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Brands Get Immersive for the ’Gram

How brands are building online impressions by constructing made-for-Instagram selfie funhouses, writes Arc Associate Creative Director Glenn Madigan

Kids these days love a good photo op. And by “kids,” I mean the sizeable group of Millennials and Gen Z-ers, basically tweens to young-ish adults, living in the world today (more than 50 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 30). For these mobile-first, highly visual age groups, there’s an ever-growing pressure to carefully curate your personal feed of photos and stories. This audience has an unwavering appetite to collect unique images and the experiences that surround them. And the brands making some of the largest online impressions are those offering spaces specifically for these aspiring social influencers.

Enter the "selfie funhouse."

Immersive brand experiences are popping up all over the U.S. Each one is designed to identify a message, whether political or promotional, and dimensionalize it as an interactive space that just begs to be photographed.

Consider 29Rooms, a traveling exhibit born from the minds at Refinery 29. The show is comprised of 29 unique spaces, each with its own story to tell. Though many of the rooms explore deeper themes like body image, pollution and surveillance, they’re all built through a social lens and with an Instagram-worthy photo moment in mind.

29Rooms, now in its fourth season and in four cities around the country, is not an isolated phenomenon. A suite of other exhibits follows a similar model. Happy Place is a pop-up playground with the simple goal of spreading happiness, achieved through a series of installations — including the world’s largest indoor confetti dome, a larger-than-life double rainbow, and their signature rubber ducky “bathtub of fun” — that invite you to spend time in their world, take a photo and share that piece of happiness with your followers.

Both exhibits are known for selling out before opening day (tickets cost around $30-$40 each) and a continuous stream of images tagged online soon follows. Needless to say, brands are taking notice. 29Rooms recently featured partnerships with Aldo, Dyson and Dunkin’ Donuts, and Target has launched an entire product line and accompanying pop-up in partnership with the Museum of Ice Cream.

The Museum of Ice Cream was created under the premise that “ice cream is a universal symbol of joy, a personal pleasure, and a transportive vehicle for anyone’s imagination.” The museum turned that symbol and its abstraction into a physical space complete with a pool of sprinkles, a Pop Rocks cave and more. Building on the popularity of the museum’s brand, a series of ice cream flavors is being launched at Target with a mini-museum known as “The Pint Shop,” mirroring many of the experiences of the larger exhibit space, including massive pints you can dive into and a tasting room.

And coming this fall, Sephora is the latest brand to build an experience space all its own. Celebrating the company’s 20th anniversary, the “SEPHORiA: House of Beauty” is set to be a two-day event in LA this October, featuring custom products and swag, interaction with brand founders and influencers, and selfie moments galore.

These immersive experiences represent a trend rich with opportunity for brands to build social engagement spaces that create endlessly sharable moments. Whether it’s designed as part of an existing retail space or a traveling exhibit, brands can boost their online social impressions with spaces that provide real-life experiences and support a socially active lifestyle. Not to oversell a product or just get a photo with your logo, but to simply offer a social playground that’s too irresistible not to stop by, snap and share.


Glen LeoScope

Glenn Madigan is an Associate Creative Director for Arc, a team devoted to building branded environments and activating shopper senses in all dimensions.