LBE: Gary Pope explores the experience economy

LG: How is the location-based entertainment market back on the rise globally?

GP: The upside has only really slowed because of COVID and the pent-up demand for physical experiences is well documented, so I won’t dwell on that. But there’s something else going on that I think is interesting and that’s the value consumers place on experiences versus material goods and it’s that demand that’s driving the market. Technology has also advanced a lot and when we think of immersive experiences like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds by Layered Reality, we get true immersion with the sleek application of technology. In 1998, Pine and Gilmore wrote “The Experience Economy”. It was seminal, but we didn’t know it then. It’s only now that brands really understand the power of experiential currency and consumers are very happy to invest in it.

How are brands working with the LBE opportunity to bring something different to children and stand out in the market?

LBE is a bit of a catch-all statement, isn’t it? A shop, a cafe, a theme park… anything physically experienced seems to be called an LBE. And it’s good.

The advances we’ve seen in retail in recent years have taken shopping to incredible new heights – partly to counter the rise of Amazon, but also because in our wonderful world of entertainment, they can. Take the Harry Potter store in New York for example – it’s just mind blowing – part boutique, part theme park on a retail footprint. Children learn by doing and creating an entertainment experience of any kind that helps audiences connect with them emotionally deeply and meaningfully.

What are some of the best examples of LBE space you’ve seen this year?

Well, that’s a loaded question, but The Bluey House stands out for me. They did exactly what a child needs them to do and faithfully recreated it. To be honest, the love, care and attention that goes into it is what you would expect. Is it LBE? Well, it’s an immersion into Bluey’s world, so I guess it has to be. You can AirBnB apparently but ironically no dogs allowed. Then on the other end of the spectrum you have the Rick and Morty Wendy in Vegas experience… I would really, really like to go there.

I am above all an educator having taught for several years before opening KI, and what I want to see from an LBE is that it not only entertains the children – that is the basis – but that it should allow them to see things in a new way. By its very definition an experience is immersive and that is how we learn. Ultimately, when it comes to licensing, the deeper the experience, the deeper the connection – and that means more propensity to buy when you step out of the gift shop. But you also have things like the amazing National Geographic Jane Goodall Experience and the upcoming Curiosity Playground – this is an LBE run by PBS around their core brands and it engages kids with IP through an experience meaningful and differentiated learning and it does so in a progressive way as children progress through the LBE itself. This is very, very intelligent thinking.

Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft servers act as a new location type for brands. How does the notion of “metaverse” change the way brands engage consumers?

Concept is the right word. The metaverse is just the internet with bells, right? It’s easy to get excited about this brave new world; step back for a moment.

The metaverse – I hate that phrase – shouldn’t really change anything about how brands engage their consumers. It’s just a different platform.

It looks like things are changing drastically, but I’d bet that’s because for most of us it’s the unknown – technology is anything invented after you’re born, so for the kids of your life. ‘Today, the metaverse isn’t technology – it’s just another channel. And it is in this perspective that we must keep in mind to fully understand what these new opportunities mean for the consumer.

Falcons Beyond has developed an interesting technology it calls Aeon. It empowers customers who are immersed in experiences to transport those experiences into the digital world – properly. It’s a real conduit to the metaverse and we’ll see it roll out to their new Kathmandu parks from the end of this year. Brands will really have to figure out how to have one foot in IRL and one in the metaverse.

What should brands keep in mind when approaching the digital experience market?

First, brand integrity. Easy to say and very difficult to deliver correctly. This needs to be kept in mind as new perspectives of digital engagement emerge. Brand management is, for me at least, an exercise in relationships – building them, developing them and then nurturing them. If that means going to places that feel new and unwieldy to us, well, it’s up to us to get up to speed and fully understand those places. That’s kind of why we do what we do.

This year’s Licensing Expo in Las Vegas (May 23-25, 2022) brings LBE to life as a central theme. Stay tuned for more exclusive information on our online LBE series or register to attend Licensing Expo here.

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