The Future is Immersive
Over the years I have absorbed myself in cutting-edge creative initiatives and ideas, and in 2017 I’ve fully immersed in the world of experience. But not just any experience. The whole of conscious life is an experience. Everybody is immersed in their own experience. But much of what has been designed by brands and the creative industries to be experienced has been “out there”. I remember how in the early days of silent movies, audience members would jump to their feet to shout warnings to their threatened screen heroes. They were “in there”. That is what we now mean by immersive experience. There is no distancing of experience.
Cinema audiences rarely do that now. Distance in experience is found everywhere in the West. Visit a village in India or Africa and the villagers crowd around a small TV. In India, they take a day-trip to the town to get the ‘darshan’ of the new department store, i.e. to bathe as tourists in the experience of the innovation and its wares, which represents a future for them. But in the west, brands and malls have become 'me-too'. Immersive is huge and becoming even more significant.
In the age of millennials, expectations of an entire generation have changed with the rise of new technologies, and they expect a deeper more personalised experience.
This is coupled with the fact that economic safety-nets have also been eroded, pushing younger audiences to live in the moment and invest their time and energy in experiences over things, and this naturally lends itself to a hunger for immersive experiences. And whilst social media serves a purpose in connecting us to more people (virtually rather than physically), at the same time it has had the negative effect of leaving many young people feeling more isolated and detached. Millennials can be less 'present'. Immersive demands you to be present and often requires you to leave your phone and other distractions at the door.
And it is not just in the creative industries. Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are being rebranded as Chief Experience Officers (CXOs). They are tasked with making their supermarkets destinations, their services brand worlds, their communications ‘compelling’, their employment engaging. For CXOs, immersive will be big.
As co-founder of The Department, the world's first immersive agency, I'm interested in combining traditional theatrical and production techniques with innovative technology, to put the consumer right at the heart of the brand experience. To quote an article on immersive advertising from The Huffington Post: "Technology is changing the way people lead their lives and experience the world around them. From virtual reality to augmented reality, tech is opening up new ways to engage our senses and has given us the opportunity to travel to real or fabricated places without ever leaving our sofas.”
My background is in film and theatre, and I spent several years working with Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic Theatre before establishing the Old Vic Tunnels where I curated a series of pop-up culinary, theatre and art experiences, such as the revolutionary Punchdrunk, who pushed the boundaries of theatre. This gave me an appetite for creating experiential events at the dawn of the 'Pop-up' culture, before the idea of immersive existed.
In an age saturated by screens and social media posts, I’m a firm believer in creating experiences that people can live and breathe, so as well as co-founding The Department with my partners Jonny Grant and Jessica Rees-Middleton three years ago, we also co-founded Lights of Soho, the world’s first light-art gallery and member’s club. Lights of Soho is a cultural hub where the worlds of film, music, fashion and theatre happily mingle and exchange ideas, and this reflects my belief in the crossover between all these disciplines.
It’s an idea that crosses over into the ethos of The Department, an immersive agency that started out 3 years ago, on a mission to promote some of the leading talents in theatre, culinary expertise, performance, film, music and design. The Department has grown into a creative experience agency, specialising in delivering immersive content and event solutions.
It’s been a productive year so far, with a Toyota C-HR launch a couple of weeks ago, where we collaborated with Freuds on the world’s first drive-through immersive theatre experience. A virtual tour of 5 European cities, integrating drones, lasers, projections, live action and animation to take 100 guests on a journey inspired by the flowing design of the new Toyota. Hollywood star Milla Jovovich acted as the guide on the journey, and we worked with some of the world’s finest creative and technical talent including; The Flash Pack who created a bullet time rig to capture moving images of the guests in one scene, Dick Straker at Mesmer, international performance designer Takis, and immersive theatrical group Les Enfants Terribles.
The week before we were in Switzerland creating a holographic and live theatre experience for IWC, in collaboration with Immersive, to launch their 2017 Da Vinci watch collection. We produced and directed a genre-defining holographic theatrical production starring Game of Thrones actor Joseph Mawle, which integrated live performances, projection mapping, back projections and holograms. Also in January we created ‘The Williams Experience’ at Autosport International, where guests including F1 star Lance Stroll were taken on a journey through 40 years of Williams F1 Racing. Tickets for this sold out in less than 1 hour, proving that people want to step away from their screens and into something captivating and immersive, that transports them inside the world of the brand.
One goal of the immersive projects we create at The Department is to engineer a mutual feedback between physical and virtual worlds, putting one into the other. Immersive.