A ‘Theory of Everything’ for Experiential Marketing

Within the field of theoretical physics, the idea of a Theory of Everything (TOE) is a conceptual model unifying multiple prevailing concepts that each generally, independently, to explain everything in the universe — from quantum particles to spiral galaxies. While learned physicists may be able to explain the quantum world using each of the individual models, they cannot (yet) describe it in a way which includes the individual concepts of each — meaning that the TOE remains elusive.

While it may seem like a stretch to draw a parallel between theoretical physics and experiential marketing, the fact is that I foresee a coming ‘promised land’ within the field of experiential marketing when we will reach its own sort of TOE — where enthusiasts in the space will begin to talk of a merged concept that includes what can currently be described as distinct ‘Big Screen’ and ‘Small Screen’ executions.

Only when the silos that separate these two ‘distinct’ fiefdoms of experiential marketing are united will the field truly begin to deliver on its promise of allowing brands to create interactive experiences that at once empower the individual consumer to control their engagement AND elevate that experience such that the empowered consumer truly becomes part of a brand experience larger than themselves.


First some background…

Big Screen

In the world of Experiential Marketing, ‘Big screen’ executions are characterized by any viewing area larger than a TV but, let’s say, smaller than the Moon. These are your DOOH and standard billboards, Jumbotrons, custom digital display and physical or tactical units utilized at Events & Trades shows. There are also new generations of large virtual screens which incorporate lasers and holographic projections on custom plastics, glass and water vapor screens. And now, we can consider the individual event, stadium, festival, parade and even portions of the sky above the aforementioned events as palettes to generate experiences and awe the viewers.

The Big screen ecosystem provides myriad opportunities to target audiences while they are away from home, engrossed in certain activities, receptive to new information and ready to engage. In addition to the ‘Wow!” factor that can be created by these ‘bigger than life’ branding executions, one key psychological benefit is the degree to which users find themselves engaged in a brand ‘along side’ of many others at the same moment. One need only think of the collective ooh-ing and aww-ing that happens amongst a group of strangers when the look skyward at a fireworks display. While the sense of awe is not inherently magnified when witnessed in a group, the collective audible expressions speak to the added experience of engaging as a group.

Small Screens

‘Small screen’ executions are those that are viewed via more personally on any screen size — from wearable to TVs and similar sized monitors — though most utilize the user’s smartphone as a catalyst , displaying results of AR/XR/VR activations. Most commonly, these one-to-one personal activations involve ‘augmenting’ a user’s perception of reality with an additional layer of brand engagement. Consider the product packaging that ‘comes to life,’ revealing a 3D element (brand spokesperson/mascot, treasure map, vacation destination, etc…) right there ‘infront’ of the user.

Since these viewers of these small screen executions are, by definition, are in a physically paused position, they are ideal for messages that are emotional, brand oriented and story-based. The hosts and/or advertisers can use more complex visuals with small screens because the closer screen simply makes them easier to focus on. Similarly, a smaller screen also triggers our thirst for convenience and quick hits of multitasking, including online searches, reading news headlines or checking social media accounts, so many executions induce these kinds of activities as their ‘call to actions,’ and are more closely associated with a ‘direct response.’

Putting a TOE in the Water

While the history of experiential marketing has been this ‘choice’ between collective engagement and personal experience, more and more the space is beginning to open to a Theory of Everything perspective. Today, unified experiences, where users leverage their small screen to engage in a bigger (and collective) experience, are becoming the norm.

Consider the Unilever execution what united the small and big screen experiences by allowing users to ‘fling’ virtual paintballs from their own phones (a personal brand engagement) up onto one of the largest screens in Times Square, where their paintballs would join with those flung by multitudes of others. This small/big screen integration was a clear example of a TOE view of what can be accomplished when the siloed perception of the field is set aside.

Another example of this TOE vision of augmented reality engagement is the experience that an entire crowd at a baseball game had when collectively lifted their smartphones to the sky above the field and all witnessed the same Dragon ‘attacking’ the stadium — from their respective angles.


Richard’s Vision

Rather than guiding clients through a process of choosing a Big Screen or Small Screen execution, we see our mission as guiding our clients’ understanding of all that is possible in the experiential marketing space, to truly see the unified Theory of Everything.

We first and foremost, endeavor to understand the user experience and actions they are hoping to create, and then help them use screens as experiences that deliver on their goals.

We believe that both engagement and conversion are important and possible, and that the most important thing is that the executions make SENSE.

And we believe that, increasingly, these immersive executions should involve both ‘Small’ and ‘Big’ screen elements — delivering on the TOE vision of the future.