It’s difficult at times to not look back to the last 18 months and focus on what has been lost. From a creative and business perspective, something close to my heart felt like it vanished overnight.

Trucks and crews were recalled, shows cancelled and projects shelved.

The tradition of brand experiences, trade shows and events in the tried and tested physical sense disappeared in an instant and it left brands and audiences alike looking around wondering what’s next; because despite the change for us all, consumers were still looking for the same level of brand engagement, more so in fact with so many options unavailable to us all.

We have always valued physical moments because traditionally it’s an opportunity for people to come together and share experiences; it’s a human need. Brands can take advantage of this and rightly so. Creating memorable moments, at a scale not previously seen at home, with a value on the exclusivity of being part of a limited number. The ‘I was there’ counted for a lot. But, our needs and interactions with brands have changed during the pandemic, and as such brands have an opportunity to interact with consumers in their own homes, creating an entirely new experience. And, in some ways a more intimate one.

Technology has been a saviour to us all. We’ve adjusted to remote communication in record time and made it work. But how do you scale that up and aim to capture some of the magic of the physical in a new remote world?

After the initial pause, we found 2020 was very much about adapting our thinking and learning about new technology. Our clients were asking us questions about what is possible, what can we do differently, but still with a sense of ‘but will it work?’; because the confidence in new technology needed time.

Well, virtual technology has proven to be incredibly robust and is adapting at an exponential rate; so understandably confidence is growing and expectation follows. Brands are now looking to commit to creating new virtual experiences to continue to build audience engagement. It’s an exciting time to be experimenting with audience engagement.

If you think about it, physical experiences come with some pretty big limitations. It’s in one place in the world, it has a fixed size, with a duration period. If it’s outside, it could rain or even be cancelled. People might not show up…. I could go on, but you get the gist.  

The virtual space doesn’t have any of these parameters to worry about. We should forget about virtual being a make-do alternative to the traditional and focus on the creative freedom it provides us with. Forget creating a virtual trade show to promote your latest product. Take your audience to the production line, the design studio, the test track; there are no boundaries.

The opportunity to create literally whatever you like and transport your audience there has already arrived. But virtual spaces need to be explorable, the sense of discovery must remain with the user. It’s not enough to watch someone on screen in a linear fashion. Save that for the office meeting.

Music festivals have embraced the virtual worlds normally associated with gaming environments quicker and better than most, and brands are now showing an appetite to follow by building their very own worlds.

In 2020, The Tomorrowland music festival in Belgium faced the prospect of cancellation, but unlike most was able to pivot at speed and create a virtual world to host their dance music festival. Located on the island of Pāpiliōnem, audiences were transported to a world unlike anything seen before, revolutionising the music festival instantly.

A festival normally able to host 400,000 people (an amazing number in itself) suddenly hosted 1 million people from all over the world. People who could only have dreamed of attending Tomorrowland suddenly had the same access as everyone else.

As recently as May 2021, Luxury fashion brand Gucci marked its 100th anniversary by entering the metaverse with the creation of a virtual Gucci Garden on Roblox. Visitors enter the world as a neutral mannequin avatar and through exploration and discovery retain fragments of the visual experience to create something unique to them. Luxury fashion and the world of gaming collide.

Even global Fine Arts brokers Sotheby’s have created this year’s hottest new art hub. Located in Decentraland, a virtual reality metaverse, its replica of the London headquarters showcases its digital art over a five-floor gallery.

The accelerated acceptance of the power of technology in our lives has opened up a brave new world for brands to no longer look at virtual as the ‘stop gap’ before the return to perceived normality.

‘Virtual first’ is what clients are now asking for and I believe will soon become the industry norm.
The future success of experiences will be dependent on how well the physical and digital work together and harness the benefits of both.

It’s time to create the perfect place to tell stories; I’m excited to be part of that future.