3 Things We Learned at Disney’s Experiential Pop-Up
In celebration of Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday, Disney debuted an immersive pop-up in NYC, and we were there for its grand opening. Here’s what we learned about marketing at Mickey: The True Original Exhibition…
In the last few years, Disney has become an expert at tapping into viral trends. From going Millennial pink to offering Instagrammable food items to leaning into brandom and nostalgia, the brand is consistently tapping into new ways to keep them a young consumer favorite. So, it’s no surprise that in honor of Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday the brand tapped into Gen Z and Millennials’ love for social-media-shareable experiences to create an immersive pop-up, celebrating the character’s enduring legacy via “larger-than-life multimedia art installations, photo-worthy experiences and even a few surprises.” Inspired by “Mickey’s status as a ‘true original’ and his consistent impact on the arts and creativity in all its forms,” fans are not only promised a glimpse into the Disney Archives collection—including the Academy Award for the Creation of Mickey Mouse—but also installations from more than 20 contemporary artists worldwide.
Running until mid-February in New York City, Mickey: The True Original Exhibition had its grand opening last week, and we were there to snap pics while we learned some lessons about experiential marketing from the masters. Here’s what the Disney-powered pop-up taught us about branded experiences:
Lesson 1: Tell a story that goes beyond the Instagram pic.
Mickey: The True Original Exhibition isn’t just about the photo-ops. (Although there are Instagrammable moments galore, of course.) The exhibit also serves as a history lesson, depicting the evolution of Mickey Mouse from his big screen debut in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie to his first appearance in the full-length feature Fantasia. As visitors walk through the 16,000-foot downtown Manhattan space they can watch this journey unfold—not only through footage and items from Disney’s archives, but with modern interpretations from contemporary artists. This celebration of old and new intermingles throughout: In the Steamboat Willie room, the original short screens are placed side by side with frame-by-frame replicas created by dozens of artists in their own various styles, and in another room, classic memorabilia is side by side with Mickey Mouse merchandise from Marc Jacobs, Coach, Opening Ceremony, and others. Rather than a disjointed collection of Mickey-themed displays, a brand story is being told all the way through, making visitors feel they’re taking away something more than a lot of fun pics.
Lesson 2: Play well with other brands.
Disney wasn’t alone in creating their pop-up experience. Prior to opening the exhibit’s doors, Disney collaborated with multiple brands to create products in honor of the occasion. These branded collaborations make seamless appearances throughout the space. For example, ice cream brand Ample Hills set up shop in the ‘90s Mickey Mouse Club room, fitting in with the retro vibe of the show’s set. There, they serve their special edition birthday cake flavor created in collaboration with Disney for the event. In another room, set up as an interactive game show set, a Google Home Mini device propped on a Mickey Mouse stand (sold by Google) serves as a host and asks questions. At the end of the exhibit, a photo gallery put together by Beats by Dre and Disney can be found, spotlighting the work of five artists across the world who told their personal story through polaroid photographs. Special Mickey Mouse edition Beats by Dre headphones can also be found throughout the exhibit to accompany audio-enabled displays. Although noticeable, these branded moments were unintrusive—coming across less as marketing, and more as a part of the experience.
Lesson 3: Keep it all Instagram-worthy and immersive.
Lesson 1 stands, but in the age of Instagram, visitors need their social media moments. These photo-ops are integrated throughout the experience—and many times serve to immerse visitors in Mickey Mouse’s world. From climbing into a scene from Steamboat Willie (life-size boat included) to posing under an oversized replica of Mickey Mouse’s Fantasia magician hat, fans are invited to interact and pose with the displays. In another room, a glow-in-the-dark oasis with a beautiful mess of Disney memorabilia encourages visitors to whip out their phones and share the eye-catching moment. Then there are the contemporary art pieces, which are arguably just as immersive as the rest of the experience. Artist Brian Bress’s video installation appears to be a one-dimensional drawing of Mickey Mouse faces until pieces are ripped away to reveal someone behind it. A Keith Haring illustration of an old school Mickey Mouse extends beyond the frame and onto the wall and floor it displays on, and a psychedelic painting by Keiichi Tanaami immerses the viewer in its colors. Whether you’re there to earn likes on your resulting posts or just to take in the art, everything is worthy of being shared, inviting participants to spread the word, and keep broadcasting the brand love.
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