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5 ways to make your digital immersive entertainment more theatrical

By Daniel Hemsley

February 18, 2021 | 8 min read

Experience has gone digital in lockdown – ​Daniel Hemsley, managing director of Swamp Motel, summarises how to get a bit more out of unique digital launches.


Digital immersive entertainment is the new kid on the block, an emerging genre of entertainment that blends the visceral excitement and artistry of theatre, with the interactivity and accessibility that digital tools and the internet enables. The pandemic has seen many savvy theatrical businesses move their live offering online to great success.

We’re one of those businesses. We entertain more than 2,000 audience members a week through our original experiences, Plymouth Point and The Mermaid’s Tongue. Our immersive theatre-goers spend 60-90 minutes engaged in our experiences – valuable time in building long-term relationships with people and really making your brand stick.

Brands that choose to participate in culture have a choice to lead or to follow. As ever, the greater the risk the greater the reward, and brands who do choose to lead will be in a position to reap the more substantial rewards. Here are five ways you can do that.

Replace the red carpet movie premiere

Taking a launch event online can be the focal point for the press and media by giving them exclusive access to the experience before anyone else. But the joy of taking it virtual – either as well or instead of – means that it’s simple and cost-efficient enough to give the fans access too.

Instead of the tired format of the red carpet, press photos, drinks, and a screening, a virtual event can become a truly memorable one, with a scripted original experience that immerses guests into an expanded story world from the film or show.

It can be set in between episodes, or just before the start of the film, or even in one of the locations from the film/series that audiences get to explore in-depth. Even though your guests are experiencing it from their homes, you can incorporate teamwork and social moments that make it live for the audience. You can still serve the drinks, through at-home cocktail kits, and mingle it with moments written into the narrative.

With the explosion of different mediums, audiences have come to expect stories to be told across multiple platforms that merge the real world with digital. The best films or TV shows have the power to become defining points in our cultural history and in those cases, the impact of the launch event should reflect the momentousness of a picture landing. Check out HBO Max’s ‘Love Life’ virtual premier and Amazon Studios, ‘Homecoming’ launch for more inspiration.

The at-home product launch

Product launch parties are all about getting products in the hands of the right people, those who are going to write about it, talk about it, and get photographed with it. Add some experiential brand storytelling and deliver everything through an at-home immersive experience.

Write an immersive story world around your product or brand that allows your audience to discover new elements of your brand or product design. Hide story clues on product packaging that get people unboxing or exploring your product in more playful ways. Make the product the leading role in a more cinematic, passive experience, or make it a tool as part of a more interactive, escape room-like experience.

Ultimately, a digital immersive launch experience done well will blur the boundaries between digital and physical, real-world and fiction. It will give your product maximum talkability and put your brand at the forefront of contemporary culture.

Drive pre-sales for your new game release

At the start of 2019, we conceived a live experience launch of Resident Evil 2 – part escape room, part immersive horror movie – in which audiences had to get past zombies, solve puzzles and overcome extreme frights in order to reach the Safe House. While this was a real world event, the same thrills and challenges can be perfectly recreated for an online audience. We might not be able to turn people’s homes into police stations, but we can turn people into detectives, or zombies, or adventurers, or space explorers – you name it. Through giving the audience agency to drive the storyline forwards, digital immersive experiences are the perfect way to get enthusiasts excited about new game releases.

Gaming fans are often left waiting for years for the next chapter or sequel in a gaming franchise, with launch dates frustratingly getting pushed back by months or years – Hogwarts Legacy being a recent example. With production timelines relatively quick (it takes around eight-10 weeks to design and deliver a storytelling experience like this) it needn’t be prohibitive to produce a thrilling teaser of a story world in the lead up to launch, generating buzz and awareness around presale windows and helping to ease the frustration of fans.

Online store launch

Using immersive experiences to mark the launch of an online store is not a case of adapting a physical event for an online audience, but instead presents the perfect opportunity to create a whole new concept. With more retailers either pivoting to DTC or launching in that space the competition is stiff and the need for marketing greater than ever.

An immersive launch event could see parts of the store integrated into the gameplay, with participants exploring part of the online store as a feature of the challenge. Hiding prizes in the ‘store’ for people to find or seeding the principles or themes of the store into the game are the perfect way to create buzz and certainly beat the old #ad Instagram Stories post.

The launch of a new online store is your chance to write the story from scratch. By creating an original narrative around your brand, style, or raison d’etre, you can invite consumers to engage with your journey from the outset, creating a connection that will result in not just an invaluable loyalty but the ultimate for any marketer – word of mouth. Nothing will launch your store onto the retail scene faster with more impact than an interactive, playful virtual event.

Drive new business

B2B lead generation is an essential though, by definition, often a rather unsexy aspect of business. You can create a fun, compelling, even comedic narrative-based experience that presents key information, genuine USPs and important brand messages in a refreshing way to ensure they cut through and actually land.

This is often hard to visualize, so a case in point: late last year we worked with Verizon Media to demonstrate how the growing virtualization of our world is a benefit to be used for our own good. Immersion 2021 was created to showcase their client offering, from creative technology and 3D production to adtech and data solutions. A Halloween escape room experience saw participants trapped in a virtual room and left to explore 3D spaces, listen to audio or discover video files in order to gather the information that would help them crack a code and escape to the next room.

There’s no stronger route to emotional connection than gameplay. And while lockdown has precipitated the speed with which consumers have embraced it, there is no doubt that it will continue to thrive in a digital format once live theatrical experiences resume.

From streaming new release blockbusters from our own living rooms to embracing emerging lifestyle technologies such as Peloton, consumers are not going to pick up where they left off in terms of media consumption.

Daniel Hemsley is managing director of Swamp Motel.

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