Digital is a field where change is embedded in the source code. New tech innovations and interesting applications are pushed out every day – some that work better than others! To keep apace with the latest industry trends, each fortnight we visit interactive experiences and exhibitions to see what the industry’s got to offer. This week? The Flipside.

The Line Between Art and Advertising

In reflection over whether science is responsible for answering all of life’s mysteries, the late Stephen Hawkins said,“While physics might tell us how the universe began, it is not much use in predicting human behaviour because there are far too many equations to solve.”  Considering that Stephen Hawkins’ genius pushed modern physical theory to its (arguably) greatest heights, it’s safe to say that if he couldn’t use numbers to conquer the human mind, we can’t either.  He does, however, make an important distinction between the nature of objects and the nature of people.  Whilst objects are understood through the process of breaking down and applying order, thoughts do not fit together like puzzle pieces.  If we could calculate intentions and expectations in the same way that we calculate equations, we would all be in a constant process of controlling one another.  Realistically, human behaviour is more likely understood by observing and the way in which people connect to one another, and the world around them.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that personalisation and interactive experiences are on the rise when it comes to consumer engagement. People like ideas when they feel like the ideas come from their own worlds.Social media has been a game changer: brands no longer have to rely on third party validation as they’re in a constant feedback loop with consumers, enabling them to know what their audiences want. Furthermore, the ability to share stories with each other means that we are in a continuous flux of connecting – and people like to share content that resonates with their identities.

A Multi-Sensory Experience

In recognition of all this, brands are creating immersive experiences which make use of user generated and brand catalysed content.  No-where more was this evident than at ‘The Flipside’, an exhibition which the team and I attended last week.  Located underground at the Old Selfridge’s Hotel, we were taken through an interactive experience which consisted of several brand installations, each based on an altered perception of radical luxury.  When I say we ‘were taken’, I mean it literally as we were steered by a tour guide, who at some points seemed like an art installation herself.

If interactive experiences are simply meant to be multi-sensory then this was a success.  The displays provided a novel way to taste brands, including a drink made by My Lyan, which were tailored to the sounds, smells and even animals we liked.  Gareth Pugh’s video installation brought us into a room reminiscent of a beach, with black sand, sounds of the ocean, and large screens which showed the designer walking along a windy coast.

For me, the key and underlying addition to this whole experience was Selfridge’s collaboration with Google Pixel 2.  The entrance, which resembled a void in space, was occupied by a team of Google Robots (they weren’t actually robots but spoke in a very robotic way).  On arrival, we were immediately given Google’s latest smartphone ‘Pixel 2’ and instructed that we would be using it to capture the exhibition. Maybe the reason I saw Google’s involvement as the underlying addition is because, unlike the other brand installations that we could choose to walk in and out of, the smartphone accompanied us throughout the entire journey.  Our snaps, selfies and panoramas had to be taken through its camera, and towards the end of the experience we received a lesson in how to use Google’s new AR stickers.  According to our trusty Google guide, the phone simply created a better and more tailored experience.

When Interactive Becomes Invasive

Whilst I was able to appreciate the other brand displays by attributing my own meaning to them, I did not feel this way with the phone.  My experience became something of a juggling act – I spent the entire journey trying to do what the guide was telling me to do, whilst also trying to capture moments on my own phone that I could share with my friends.  If anything, this prevented the experience from feeling personalised, and at points I felt like I had to use the Google phone, rather than wanting to use it. In fact, none of us left saying ‘let’s go and buy one now’, despite Google’s last attempt in providing us with a free phone case on the way out.

The question this leaves us with is ‘how can interactive experiences be used to help sell products?’ As mentioned earlier, human behaviour cannot be understood through order and neither is it predictable, therefore it’s difficult to give someone a product and say ‘this will work for you.’  Rather, it’s better for that person to make up their own mind as to how the product will work.  The installations that I found most effective at ‘The Flipside’ were the ones that I could interpret in ways that were unique to me.  For example, when inside Gareth Pugh’s video installation, the sounds of waves and the feeling of sand immediately took me back my own memory of being by the sea. The Google phone, however, felt too forced upon the experience.  People certainly like ideas which say something about their identity, but there is a thin line between a brand defining a consumer journey, and a brand producing an experience which will enable a consumer to create their own journey.  A comparison that comes to mind is the way that Instagram works: Instagram gives us the tools that allow us to add text and emojis to our images, but it doesn’t tell us what this needs to be.  It’s the fact that we can put the text into our own words which makes it personal and enjoyable.

On The Flipside

If the sole purpose of ‘The Flipside’ had been to appeal to the senses, it would have fulfilled expectations, as we quite literally felt, smelt and tasted our way through the experience.  However, the fact is that this exhibition wasn’t just about art – it was advertising.  Advertising’s purpose is to sell, but we left the building uninclined to buy anything. If anything, I actually felt less inclined to buy the phone. Ultimately, with the question boxes we had to tick, all the selfies taken on the phone, and the Google guide asking us plenty of questions about our lives, I felt that they probably learnt more about us than we did about the brands inside the space.  In a world where products are becoming more and more reflective of the consumer, perhaps this is fitting…

 

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