Thursday, May 22, 2008

Experiential Art: Marketing Imitating Art Imitating Life

I think there are some great things Experiential Marketers can learn from the world of art.

Earlier this year I was at the LA Municipal Art Museum and saw a very interesting and interactive exhibit created to get people thinking about their roles in saving the rain forest. On one wall was a giant, colorful painting of a rain forest, but it was obscured by a translucent sheet. The sheet had squares delineated with dotted lines, and inside each square was a graphic of a single tree. Visitors were encouraged to take a slip of paper from a fish bowl, and if the slip contained a dot, they used a pair of scissors to snip out a single square, revealing more of the painting and making a point about the importance of each tree.

Here's another example: I've long been a fan of performance art, particularly things that occur in unexpected places. One group that regularly creates fascinating and fun experiences is Improv Everywhere . Visit their site and enjoy the pranks/performances/flash mobs in Grand Central Station, a mall food court, and a hardware store.

Along the same lines, one of my favorite YouTube videos of the past year is of a cappella group Naturally 7 performing on a subway car in London. When they unexpectedly break into song, riders at first look nervous and try to ignore the group, but soon everyone in the packed car is pulling out cameras, cheering and dancing. Check out the video below--the energy and emotion in this video clip are infectious!

Another great example of experiential public art is an installation appearing in both New York and London. Right now a giant drill bit is emerging from the ground, but soon a 37-foot-long, 11-foot-tall "Telectroscope" will appear. This will permit people in New York and London to see each other in real time and life size. The intent is to give citizens of both cities the feeling they are peering through a transatlantic tunnel (but I hope it won't ruin it for you to learn there is technology involved.) You can learn more about the Telectroscope project at

The artist, Paul St George, teamed up with British arts organization Artichoke, known for creating another spectacular public art project, the Sultan’s Elephant, a 42-ton mechanical child and animal that launched many a viral video back in 2006 (see below).

From a marketing perspective, what I find so inspirational about these works of art is:
  • These experiences interrupt people from their lives and expectations to provide something of interest that demands attention. Too often, "experiential marketing" is reduced to a tent or a truck found at an event--which is exactly what consumers are coming to expect at every sporting event, festival, etc.
  • The experiences themselves are incredibly involving. You can't walk into the environmental art installation and not pick a slip of paper, hoping you get one with a dot so you can be part of changing the experience for all who follow you. You could try to ignore the singing in the subway car, but eventually your body will betray you and start to move with the music--and before long you're dancing. And how can one not stop, examine, and walk around a giant drill bit emerging from the ground?
  • Finally, these experiences engage emotions, which is essential to creating a memory. For the improvisational theater, some passersby at first are frightened (or at least are made uncomfortable) that something unexpected is happening, but this emotion engages their attention. In other cases, it's a sense of curiosity or anticipation that is engaged. It's easy to understand, as you read or watch videos about these examples of experiential art, the emotions they evoke.
Art may seem to have little to do with marketing, but what are Leonardo's Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's David except strong, well-recognized brands that have stood the test of centuries. If only our marketing programs could create a mere sliver of their awareness and positive associations!

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