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Immersive entertainment will be the phoenix that rises from the ashes of 2020

Daniel Hemsley, Managing Director at Swamp Motel on the opportunity that immersive, online entertainment provides for both brands and businesses alike.

Daniel Hemsley, Swamp Motel

Managing Director

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Capturing the public’s attention in a positive way is the single most important aspect of the job for any brand marketer, yet also the trickiest to master. Whether you opt for an award-winning 30” TV ad, a social media post that goes viral or a stop-them-in-their-tracks billboard, the quest for memorable interaction, and resulting word of mouth, is the holy grail of every CMO.

But at the end of a year when consumers have been crying out for original, engaging and, let’s face it, distracting media content, brands are waking up to an opportunity that takes consumer engagement to a new level. The result is a growing trend explored by more and more brands for creative solutions that go beyond traditional advertising: immersive entertainment.

Once upon a time, the sure-fire way to make a more lasting impression was through experiential activity. With COVID that has been taken off the table in its original form but is instead going online, with surprising results.

This is a valuable chance for brands and businesses alike to spend quality time with their customers.

Daniel Hemsley

Experiential goes online

Brands and their agencies are increasingly turning to digital immersive experiences, providing much-needed entertainment for consumers, and in turn leaving behind a lasting, positive impression for their business. It is widely accepted that brands will benefit from advertising through a recession; in light of that, imagine the effects for a brand that entertains through a recession, and the resulting impact on the customers’ perception of that brand.

However, this is not simply a case of transferring real-life experiential events onto the internet and hoping for the best. Online immersive entertainment is an artform. Done badly it is clunky, disjointed and awkward. But done well it is powerful, impactful and memorable.

Swamp Motel was created by two creative associates of Punchdrunk, the acclaimed immersive theatre company, with not only acting and theatrics at its heart but performance, design, world building and story narrative too. Today, we work with brands, agencies, media owners and audience’s directly, to deliver truly immersive entertainment, bringing experiences, shows or brand activations to life in a way that blurs the boundaries between film, theatre and gaming and gives audiences key roles within the storytelling.

And, in 2020, we have become just one of many businesses who have pivoted to adapt to these most unusual of times, and extended our offering of immersive entertainment to audiences at home. Our events such as Plymouth Point and The Mermaid’s Tongue combine the flair of immersive theatre with the thrill of an escape room, all made specially to be consumed online.

For online experiences, as with real life experiences, it starts with a good story. And our process works around taking that good story and knowing what tools we need to deliver an exciting experience. In real life we have to respond to the demands of the space we’re in; the online experience has different restraints but equally opens up a plethora of exciting possibilities. We look at the items at our disposal, social media, YouTube and so on, to work out how to draw out the story using these assets. A balance of storytelling between character interaction and self-made discoveries is essential so that the audience feel like their actions are advancing the story in a way that puts audiences at the heart of the story, actively engaged and feeling as if they have a hand to play in changing the story world rather than being a passive by-stander.

Enhancing the feeling of realism

One of the secrets to successful immersive entertainment, and trust me, there are many, is to only use existing everyday technology. This is key to true immersion. We use everyday, recognisable technology in unexpected ways to enhance the feeling of realism and play with how we can get audiences to suspend their disbelief in a new format, heightening the idea that the fiction the participants are experiencing is part of their everyday world.

By way of example, we recently worked with Verizon Media on an event which saw us develop an immersive theatrical event for Halloween called Project Midnight, an escape room which formed part of Verizon’s Immersion 2021 event. This is just one example of a brand putting investment behind a creative and innovative concept that promises to leave a mark on those who engage. In Project Midnight, groups of players work together to solve puzzles, working through the escape room together using different mediums and interactive technologies, from websites, videos, interactive technologies and more.

It is also worth noting that this type of interactive event is not limited to brand-driven content, but can also be used to great effect by businesses looking to engage their employees. As Christmas parties are off the table, fun, interactive online parties are a highly effective way to celebrate with staff at the end of a testing year. While the idea of an awkward Zoom quiz or a stilted social chit chat is enough to put anyone off signing up to the work do, a cleverly constructed, well-designed event that has focus and purpose is a highly effective alternative.

This type of party offering that combines immersive entertainment with food and drinks delivers a shared experience that is had at a group level, resulting in a communal reference point for the entire team. This new, fresh type of event provides essential common ground for employees, unifying them at a time when they have arguably never felt more separate.

To be successful in this space you need to work to a budget, solve huge problems with pure imagination, dream up new methods of storytelling and have a focussed and long-lasting understanding on the show’s dialogue with your audience. This is a valuable chance for brands and businesses alike to spend quality time with their customers and add a new strand to their marketing that will set them apart from their competitors.

Guest Author

Daniel Hemsley, Swamp Motel

Managing Director,

About

As a trained theatre producer turned management consultant, Daniel helps companies to solve business problems using immersive entertainment. Whether that's how to create an online experience that engages at-home audiences, how to bring abstract ideas to life in real-world simulations, or how to create shared experiences for remote team-bonding. Founded in 2017 to create immersive theatre for brands, Swamp Motel pivoted to focus on immersive digital entertainment in early 2020, launching the critically-acclaimed Plymouth Point gothic thriller in April. This was followed by the sequel The Mermaid's Tongue. In October, Swamp Motel partnered with Verizon Media to deliver Project Midnight an online, immersive storytelling experience.

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