“Misleading.” “Thrown Together.” “Would not do this again, nor would I recommend.” “Total Waste of Money.” Certainly not the kind of reviews event planners and exhibit curators want to receive. Attractions and events billed as immersive can be tricky because sensory experiences are subjective to individual guest expectations and perspectives. Creating an immersive experience requires theme design planning, equipment and technology purchase and application, but most importantly, a story. SensoryCo believes, as do many industry pros known for their famed themed environments, that telling a story is an art. Storytelling with sensory special effects can add layers to personalize an experience as well as leave lasting impressions. Good and bad.
Simple With a Deep Impact
Over the holidays, our SensoryCo team toured three different Holiday Lite experiences. The first was a simple vignette designed to simply share in the holiday spirit. Set in a suburban court, three families set a spectacular scene filled with a decorative display of inflatables that told the narrative of Santa and his Reindeer spreading joy with toys and treats. Large landscape pine trees illuminated the background and were lit with monochromatic night blue lights to create a simple background that allowed the focus to be the storied figures. A small sign at the center of the scene showcased a tribute to the families of the neighborhood that work so hard to put together this annual event. There wasn’t food or music, and no one left the car. It was definitely not immersive…but it left a positive impression nonetheless.
When Sensory Special Effects Don’t Help Tell the Story
The second attraction was marketed to the region as a larger-than-life “Winter Wonderland.” Its producers boasted an immersive experience set upon 15 acres of illuminations, mazes, rides, meet and greets with characters and ice skating. The price per entry was commensurate with the advertised experience that would take guests through different lighted lands that included a fantasy zone, a carnival, a romantic rose garden and a “Wishing Tree”. Our team eagerly entered the venue and were dazzled by the sheer volume of lights. Truly captivating. There were snow machines, bubble machines, food vendors, and elfish characters ready for their photos. Designed as an interactive, immersive experience, this event seemingly had the ability to engage with its guests to create wonderful memories. All the sensory special effects that would enhance a fairytale. However, there was no cohesive story. Without any signage or pathway, we wandered aimlessly through a patchwork of mini-themed footprints that were nothing more than random selfie opportunities. Without a central story, the experience was lost. Our reviews were less than stellar and the teens that were on the property were justifiably bored.
Our final excursion invited guests to a zoo sanctuary for “Wild Lites”. We went in with very limited expectations and we were pleasantly surprised. The event had specific places for eating (kettle-corn and hot cocoa), visit with Santa in a hay laden barn, and winding paths that were not only illuminated with bright lights but created a direction and pathway to move guests through the park. The lights were strategically placed to not disturb the natural living environments of the animal residents while docents were stationed at each habitat to share stories about rescue, rehab, research, and the habits of each animal. The venue was packed with a happy crowd of guests, young and old, gathered to benefit the non-profit efforts of the zoo while enjoying a family-friendly sensory experience that is sure to become an annual tradition. We gazed at the exhibits in awe. They were beautiful and the story so heartfelt in its simplicity that it left a positive lasting memory. Sights. Sounds. Tastes. Interaction with Exhibits. Story. Memories.
All three experiences left impressions upon its guests. Not all great! There is a balance between technology and atmospherics and telling a story. The pros know. Storytelling is at the essence of an immersive, engaging, and memorable experience. Not all stories need to be told with special effects to make an impression. However, imagine the impact on attendance, return guests, reviews, and the bottom line if storytelling with sensory special effects were artfully integrated into Holiday Lite experiences. Cheers!