The mayor of London’s New Year’s Eve 'multi-sensory' fireworks display was billed as a world's first, thanks to a partnership with Vodafone and experimental food scientists Bompas & Parr. Space managing partner David Atkinson braved the rain to check it out.
Fireworks you can taste and smell as well as see and hear? Of course I wanted to experience this first-hand, so off I went to the South Bank.In the weeks before the event, Vodafone had announced the launch of its new Firsts initiative – a social media strategy that focuses on people achieving remarkable things whilst connected through technology. This multi-sensory fireworks show was to be the Firsts’ kick-off event. So there I was right in front of the London Eye. In the build-up to midnight, Vodafone handed out special branded packs loaded with scratch and sniff programmes, LED wristbands and flavoured sweets to 10,000 revellers. It all looked very impressive and well-organised, although from where I was standing by the Hungerford Bridge I wasn’t close enough to get one. Perhaps a bigger catchment might have been in order?
But I can’t fault the anticipation in the lead-up to midnight. We had projections onto the Shell Centre including the countdowns (20 minutes, 10, 5, and then second by second to midnight), giant fruit – especially strawberries – and the occasional Vodafone logo. And as Big Ben struck midnight, a special audio programme was timed to hit alongside the pyrotechnic display – if a little difficult to hear through the wind and rain.
That’s when the full sensory bombardment began. Edible flakes of peach snow and banana confetti, orange flavoured bubbles and clouds of fruity mist rained down upon hundreds of people in this key viewing area – in a ‘taste’-led interpretation of the firework colours.
As an exponent of sensory marketing, I was fascinated in how taste and smell could be achieved on such a massive scale for the first time. The fireworks blanketed the sky, presumably trying to overcome the wind and rain and reach as many areas of the viewing audience as possible. The visual treat was incredible and, on its own, did not disappoint. This alone was worth the wait.
But adding the smell of the fruit was an incredible extra. My immediate thoughts were of recreating the spectacle of opening a bottle of champagne, with gold as the primary colour of the exploding sparks and the scented bouquet that follows. Sadly I wasn’t close enough to taste the fireworks, but I did catch some pleasant fruity scents amidst the classic cordite aroma. Whilst firework displays can usually only raise the stakes each year through budget increases and bigger bangs, this took the experience to a whole new level.
Sensory marketing of this kind is proving increasingly popular among marketers, and Bompas & Parr is already known for projects including giant jelly works, tasting drive-thrus and turning the River Lea emerald green. Firsts is also an important development for Vodafone, demonstrating the brand’s openness and willingness to explore ways to engage an always-on, thrill-seeking audience. But even if the scented portion of the display was only experienced by a select few, it was certainly one of the most talked about New Year events. The media and social coverage proved that word of mouth is still a powerful tool to build anticipation for any campaign. While for those who weren’t there, Vodafone created an AR app enabling users to view the fireworks from their smartphones and tablets.
Overall, it was a great night and an intriguing creative concept, if rather lessened by the awful weather. I just hope those lucky few who tasted the fireworks enjoyed the experience as well.