Experience and Interaction: Barrier of Entry vs. Quality of Engagement

February 13, 2017


Peter McKinney
ECD | Napoleon Creative
Director of Experiential

When discussing any sort of experience marketing it might seem counterintuitive to talk about creating ‘barriers’ to interaction, and yet, seemingly hardwired into our DNA, we tend to place more value on those achievements for which we must expend some extra effort. It follows then that the impact and perceived value of any experience may benefit from having to ‘work for it’ a bit.

The “L.E.D. – Light. Emotion. Data.” installation for True Car’s sponsorship of the Santa Monica Pier – Twilight Concert Series is an interesting example of what I’m talking about.

As part of the overall concert experience Truecar commissioned the creation of a massive sculptural art piece that featured over 70,000 individual LEDs. It was connected to a media server and concert goers were able to interact, controlling the animated patterns of light on the sculpture through 4 individual inputs.

Input 1: Infrared Scan
– Very simply this input scanned the density and movement of the crowd on the pier and translated it into a moving display on the sculpture. While the resulting light show was beautiful, most of the concert goers weren’t even aware that their presence was having an impact. Barrier of entry to that experience? Zero. All you had to do to participate was show up.  On most concert nights there were 5,000 people or so on the pier who ‘got’ this experience, but its impact for them and the resulting quality of engagement was pretty minimal.

Input 2: Audio Reactive
– This essentially turned the sculpture into a huge VU meter that reacted to the music and the crowd noise. On any given concert night maybe half the crowd realized this was happening and maybe they thought, ‘Hey that’s cool!’ Barrier of entry was a little higher and the resulting quality of their engagement increased slightly as well.

Input 3: Gesture Control
– Lasers were used to create invisible ‘planes’ around the installation. When those planes were broken the patterns on the sculpture were affected in real time. This gave participants the ability to control the sculpture’s output with their hands. An even higher barrier of entry to the experience: you had to discover the feature and interact physically with it. As a result the quality of individual engagement increased significantly as people played with the installation and took photos of themselves in front of it.

Input 4: “TrueEmotion” Web-App
– A web-app was designed into which we integrated an emotion recognition API. The app was delivered to concert goers through a captive portal on the Truecar-sponsored free wifi network. Users were invited to snap a ‘selfie’ and their image was analyzed and returned to them as a Truecar-branded, animated “L.E.D.” version of themselves, along with one of 16 distinct emotional states as determined by the API, “True Happiness”, “True Joy”, “True Calm”, etc. This user-generated content was shareable from within the app. At the very same time each image was, via a websocket connection, also displayed on the sculpture in real time. In this instance the barrier of entry was significant, and while the number of people who used the app and uploaded photos was a fraction of the total number of event attendees, the quality of their interaction, the perceived value of the experience, and the reach achieved through social sharing, increased exponentially.

No revelation that content generation, and in particular
user-generated content, is one of the keys to the success of any experiential activation strategy. Planning and building brand experiences that are ‘content engines’; living at the center of a robust and diverse content ecosystem, provides enormous potential for both reach and amplification.

The take-away is that as experience marketers, while we should design activations that allow, if not encourage, high levels of participation and mass appeal, we also shouldn’t be afraid to challenge people at least a little, even if it means a drop in the number of participants. Better to deliver an experience for few that is truly impactful and emotionally engaging, that’s how you turn people into long lasting brand advocates.



Peter McKinney
ECD | Napoleon Creative
Director of Experiential




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