Fayola Douglas
Jan 13, 2021

The five trends set to drive brand experiences in 2021

With the Covid pandemic continuing to cast a shadow, Campaign spoke to the UK's top experience agencies to find out what brand events will look like this year.

The five trends set to drive brand experiences in 2021

After some significant changes to the experiential landscape in 2020, this year brand experiences will continue to evolve in order to engage with audiences. While a return to in-person events is on the cards at some stage, changes in consumer behaviour and various external factors will both play their part in shaping the types of experiences that will rise in popularity throughout 2021.

1. Large-scale outdoor events made for broadcast

With out-of-home activations and events that rely on a large in-person audience not currently possible, brands are looking to make their mark with audiences that remain at home.

"The increased need to connect with at-home viewing audiences has opened up new possibilities and meant a re-imagining of live experiences," Jim Donald, production director for Jack Morton, explained.

The agency worked on producing the Mayor of London's New Year's Eve celebrations, with the challenge of achieving a shared experience for screen-based audiences. But catering to a broadcast audience also had benefits, Donald said. "It freed us from the restrictions of a single live location. We took the opportunity to tell the story across the whole city - connecting London's iconic landmarks for the first time."

He added: "The creative 'freedom' resulting from the shift in audience location may well feed the growth of live broadcast and hybrid experiences as brands and organisations seek effective ways to still bring people together, whatever their location."

Adam Heyhurst, head of broadcast at Amplify, made the case that it is important for brands to design their events with the broadcast output in mind, to create a campaign as compelling as an IRL experience.

"It's not enough to point a camera at what you were already doing," Heyhurst said. "It's critical to think about the audience at home and how the coverage can transform into entertainment in its own right.

"Critical to this is the appointment of a broadcast resource within the event team. Better yet, recruit a senior figure or agency whose background includes both events and broadcast to lead the multifaceted project from the top."

2. Making physical spaces digitally explorable

Hybrid experiences allow high levels of interaction with digital spaces, meaning that consumers can create their own journey through digital environments.

Paul Stanway, creative director at XYZ, explained that in the creation of their hybrid virtual experience platform Connector, they wanted to replicate the elements of live experiences that most resonated with people.

"It's never been enough just to hear about what someone else did, we need to see and feel for ourselves. It's these interactions and reactions that make the experience real to us.

"The social and sensory elements, the accidental encounters with other people, the feeling when an experience almost overpowers your senses, these were all what made people spend, often significant amounts of time and money on live experiences."

For Levi's FW21 collection launch, guests received physical, sensory invitations that turned into indigo seed planting boxes. Online guests, meanwhile, could interact with a physical space that displayed the latest collection woven into an AR layer of multi-language interactive content. Participants were able to choose what they engaged with and how they navigated the space.

Stanway added: "This gave them control over how they experienced the launch, looking at what they wanted to when they wanted to. It's a hugely exciting new form of experience design, with so much potential yet to be unlocked. The key consideration though is not to stray too far from the physical, emotional and sensory factors that combine to make experiences so powerful, and ultimately so human."

3. There's more to the store

For years we have been hearing about the death of the high street and Covid-19 has dealt a further blow to struggling retailers. Even Oxford street stalwart Topshop has been put up for sale. As a new normal begins to emerge, it's more important that ever for retailers to rethink their physical spaces, Sulmaan Ahmad, head of strategy at TRO, said.

"Those that rebuild it will be the businesses that grasp the true value of physical store spaces: as a shared experience," he said.

"Where the store is not merely a transactional space, but a social one; a broadcast worthy destination; an interactive media channel that drives salience and relevance among a community."

Nordic Spirit turned its store location on Argyll Street, Soho into an immersive Nordic experience. "Nordic Spirit Nights" featured a forest under artificially recreated Northern Lights, alongside socially distanced Nordic Noir film screenings, DJ sets and exclusive dining experiences.

Ahmad continued: "As the UK works its way back to some form of normality and lockdown begins to ease, social distancing can be an opportunity for a more VIP in-person experience in-store, which can be shared with wider audiences through online content creation."

4. Vehicle-driven experiences

Drive-in experiences really gained speed in 2020 due to the inbuilt ease with which they could incorporate social distancing. The car as a method to facilitate an experience continued with Secret Cinema delivering a drive-through style Stranger Things experience in LA.

Vehicle-based experiences sat perfectly between embracing the freedom we had during summer, while still considering safety, according to Fran Derry, managing partner at Iris.

"Drive-in cinema experiences like Suzuki Drive In offered a way of getting some much-needed entertainment in your own social bubble – the perfect solution!" she said.

"I think these are here to stay and we'll see them re-emerge over the spring/summer. Apart from the safety element people really enjoyed the novelty and nostalgia of them.

"And, with fun on lockdown now and for the foreseeable months I think we are going to see a real rise in brands creating vehicle experience for good."

5. High virtual footfall opportunities

In-game concerts not only provide an experience to audiences seeking at-home entertainment options but also allow for large crowds to engage within a virtual environment they are already familiar with. Much like a store on a busy street the benefit to partnerships with games such as Fortnite is the ensurance of footfall.

Simon Moriarty, director of Mintel Trends, EMEA, said: "The impact of the pandemic and continued innovation in technology has meant that experiences continue to change and the role digital entertainment plays in fostering positivity and connecting people is of particular importance."

Real musicians, whose live performances are restricted, can perform to crowds without the boundaries of geographical locations. 

Travis Scott's shows in Fortnite garnered 27.7 million views, while spectators each had control of their experience and the ability to get a 360 view by exploring the environment. There is also the ability to generate content that can live on outside of the virtual environment.

Campaign UK

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