The Devil Is In The Detail

Location-based entertainment has been in the news lately, and not in a good way. Willy’s Chocolate Experience, a live event organized by House of Illuminati and held at Box Hub Warehouse in Glasgow, Scotland, has attracted a lot of attention for its poor execution. The ticketing website promoting the event is full of lush A.I.-generated imagery (albeit with loads of typos), while the implementation was bare bones at best, according to video and photos taken by attendees. The attendee accounts have gone viral and generated significant media coverage. The website now features a disclaimer that the event is “in no way related” to the Willy Wonka franchise, owned by Warner Bros., although that is certainly the inspiration for the unauthorized event, and most of the news coverage has referred to it as being a Wonka experience.

Companies producing officially licensed location-based entertainment, of course, know that execution is everything, whether the configuration is a pop-up experience, themed hotel, bar or pub, symphony performance, theme park exhibit, pop-up restaurant, children’s museum science installation, or story trail.

LBE’s high current profile, thanks to Willy’s Chocolate Experience, does offer an opportunity to take a look at some recent authorized location-based events and services that have taken the world of experiential licensing in new directions. All represent a strong marriage with the characteristics of the underlying IP—and all are designed to provide a good experience for fans:

  • Hasbro paired with SpotHero, a parking reservation app, to offer Monopoly Free Parking Coupons to select shoppers on Black Friday 2023. Coupon holders had access to 1,000 spaces, divided between Seattle (400 spaces available), Los Angeles (400), New York City (100), Chicago (100), and Philadelphia (100). All SpotHero new and existing users were also offered a promo code giving them 10% off parking rates, up to $5, valid at 9,000 locations across the U.S. and Canada on Black Friday. The promotion supported the board game’s marketing campaign, All is Fair in Monopoly. Signage design was inspired by the Free Parking square on the Monopoly board.
  • The Lumistella Company worked with the Redcliffe & Temple Business Improvement District in Bristol, England, and prop and puppet maker Jenny Simmons during holiday 2023 to recreate the Elf on the Shelf experience in giant form. From December 1 through Christmas Eve, a 15-foot Scout Elf moved to different locations around the city, from bridges to buildings, sometimes doing mischief like unrolling toilet paper or sneaking some treats. The District posted clues on social media about each day’s location, and a citywide social media contest was held to name the elf.
  • Last year, Zag paired with BTS Eventos for a series of running races tied to the Miraculous franchise. The characters of Ladybug and Cat Noir do a lot of running in the series, and some Miraculous extensions, such as mobile games, have had running themes. The series of graded family racing events were set to occur in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Peru in 2023 and 2024. Themed activities and character appearances were also part of the event, and participants received bags of Miraculous merchandise such as visors, eco bags, and yo-yos. The series of races built on a previous one-off promotion in Mexico, which also featured a running race for pairs of parents and children.
  • Hello Sunshine, the women-centric multimedia company founded by Reese Witherspoon, owned by Candle Media, and the manager of Reese’s Book Club, collaborated with Sheraton Hotels to create Reese’s Book Club x Sheraton Lobby Libraries. The pop-up libraries were featured consecutively in hotels in Los Angeles, Toronto, and London from fall 2023 through early 2024. Select Sheraton hotels also hosted monthly meet-ups tied to the Book Club’s monthly selections, some featuring BookTokers (the TikTok book reviewers who have become so influential in the publishing industry). The venture supported both Reese’s Book Club’s mission to encourage reading and Sheraton’s new program, Gatherings by Sheraton, a series of weekly lobby experiences inspired by the brand’s positioning as “The World’s Gathering Place.” This is not a licensed experience like the others mentioned here, but it does bring together two partners for a new kind of LBE configuration.
  • In 2022, King Features partnered with Pick a Pier, an online platform for connecting boaters and marinas, for the Popeye Sail Club, a sustainable boating club. The initiative is meant to address the issue of marinas having trouble keeping up with increasing demand for berthing space. The online berthing reservation system makes securing a spot more convenient, similar to booking a hotel, while advance booking helps the marinas operate efficiently. The Popeye Sail Club adds a dimension by allowing users to earn points for every sail, redeemable for reservation fees, electricity, and amenities across hundreds of marinas. Through an additional partnership with Blue Flag, a sustainability awards program, Sail Club members sign a pledge to follow eco-friendly practices both on shore and at sea.

Most location-based entertainment connected to licensed IP tends to fall into established categories such as those outlined earlier in this post. But these recent initiatives serve as a reminder that there are still plenty of opportunities to expand the scope of experiential licensing into new areas.

The examples cited here also illustrate how licensors and organizers, unlike those behind Willy’s Chocolate Experience, think through the execution of their events in great detail, to ensure that every component enhances the overall program. The trick is to then ensure that those plans carry over into the live events themselves, where every detail contributes to consumers’ experience and their continued love of the property.

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