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The Opening Act

BY Ranjit Raina

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Airports sometimes take you to the strangest places. In my case, it was back into to the future. My phone buzzed, and a WhatsApp notification flashed on the screen. “Read this … “, the short message read, and was accompanied by a PDF. It was the Geometry report on the Singles’ Day sale in China. It was a fascinating read on the biggest shopping event on the planet (but that’s for another day). However, what stayed with me was an observation about merging entertainment and retail. The largest e-commerce event in the world was anchored by a mega real-life entertainment experience. “Entertainment merges with retail and yes there is an opening act”. The catchy copy was accompanied by images from the event. The ‘Opening Act’ reference transported me back in time.

The backlit silhouette of a dancer leaping across the stage, it was the 10-year celebration of a hotel. In attendance were the who’s who of Delhi. The image remains an indelible memory even after two decades. And then began a montage of memories. The football World Cup opening ceremony reimagined for an annual sales conference or the jugalbandi between an Italian opera singer and a Rajasthani folk artist. It took me back to when we were producing a music album for a pager company to create a gamification engagement that encouraged people to use the radical new technology to play antakshari (at that time we didn’t know it was called gamification!) or the IVR based one-minute solve-it-yourself murder mysteries for a telecom company. From truck stops to the high streets, and from the Kumbh to stadiums. Sometimes pedestrian and sometimes the epitome of prestige. Yes, there has always been an opening act. The live experience humanizes the interaction between a brand, its product and the consumers. If created thoughtfully, it also allows brands to distinguish themselves beyond the product.
Experiences always become more relevant when they are reimagined in the context of the world around us. When I look back at the memories that stay, the most successful experiences have always seamlessly tapped into the consumer’s world in the most unobtrusive ways. Exactly the way you and I interact with technology around us.
Today technology has ushered a new age. The physical and digital are no longer separate. In this new Phygital age the experience too has become multi-faceted.
Technology allows us to reimagine experiences in ways we never thought were possible. Today we understand our audiences better, which in turn has influenced both creation and delivery of experiences. We understand how people engage and can gather insights from experiences.
From the time of landlines, trunk calls and dial-up modems to an always connected life, the live experience has always been the opening act in marketing but never before has its impact been more pertinent. Now often it is the only act! Because in a world where everything is commoditized, experiences have a unique value. They unite the omnichannel world. The opening act is no longer just a song-and-dance routine to grab attention. When used intelligently in the new world of commerce it is the Pied Piper of purchase.
A flight and few meetings later I found myself wrangled into a rehearsal room as audience for an interactive theatre concept we were creating for a luxury car brand. It was very good, it also reminded me that very few jobs have previews of live performances as part of the job description. Yes, there has always been an opening act, but the experience is altered!

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