SLEEP NO MORE: The Analog Experience

SLEEP NO MORE: The Analog Experience

By Ebenezer Bond

Ebenezer Bond is the Founder and CEO of Invisible North. A leader in experiential marketing and cultural movement building, he works intimately with the world's leading brands, agencies and artists to create and run some of the most innovative experiential marketing campaigns and events. 


Everything in marketing especially in Experiential Marketing should start and end with intentional design. 


Experiential Marketing at its very core essence is completely and totally analog. It is about that intangible visceral emotional experience that only humans can live. As we have moved more and more into the digital world where new generations are no longer adopters of tech but natives (remember that teens today don’t remember a time before YouTube) the one thing that digital doesn’t do well (yet) is give us the 5 sense touch that brings things to life 360 degrees.


You can collect cultural insights and data that will quantify and validate a marketing strategy or direction in design but at the end of the day the most successful campaigns, the ones that resonate, are often outliers driven by creativity and nuanced understanding of trends and culture. They are bold and take people out of their ordinary lives and challenge their normal perceptions while speaking to the intangible that combines smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound. 





Over the course of my career I’ve developed campaigns and activations that were big and splashy with famous artists and celebrities, and campaigns that were more bespoke hand crafted and nuanced with a distinct lack of celebrity. Both have their merit and both are good at creating ROI for my clients. However, the ones with legs, the ones that really resonate and have consumers buzzing and talking are the ones immersed in detail.


Here is one example I would like to look at for context. This is purely for the context of the power of detail and how detail informs strategy to make a wildly successful campaign with no social media and no digital component. This is an example of marketing strategy built into and around experience:




Many years ago I worked on the launch of the legendary immersive show “Sleep No More”. The show is a take on MacBeth set in a 1930s hotel told through a film noir lense. There is no dialogue, the actors tell the story through dance and light cues. The sets were built over the course of 6 months and are impeccably detailed with thousands of taxidermy animals, hundreds of pounds of dirt, plants, stone, and water, scents are pumped into each room and every prop is available to pick up and play with..each scrap of paper or journal references the storyline somehow as if the audience were snooping through someone’s belongings. In addition, the audience members choose their own adventure across 5 floors and 80,000 square feet of secret rooms and sets. You can see the show 8 times before you will see everything. With such a commitment to detail, (and the producers locked in to a 10 year lease) the challenge here was how to build long term sustainable buzz without giving up any of the visceral details that make the show so unique and magical. 


We focused on three things - secrecy, scarcity, and desire. First, there was a leak to the NY Times travel section about this fake 1930s hotel actually opening as a hotel. We successfully confused the press and led them down a path of confusion that created buzz. It was a secret hotel opening in an old night club in one of the hottest neighborhoods in Manhattan yet no one knew much about it. All inquiries for more details were met with silence. 


Second, when we were ready to start having guests it was a cryptic invitation for a “one week only” “invite only” show. It was a very select group of people invited to this popup limited run show. Each week we “extended” the run “a few more days” and invited a 100 or more influential guests. As far as the public knew, the show was always just about to end it’s run. Buzz grew and inquiries started flooding in. 


Finally, there were initial ground rules put into place to retain secrecy and fuel desire. Guest groups were separated so no two people would ever experience the same thing. No cell phones were allowed. And the only element that guests would take home were the masks that all guests were asked to wear through the course of the show -- these masks cover the mouth making it hard to see chins and mouths and hear people if they try and speak...muffling any voices in more secrecy. 


Each week for months the show was extended and more tickets were issued always selling out immediately. Each participant had a purely unique experience and after 6 months the buzz was deafening and the waitlist long. The show had enough momentum to start their next phase. 


This case study is not the most traditional. The show was already built. It was wildly audacious. It was wildly expensive to produce. The real challenge was how to make it sustainable. How to sell the public on something visceral and intangible that needed to remain secret to succeed and how to do it in a purely analog way. We did that. //