In A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media I write more generally about the onset of experience capitalism. Here’s a link to a short piece by Cynthia B. Meyers (published by open access journal Flow) based on a visit to The World of Coca-Cola. It provides some useful insights into a significant component part of experiential capitalism.
The World of Coca-Cola, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a museum/indoor theme park that includes a gift shop and a tasting room, and is a prime example of effective experiential advertising. In exchange for their ticket purchase and their attention, visitors are educated in all things Coca-Cola: its history, icons, philosophy, and products. In March 2016, I joined other visitors, paying $16 for the privilege of standing in a series of lines: first to watch an introductory film showing happy people of all kinds consuming Coke everywhere; then to have a photo taken with an actor costumed as the advertising icon polar bear; then to enter “The Vault,” where the secret formula is supposed to be safely stored, away from competitors; and finally to taste Coca-Cola products from all over the world. Following the paths and the lines, visitors are ultimately funneled through a store where they can buy more Coca-Cola advertising to take home with them: toys, games, clothing, dishes, and mementoes.
“Advertising” usually differs from “content” in that content is what the audience wants to see, while advertising is what the advertiser wants the audience to see, so much so that advertisers pay media companies to expose audiences to it. Magazine ads appear next to magazine articles, television commercials interrupt narrative programs, and it is easy to tell which is content and which advertising. The media companies finance and create the content to attract audience segments advertisers target; the advertisers (“brands”) and their agencies create the interstitial advertising and pay for its placement. This distinction between is harder to parse in the World of Coca-Cola. Most people claim they strive to avoid advertising, but visitors to the World of Coca-Cola pay money for it. Perhaps not many brands can get away with this. In light of the decline of linear television, however, which developed as the single most powerful brand-image building medium ever by forcibly exposing mass audiences to interstitial commercials, such experiential advertising strategies may be a sign of things to come.