VMLY&R has launched its flagship ‘immersive experience space’, The Home of Connected Brands. After an early tour of the space, The Drum sat down with global chief digital officer Debbie Elison to talk about the future of hybrid experience and new modes of connection.
Today, VMLY&R has unveiled a space dedicated to exploring frontiers in brand technology. Dubbed The Home for Connected Brands, the ‘experience space’ in WPP’s London home, the Sea Containers campus, will be a major pillar in the agency’s efforts to connect brands and consumers through tech.
Across six ‘experiences’ – ‘home’, ‘play’, ‘social’, ‘out of home’, ‘QSR’, ‘flagship 2.0’ – the agency will use the space to exhibit boundary-pushing technology, tailored to what their clients need.
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‘Flagship 2.0’ is the centerpiece: a revamped and relocated iteration of VMLY&R’s existing experience room where the agency will be able to road-test creative executions in immersive mock-ups of stores and other commercial places, incorporating insights from their connected commerce platform and other proprietary commerce tools.
Elsewhere in the space, you’ll see holographic store catalogues; storefront windows rigged for sound; gamified vending machines; the latest attempts at social-connected eyeglasses; interactive retail counters that display tailored information upon product touch; and a friendly interactive robot delivering soft drinks.
Talking exclusively with The Drum, global chief digital officer Debbie Elison says that it will not only house the agency’s new Centre of Learning Growth and Experience, but become the blueprint for similar experiences worldwide (next up: New York). The agency will maintain the space as a “forever changing environment”, rotating vendors and reshaping it according to client demands. “This has to be an organic space where things are always developing, always moving, always improving, because that’s the world that we live in,” says Elison.
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Investment is the agency’s own, with Elison spending half her time on the project this year alongside an internal creative team of 10, as well as various suppliers. Tech vendors have provided products and prototypes gratis in a “mutually-beneficial relationship”, allowing the agency to be “agnostic” about particular solutions and their relevance to clients, says Elison.
The space’s genesis, Elison tells The Drum, is an attempt to “bring to life our agency proposition around believing in the power of connected brands”. She hopes that clients will be able to “emotionally experience” and “feel immersed in” the work they do with VMLY&R.
Very on-theme, the play for the agency is a hybrid one: part business generation (“we’re going to show up in a way that no other agency can show up”); part expanding partnerships with existing clients (as “a space where we co-curate what we think the next generation of brand experiences should be”); with additional boons including staff training. “The return on investment,” hopes Elison, “will be multi-fold”.
More than just a tech room, Elison says she’s “trying to get away from it being a space of the latest gimmicks” in favor of a more unifying vision: “this is about connected experiences. While we’ve all been stuck at home, there’s a pent-up demand for experiences in whatever channel they may be, including physical.”
Regardless, gimmick and hype are hard to avoid, so “the space enables us to test out the latest innovations and some of them will be gimmicky. That’s okay. What’s important is that clients are able to touch and feel that and say, ‘actually, this might be a bit gimmicky, but it’s going to give a standout at shelf’.”
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“Our driver [is] adding value for our clients that are, quite frankly, navigating some really choppy seas, not just in the in the tech space, but more broadly. They’re trying to connect more authentically with people; trying to understand cultural nuances; technology; maturity in different markets and across different demographics. It’s not easy for brands, and this space is to help make it easier for brands to navigate that.”
Under the developing rubrics of ‘multichannel’, ‘omnichannel’ and whatever’s next, this predicament is often discussed as brands’ newfound responsibility to show up perfectly in every channel. For Elison, that way lies madness. “Our clients won’t have the resources to be everywhere across all channels, and won’t see the return on investment doing that. It’s about how we’re able to use products, tools and insights to map the consumer journey and understand what the moments that matter are. Which moments have the biggest influence on building brand equity and growth? What might be those three moments across a complex journey of 20 touchpoints? We’re able to really home in on those moments that matter and blow them up so that they can be as relevant as possible to people interacting with the brand”.