I’m Getting ‘Immersed’ in 2014. So Are You!

Lately, all I’ve been immersed in is wine, stuffing and familial strife- Happy Birthday Jesus, cracking party as always, many happy returns etc – I know those of you who celebrate will all be in agreement. You might also find that Christmas brings everyone’s feelings to the Primark-jumper covered surface, which for me, translates to my sobbing at anything. Being the sort of person who is rendered inconsolable over stepping on my niece’s Lego during the Christmas period, and I am exactly who schmaltzy Christmas ads are designed for. I fall for them unreservedly, and cheerfully give them all of my pennies.

This is what happened with Apple this year, but with a whole extra level of Christmas heartstring tugging I couldn’t keep to myself. Apple’s AirPlay Christmas ad isn’t really anything special. A teenage boy meanders silently through his super-wholesome family Christmas, before showing them all that he’s been quietly filming it on his iPhone the whole time. Everyone cries, the super-trendy folk cover of a Christmas classic crescendoes and I’m all choked up and it’s back to Fellowship of the Ring for me. See, you need to get on this level with me:

Sweet, right? I was vaguely mortified by this, and quickly moved onto Stage 2 of advert-reaction – denial. Except, when I went to read what smarter people than me have to say about it, I picked up my iPhone. And the YouTube app crashes (standard), so I picked up my mum’s iPad to go through Safari. I opened it, and there’s a baby picture of me and my little brother as her background, from many moons ago when we were both less old and grumpy and hairy. I’m all fuzzy and warm again, and just like that, Apple’s forced me to create my very own immersion experience. Daring me, the consumer of their products like so, so many of us are, to acknowledge Apple’s place in my life – not just in work or learning, but my life. 

Bollocks, Apple? Really? I’ll never be as alt-cool as I want to be. Hang on, let me acquire a vintage typewriter to write next week’s post on – anyone want my Macbook Pro? Comes with complimentary toast crumbs  in the keyboard, and a super cool Iron Man decal! Check it out:

Immersion as a marketing experience is one of the most exciting things coming up for me, and for Marketing Week – maybe’s it’s just because I always get overwhelmed by the choice and availability of experience, knowledge and emotion to Internet, but being expressly encouraged to engage more than one of my senses when I’m taking in media plays right to my strengths. Apple played to my emotions on the screen, and this prompted me to feel the products in my hands – to be mindful of the decisions I’ve made as a digital consumer, and to be mindful of what they have contributed to my life. This experience is no longer just visual and emotional, it’s tactile too. If I’d have used iTunes to buy music, it could have been aural. When eau de iPhone comes out, (I sincerely hope I never think that’s a good idea), someone’s going to smell themselves and think they’re the shit and the experience becomes olfactory. Tell me your mind isn’t just the teeniest bit blown.

I wrote about Disney Infinity earlier this month – it still blows my mind that you can build your own Disney world on multiple devices and platforms – so kids can do this anywhere –  and interact those games with physical, traditional toys. Over my lifetime, handheld entertainment for kids has moved in a linear, out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new fashion. The development went from plastic wind-up toys to motorised mini-vehicles, to Game Boys, to PlayStations, to Xbox, to iPads – the size of the medium shrinks, but the world inside them just keeps getting bigger. It’s been cool. But suddenly, we’re headed to a phase where innovation isn’t just progress. Innovation means combining the new and the old to create something that’s genuinely unique. I’m obsessed with this idea leaving 2013, and I predict it’ll only get worse as I go into 2014.

On a totally unrelated note, the other thing I’m getting immersed in in 2014 is this gorgeous little dropling – this is Nina, she is a 9 week old cocker spaniel/poodle cross (also known as a cockapoo, which I can’t bring myself to use in conversation) and doggy marketing is surely something I’ll learn to give a shit about once I get over THIS FACE OMG.

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How Disney Smashed 2013

When it comes to Disney, I’m an eternal optimist. Maybe it’s because of the hallowed place the films and music held in my childhood, but I usually ignore Disney’s missteps and celebrate its triumphs.  Because, I find that every so often, I get rewarded for it. When I saw Disney’s latest, FrozenI was expecting visually dazzling but conceptually lazy princess-fodder, I really was. And I sort of do want to be a princess still, so I was okay with that. But what Disney produced, completely out of left-field, was this exquisite construction of animation and storytelling; a completely divine visual that was unexpected in about fourteen different ways. I walked out of that cinema high as a kite, and determined to figure out how the hell Disney pulled off this hot piece of sass:

BOW DOWN, BITCHES.

Disney’s reach and breadth isn’t something I need to go into here, mainly because I want to leave my house today, so I can go lift heavy things in the gym and pretend I like it. I’ll summarise like this – everything you have ever loved, in the course of your life, is probably less than six degrees of separation away from The Lion King.

In the last 20 years, Disney have not just been playing with the big boys, but showing them how it’s done – this started with acquiring Pixar, and subsequently making it their bitch to great effect, giving rise to modern-day classics such as Finding Nemo and Wall-E.  But with its more mature content, Disney has faltered somewhat in terms of quality – Oz The Great and Powerful should have been better, jury’s still out on Saving Mr Banks – not that I even give a half a shit, because Frozen is the dog’s chilly bollocks. That said – how many of you knew when the premiere took place? Or saw it advertised? Maybe I don’t frequent the same media spaces as kids do (that’s probably a good thing), but for something so good to come out with so little fanfare was fucking weird.

But then, on further investigation, Disney are careful with what they choose to shout about, because when they do, they’re fucking noisy (anyone else remember the endless Pirates of the Caribbean 4 promotion – I didn’t see the movie out of spite, which was quite the sacrifice considering I fancied the entire cast). Take their  Facebook page – there’s a really cool lightness of touch about it. It’s well curated and up-to-date, and as such, the level of interactivity from the audience repays that intern’s efforts triplefold. There’s no hard sell in their social media strategy – it’s more about capitalising on what they have already done. Maybe it’s because the company is now 90 years old, but I feel like this is at the heart of how Disney stay on top, and will continue to do so in 2014. Frozen didn’t need to waste money on pop-up ice-skating rinks and giving out free plastic snowflakes – if you have kids and disposable income, you were going anyway, because you can always count on Disney to shut your tinies’ gobs for five minutes.

This “chill out and let everyone else do the work” approach proves itself even better with older audiences –  Disney’s back catalogue is manipulated into high-traffic content several times a week, by distinctly 21st century news sites such as Mashable and Buzzfeed. Recent examples includes Buzzfeed’s Disney Princesses as Pop Culture Heroines , or these 11 Business Tactics from Disney Villains. Artistically, Disney’s the gift that keeps on giving – new Disney fan-art, like these  pin-ups, pop up all the time on digital art hub DeviantArt. This is lazily canny of Disney – by capitalizing on the marketing and creative already developed around each film, that initial work creates this dedicated brand loyalty which prompts influential individuals to keep Disney’s classic characters at the forefront of popular culture, with little innovation or input needed from The Mouse House themselves.

Aurora as Daenerys Targaryen. I KNOW.

However, that isn’t to say Disney are content to piggyback their new material onto what they’ve already accomplished with their old. Disney Interactive’s Co-President, John Pleasants, aims to support Disney’s movies and characters, just like his predecessors, but with two additions  – to develop new intellectual property for Disney, and to craft a digital network with as much heft as their TV network.

One way they’re going about it is this thing called Disney Infinity – I had to ask my 7-year-old niece what this was, and even though she explained, I still don’t understand, which means it must be incredible, right? Suffice it to say that children, the world’s biggest hustlers, love it, and with more than a million copies sold worldwide, I can’t argue with that. What I can get way more on board with is how Disney have left no stone unturned with this one – gaming is usually a world of its own, or at best, tied to one movie/book as a secondary promotional material. Disney doesn’t believe in that one-way marketing relationship. There are physical toys of all the characters (spanning all of Disney’s history, from Snow White to Frozen) and the usual branded merch you see in the Disney Store, as well as in-game purchases and game developments you can buy on discs. You can expand the Disney Infinity world both in your imagination and in your own two hands. I’m totally overstimulated by the idea, and I am distinctly not six years old. 

This kid looks like I did the first time I found out I was going to Disneyland.

One area where Disney aren’t keeping up is technology. That is, however, because they are leading the pack. I don’t want to say much about this, because it involves algorithms and other words that make me upset, but even if you don’t think you want to look at some snow, LOOK AT SOME FUCKING SNOW.

I wanted to write this piece because I wanted to understand how Disney do what they do – see if maybe it’s their confidence, sprung from experience which allow them to not just innovate technologically, but culturally. Frozen is, for me, Disney’s first feminist feature film, and it’s going to make a shedload of money and tons of little girls and boys are going to see it, and for once, take away a message that isn’t going to land them in therapist’s office 20 years from now. Not only that, but they get to see some really cool groundbreaking shit with their own two eyes while they’re at it. 

Fuck it, I’m 22, I’m an adult who can see a Disney movie twice in one week if I want, right?

A Plea for SoulCycle

I’ve just finished a marketing internship with a huge media company in London, but one habit I’m still clinging to is catching up on all the cool shit from the day before in the early morning. (It’s nice not to have all the tall people having a cheeky over-shoulder read on the Tube). A few days ago, I found about about SoulCycle, the high-end spinning craze totally taking over the US at the moment. I mean, this is obviously insane:

These people all look like they need an ego check and a cup of tea, but I want to be one of them.

When I can be bothered, (i.e. now I’m unemployed again) I absolutely adore spinning. The official description is something something RPM, something something motivational, varying terrains, blah. All I heard was that it burns loads of calories and is quite fun, if you’re into that sort of thing. I went, I sweat directly into my eyeballs, and I haven’t looked back since, mostly because I can’t due to sweaty-eyeball blindness. For real, check it out:

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Personally, I just like that it goes down in a dark, sweaty room, often strobe-lit, while someone taut and anonymous yells at you for an hour – i.e. just like clubbing, but with sweat and endorphins instead of vodka and shame! I find this the absolute height of soothing (I’m aware that enjoying hazy anonymity and strangers disciplining me is probably symptomatic of something my shrink is going to enjoy 5-10 years from now). It’s also part of the reason I’m convinced that SoulCycle will be my new God when it comes to London in 2014.

This awesome piece from FastCompany.com calls SoulCycle a startup – in fact, the first Soul Cycle opened in 2006, which, just for perspective, was nearly eight years ago, and it’s only just become a thing. As a total newbie to business, I always assumed that the really successful businesses, the ones that become part of our cultural vernacular and way of life, were just great ideas which had dropped into the market at the just the right time. I believed that things like Facebook and Google relied mostly on the strength of innovative thought. SoulCycle shows you that great ideas can be built over time, and are all the better for it.

Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice opened the first SoulCycle in 2006, and the brand went into partnership with Equinox Gyms in 2011, which solved their initial funding problems. The founders use a lot of words like ‘unique’ and ‘magic’ and ‘dedication’ in interviews, which just speaks to their totally unconventional and optimistic approach to their success. They never advertise, 79% of their staff permanent full-time employees with proper benefits and holiday time, and their branded products (from Christmas tree decorations to hideous/awesome trucker hats) make up 12% of their total revenue. The classes themselves have been described as something between Burning Man Festival and a gospel church, with the added bonus of some spinning to custom playlists for the $34 (£22) per class fee. This is how that works (I couldn’t sell water in the desert for £22 a bottle).

There’s a lot of opinion pieces about SoulCycle – whilst plenty of them are negative, the positive ones are from devotees so happy that that’s where the money’s coming from, and the negative ones create buzz you just can’t buy. From what I can tell as well, there’s an element of wish fulfilment about SoulCycle – people always want to be happier, fitter, more at peace with themselves (read: thinner). SoulCycle isn’t even pretending that you can’t buy that if you really want to – and that kind of honesty’s refreshing in an exercise industry built on body-shaming and making promises that can’t be kept.

Fuck it, I’m 22 – if there’s any time to believe that a bike can change my life, it’s best to get it over with now.