space to install it and programme all the different slide changes,” says Pullan.
“And every single one of these slides had to be cleaned almost every day to get any dust out. When I first joined the industry, I remember long nights cleaning slides.”
However, the lead times on projects weren’t that much longer than an agency like Jack Morton gets now.
“Sometimes, we would get a year to work on something but even in those cases, we would still have to pull together something in a month. You would have to adapt and apply creative solutions to what’s available,” says Pullan.
The extravagance of brand experiences remained in this era, and traditionally, the most glamorous events would have been the car launches and sales incentive events.
The 90s saw two global recessions and this spelt out a cutback on events, meetings, and experiences while also focusing more greatly on ROI.
“The change I saw in the 90s was an even greater focus on the business messaging content. We started to bring strategies into the business and provide a much bigger focus on the messaging and on the storytelling and on the business content of the meeting,” says Pullan.
“It wasn’t just a bigger focus on the tech and production side, but what businesses were really looking for were agencies that could help them with total creation of the content.”
Of course, the proliferation of the internet and tech also means moving away from old slide technology.
“Here, we get to the arrival of PowerPoint, which of course has become a phenomenon for any kind of meeting these days. And every year, there’s greater and greater improvements with video tech,” says Pullan.
On top of that, he says that things became more interactive during this time. “If you go back to the 60s and 70s, most of what we did was a lot of people sitting in a room and looking at a stage. And I think in the 90s, there was much more focus on audiences on doing things, and it became more of a way two-way communication,” he says.
2000s and 2010s
By the time we come to the 2000s, the tech is clearly vastly superior and video projection is largely omnipresent in every event. “You’re beginning to see far more happening to see in terms of portability – laptop computers, handheld devices,” says Pullan.
Now, HD and LED screen projection tech have allowed agencies to create larger, more impressive screen content. Despite that, the creative and storytelling skills required were exactly the same as they were if you go back further in time. It’s simply the ways the stories are told and their delivery that have changed, according to Pullan.
“In the era of the experience economy that we have today, people respond to a much greater variety of experiences. And increasingly sophisticated experiences. And people expect far more than they used to. And so theatrical and musical experiences have become more abundant, they’ve become more spectacular, they’ve become more immersive,” he says.
“Today, the kind of audiences we’re trying to communicate with are people who might go on holiday to the Burning Man Festival or SXSW. And in the evenings, they’re going to see incredibly innovative experiences like Punch Drunk. So I think what we are doing today is actually demanding all of our experience skills to be on par with experiences that people are seeking in their private lives.”
Additionally, content, data and tech and how those three elements combine are redefining expectations while transforming people’s relationships with brands. But this might come with a price for agencies.
“I think client expectations in terms of time frame and budgets have become more challenged. We’re often trying to create ever more innovative and sophisticated experiences with less time and tighter budgets. And clearly, the advances in tech help some of this, but sometimes, they require longer lead times or more people working on them,” says Pullan.
Another thing that’s changed in this decade is the requirement of more diversified roles in an agency. Where event producers and stage managers would suffice back in the day, an agency like Jack Morton has digital producers, content planners, social media specialists, architects, creative technologists, experience designers, as well as AI and VR developers.
And of course, the journey of a campaign now is extended compared to the pre-internet era. Event producers have to think about pre- and post-marketing and be responsible for communications across a whole range of touchpoints.
“Everything that we do now has a much longer tail to it,” says Pullan.
ROI is not rocket science
Certainly in the last 20 years, there’s been an awful lot of talk about measurement and greater ROI. And everyone in the space has been talking about the challenge of how you measure experiences.