Author: rsadledein

The holidays offer opportunity a plenty for brands to stand-out (sometimes literally) and confess that they, and they alone, are where you should be spending all your money.

It goes without saying that some play this game better than others. Take a look at some of 2017’s very best holiday pop-ups (which tend to, we must confess, revolve around our shared love of a tipple or two).

Jingle Hells Christmas Pop-Up

Jingle Hells Christmas Pop-Up

1. Jingle Hells

This hilarious anti-Christmas pop-up bar has appeared in New York’s Lower East Side , helping all New Yorkers to take a break from New York’s relentless holiday cheer.

Enjoy the ceiling, which is covered in Christmas decorations, lights and sinister clusters of pill bottles. Visit ‘Very Bad Santa’s Workshop’, complete with alcoholic Santa and his big bag of coal. Or play Cheer Hunter, an 8-bit arcade game that invites you to shoot and slay turtle doves, snowmen and arctic puffins.

oblix Treehouse Christmas Pop-Up

oblix Treehouse Christmas Pop-Up

2. Tanqueray x oblix east

Much to Tanqueray’s delight, the holidays are for cocktails and good cheer. As such, they’ve (literally) elevated their brand by teaming up with oblix east, the bar at the top of London’s The Shard.

You’re greeted by an archway of leafy vines, before you make your way to the bar via roped walkway. oblix east has been transformed into the heart of a treehouse, with twisted tree trunks sprawling out from the bar, along with twinkling lights and eclectic antiquities.

Alongside the installation, oblix east will serve up a limited edition cocktail menu that draws inspiriton from the treehouse with citrus botanicals of Tanqueray No. TEN.

The South Pole Saloon

3. The South Pole Saloon

This is where Christmas goes to get naughty. In the wake of their epic escape from a life of enslavement to the evil fat cat Father Christmas, the Rebel Elves ventured out into the unforgiving landscape of the frozen arctic.

Legend has it that deep in the snow drifts of the South Pole (otherwise known as London’s Brixton Rooftop) there is a Saloon. This decadent and debaucherous dive bar plays host to a Christmas spectacle like no other, for it is here the elves come out to play…

Think Fir trees and lodges, interactive theatre and themed private rooms, with rooftop nights hosted by Cirque du Soul and For the Love of Garage. Steaming bowls of street food and silly seasonal antics await.

The Lodge - Punchdrunk

4. The Lodge at Gallow Green

Nobody does pop-ups quite like Punchdrunk. In the winter months, the McKittrick Hotel’s whimsical garden rooftop bar Gallow Green transforms into a mountainside ski lodge, complete with fireside seating, plaid blankets, sleeping bunks and outdoor fire pit. Order the Sleep No More, a hard apple cider drink with sherry, orange zest and pie spices, to warm yourself up when you arrive.

What better way than to sell your show, than to get people to spend time in your show?

Yankee Candle Pop-Up

5. Candle Power NYC

Candles are paramount at Christmas. And the Yankee Candle NYC Pop-up has them all, from Fall in central Park to City Lights, from NYC Dawn to WoodWick Soho.

Adults can also create personalized candles for gifts, kids can test their scent IQ, while the whole family can make use of the ‘made-for-Instagram’ inexplicable sideways room. Guess the scent of a good candle really does outweigh the power of gravity?

In their most recent eBook DMN spoke to Group XP’s Chief Growth Officer Iain Ellwood on the ongoing battle between data and creativity.


Businesses love to capitalize on market imperfections. Today’s gap between the data haves and have-nots is the widest it’s ever been. So the current arms race to embed data, analytics, and artificial intelligence is a wonderful opportunity to drive growth. But we can already begin to see that as every company builds data and programmatic capabilities, this corporate drug is starting to lose its efficacy. The marketplace will level out rapidly, regaining its equilibrium and reducing any competitive advantage.

Brands that solely follow this efficiency paradigm will quickly find themselves on a downward spiral as customers disengage from prescriptive, lifeless content. We’ve already seen that the technical constraints of mobile phone screens and limited voice commands has had a reductive impact on visual, tactile, and aural expression of brands. Memes; “Swipe left”; “OK, Google.” It’s neither Balzac nor Picasso. Only outstanding creativity can provide a robust enough foil to the logic of the machine. It comes back to the necessity for powerful ideas. Imagination, emotions, the random vivacity of life — these are the things that truly persuade people to engage and buy.

To be successful, these need to begin in the world of consumers, not the corporation. Only ideas rooted in culture can emotionally connect and engage people, and far better than those that are derived as the result of logic. They provide depth, texture, and interest in place of precision, order, and process.

Of course, there is hope and green shoots: The creative rise of text language or emojis is a refreshing way to overcome digital constraints. Crowdsourcing and user-generated content can be refreshing and inspirational. But outsourcing idea generation to your consumer is not a longterm growth strategy.

By all means, sharpen and connect the pipework; but snub creativity at your peril.


A New York summer is hot hot HOT! Sun and sweat brings desire for ice cream, but with every Tom, Dick and Harry serving up authentic gelato to make a quick buck from the craze – vendors must go way out of their way to ensure share of mind and share of scoop.

We took a masterclass from some of America’s greatest ice cream spots – here are five of the lessons we learnt about standing out in the thick of it, which can be applied to any category.


1. Strive for something unique. What’s the house special? How crazy can you go with the way that you serve it? This summer, Dominique Ansel, original creator of the Cronut, experimented with everything from watermelon and kiwi to corn-shaped ice cream.


2. Find mutually-beneficial partners. One of the best partnerships we’ve seen comes from Ben & Jerry’s and New Belgium Brewery. New Belgium gain reach, whilst Ben & Jerry’s tap into a young, hipster crowd – all in support of Climate Change awareness. Meanwhile Afters Ice Cream meets Hello Kitty? Well, maybe…


3. Scoop for Instagram. And what better way than by tapping into the East-meets-West trend that’s taking the world by storm? Imports such as Gai Daan Zai, Taiyaki and Thai Style Rolled ice cream took New York by storm this summer. Mouth-wateringly good social media content.


4. Demonstrate passion – Ice Cream is art! From teddy bears and smoking volcanoes to piles of ice cream spaghetti, never underestimate the value of showmanship.


5. Storytelling is everything. We’re all know that people want to connect with brands in a more authentic way, by learning the stories that have made them who they are. Why should this not apply to ice cream? From Ben & Jerry’s ‘Imagine Whirled Peace’ and ‘Schweddy Balls’, to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop’s ‘Bea Arthur’ (look this one up, it’s a great tale!), storytelling through ice cream is the next big thing.


For their most recent eBook, DMN spoke to Group XP’s Head of Growth and Innovation, Ksenia Starikova on what it takes to create a 360 degree customer experience.

A truly successful customer profile is one that disregards channels altogether and sees customers for who they are — human beings. It’s built on insights and relevancy, as opposed to shallow connections, between data sets. Currently this is nigh on impossible for most brands, as they don’t own their own data. The solution? Collecting and collating insights on their own terms and on their own platforms that will ensure lasting customer dialogues. The opportunity is not necessarily the breadth, but rather the depth of knowledge — and, as a result, the ability to notice, recognize, adapt to, and act on the micro-moments in their customers’ lives that actually make a difference.

Brands must disassociate their knowledge gains from channel-specific systems that feed the data sets of others and start designing customer experiences as a wholly unified singularity achieved through connected conversations and meaningful interactions.

This article was first published in Smart Shopping – A Playbook by the Store WPP and IBM Watson.

Those were the days. Product, promotion, place and price used to be the sure-fire way to hit the marketing jackpot. Now, consumers want brands that offer them an extraordinary experience. A feeling, a picture opportunity, a memory –or at least the tools to create one for themselves. Brands need to go beyond meeting a need or leading a category, and help a consumer become the human being they want to be. Iain Ellwood is Chief Growth Officer at experience agency Group XP. He says experiences matter because, in mature economies at least, levels of relative wealth are high, and simply owning a reliable fridge or TV doesn’t bring the pleasure it used to. This is coupled with a greater desire to have a more flexible, connected life.

Time is now seen as a currency to be spent on experiences, especially those that can be photographed and shared, and this is particularly so for the young. Their ability to own cars and houses has decreased dramatically in the last decade, while the desire to connect with others has increased, so Gen Ys and Millennials are much more interested in living in the moment, looking for experiences in their day-to-day life, because they know they’ll be working until
they’re 75. That’s why you can charge £4 for a coffee in a seductive environment, when everyone knows the actual
cost of the coffee is nothing like that.

The brands that do this well are not just the obvious ones, though Apple and Nike are up there with the best. Brands as diverse as Pampers, Facebook, Tesla and IKEA are all world leaders in customer experience.

Is experience worth investing in?

Group XP quantifies the business impact of outstanding experiences, and has ranked the 30 most successful global brands that deliver extraordinary experiences. The Group XP Experience Index leverages data from BrandZ™ – the
world’s largest brand equity database – to evaluate brands according to the strength of their customer experience. The Top 30 Global Experience Brands have outperformed the global MSCI index over the last five years by 61 percent. “Our data analysis has built the statistical link between great experiences and increasing consumer demand, as well as outperforming stock returns.

What does it take?

In developing the Experience Index, Group XP has examined more than 43,000 brands across 46 markets with BrandZ™ data and has identified four key elements to building great brand experiences:

Impression: Stand for something unique.
Interaction: Deliver on your most important needs.
Responsiveness: Have brilliant online services and engaging content.
Resilience: Strive to make people’s futures better through a higher brand purpose.

Artificial Intelligence can help brands in all of these areas. Here’s how:

Customers are able to out-source simple, repetitive or menial tasks through widgets and chatbots that are much more capable of delivering excellence. Mining airline ticket prices or peak travel times is arduous unless supported by AI. The City mapper app is a brilliant example of the increased usability and efficacy of assisted travel planning
delivered in a user-friendly experience. AI enables us to re-direct lengthy tasks to a machine that delivers at quantum speed.

The ability for humans to augment their current capabilities enables people to do more with their life. Whether it’s a Tesla car that can anticipate and avoid a crash, or an augmented reality app that helps doctors practise heart surgery without ever losing a life, or using Alexa to find a great movie for while you’re making dinner for the kids, AI amplifies our physical and cognitive reach.

We can also use AI to build worlds that are yet to exist or that may never exist. This might be as simple as Ikea’s virtual kitchen builder app, or more engrossing online adventures where we can become entirely different personas for an hour or so. Using the brand’s “purpose” as a starting point provides businesses with a more ambitious innovation roadmap that can generate entirely new revenue streams

Brands that are able to find meaningfully relevant ways to use AI as part of the overall customer experience will increase customer preference and reap significant financial rewards.

“Heady cocktails, naked hedonism – but great content,” is how John Shaw, Chief Product Officer at Brand Union once described the Cannes Festival of Creativity.

Every year, advertisers, clients and platforms alike gather on the now infamous Croisette to swap war stories and celebrate Lions over endless pourings of Rose. This year Group XP was out in full force.

The festival opened on Monday and saw FITCH make their debut appearance in the official Forum with their talk What Are Memories Made Of?


“Every day is a flood of moments. And even the good ones can be swept away in the tide. If a moment is a sandcastle, a memory is a malleable rock: it becomes a landmark. It helps define who we are and it’s something we want to share with others. That’s a powerful thing for any brand.”

Senior creative strategist Dominique Bonnafoux led the interactive session that brought together an artist, a neuroscientist and a writer to explore what it takes to stir emotions and create lasting impressions.


Hear more from the FITCH panelists over Creative Pool.

But centre stage wasn’t the only space we occupied this year. Behind the scenes, where thousands upon thousands of entries are judged against the strict criteria of the carefully selected jurors, was Brand Union Digital Creative Director Marta Swannie. Having been officially asked to sit on the jury for the Design Lions, Marta was privy to 4,000 entries in the Design category alone, a category still vying to stand as tall as the more traditional communications categories. Even in 2017, “newer categories like Product Design only had 420 entries in total”, Marta tells us.

But the work spoke for itself. “There was a huge spectrum of work, the shortlist was spread across all the sub categories – however Sound Design, Motion Graphics/Video and UX were very strong. Areas like Packaging and Web Design were weak.”

And the projects that stood out to the design jurors such as Fearless Girl, Meet Graham and Refugee Nation, “dominated the festival talk and swept all of the awards”.

One of Marta’s personal highlights? “A little corporate identity project from Sid Lee in Toronto which I particularly liked, because it has so much personality. It feels warm and empathetic in an industry which is usually cold and transactional. I also like how the container device is used for storytelling.”

For more on Marta’s experience at Cannes, read her thought-provoking piece on diversity at the festival here.

When festival-goers weren’t attentively live-tweeting talks and congratulating award winners in the Palais, they were walking between branded beaches and agency events, riding the Snapchat ferris wheel, or returning to spend hours immersed by the pioneers of Cannes’ branded experiences, YouTube Beach.

Youtube Beach

Brought to you by the creative masterminds at SET Live, YouTube Beach continuously sets the bar for creating a highly interactive and openly inclusive environment.

Their challenge this year? To find more direct ways to showcase YouTube’s cultural influence and communicate new products and content. All this in a relaxed, non-confrontational beach club environment that’s open to everyone. Creative Director Harry Osbourne took us through this year’s agenda.

“We showed the power of their partnerships with a 360º Gorrillaz music video experience – complete with helta-skelta slide and ball pit. We showed how user-generated content intersects artist content in a uniquely YouTube way with a video jukebox installation. And we demonstrated the irresistible power of 6-second advertising with a tunnel of interactive screens.

Ice creams, smoothies and volleyball tournaments kept the atmosphere fun, whist a series of industry-led lightning talks and private agency nights allowed deeper conversations with key decision makers.

YouTube Beach Set Creative 2

Finally, an overnight turnaround allowed us to transform the beach into a giant rainbow for PRIDE on Friday. Talks from prominent LGBTQ creators, glitter artists, drag dance workshops, a silent disco and a night of live music helped close out the week with a bang.”

YouTube Beach Set Creative Pride

But branded experiences weren’t the only thing grabbing the attention of festival goers.

Waving the flags of Brand Union and FITCH throughout the week were Global Marketing Directors Christina Mannatt and Maeve O’Sullivan.

Maeve’s number one takeaway from the festival? “Know your purpose,” and who better to learn that from than a Hollywood legend.

“‘I’m a good actress.’ This was Helen Mirren’s stating the bleeding obvious, when questioned about how she conquers self-doubt, shared in conversation with L’Oréal’s Adrien Koskas.” Maeve took two things away from that statement; “First, don’t underestimate Helen Mirren’s quickfire wit, and second, life is much simpler when one is clear about one’s purpose.”

Helen Mirren Cannes Lions

For the audience learning about the All Worth It initiative, Mirren’s conversation with Koskas felt like a sincere move on the part of a brand to reconsider its own purpose – abandoning ‘Because you’re worth it’ for a more inclusive message through a three-year campaign partnership with The Princes Trust in the UK and Ireland, featuring a diverse group of high profile faces. This is sounds like a well-considered and admirable programme, but I can’t help but wonder what will happen in 2021? Is this a sign of a longer term shift in priorities for L’Oréal or canny use of purpose-driven marketing?”

We asked Maeve to take us through some of her Cannes highlights and weren’t surprised to see AirBnB’s Facebook Live We Are Here initiative, campaign make the cut. “It was an inspiring approach, motivating armchair and intrepid travellers alike to experience something new in real time.”

“For me, the Facebook campaign supports their campaigning side in a creative, engaging way that still communicates an inclusive message that is expressed more seriously through its efforts to support refugees and marriage equality.”

We Are Here Airbnb

For Christina Mannatt, this year’s biggest trend harked back to a memorable observation from this year’s SXSW, boredom. “Our smartphones now fill valuable moments in the day when we used to let our minds wander … Our phones occupy the white space and couch space and, as a result, our alertness is always on”.

And at Cannes Lions, ground zero for sensory overload, “boredom was the topic du jour. It was referenced as if it were some quaint relic from decades past like Polaroid film or vinyl records, the use of which is meant to reacquaint us with simpler, less digital times.”

This was the theme so prevalent throughout many of the festival’s talks. “Cheil Worldwide’s CCO Wain Choi hosted a panel called The Power of Boredom: How Ordinary Can Be Extraordinary. One of his guests, a Korean reality TV producer named Yungsuk Nah, had tired of creating shows wherein contestants vie to be Number 1. Instead, he decided to make a show about doing nothing.

WGSN’s Global Chief Content Officer Carla Buzasi highlighted Bored is the New Black, a movement which can be attributed to the loss of distinction between work life and home life. She also cited studies which suggest that parents are doing their children a disservice by scheduling too many extracurricular activities—today’s children never have time to get bored.”

But why should designers and strategists care about boredom? “In How Creativity is Born, MIT Media Lab’s Adam Horowitz described a state called transient hypofrontality, or the temporary slowing down of one’s prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that controls higher cognitive functions like systematic thinking and decision-making. This state can be achieved by meditating, exercising, taking a shower or daydreaming…you know, activities which preclude smartphone usage and are inherently less mentally stimulating. It is in these moments of transient hypofrontality where one’s inner critic and self-doubt are silenced and creative ideas can come to life. Speaking on a macro level, Horowitz illustrated how it is in the interplay between the engineering part of our brain and the artistic part of our brain where true creativity is born and thrives.”

Read more of Christina’s key insights here.

Experience Asia

Ever wondered what it takes to rank as a high performing experience brand in a market as diverse as Asia? Well, Brand Union & FITCH have joined forces to create an Asia-focused Group XP Experience Index, launching the ranking across Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai.

Led by Andrew Crombie, Monica Lee and Graham Hitchmough, Regional CEOs for FITCH & Brand Union along with Chief Growth Officer, Iain Ellwood, the teams hosted select engagement sessions throughout an intensive week-long launch programme. In attendance, senior brand, marketing and customer experience clients from well-known global & local brands: HSBC, Tesco, Standard Chartered Bank, Octopus and Sanpower.

Attendees of the events were given an exclusive unveiling of local Top 30 brand league tables before diving into detailed examples of how local brands have achieved success across the four drivers of extraordinary experiences: Impression, Interaction, Responsiveness and Resilience.

Top Experience Brands - China, Singapore, Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, high scoring experience brands such as HSBC, PayPal, Heineken & Blue Girl beer depict consumers’ high octane indulgent lifestyles fueled by finance & alcohol. In fact, four of the global top ten bestselling beer brands are now Chinese. But the #1 brand? Octopus, the ubiquitous travel and shopping payment brand that reaffirms the close-knit nature of Hong Kong and its people.

Octopus Hong Kong

Singapore’s top experience brands exhibit quintessentially Asian service principles like Singapore Airlines and local bank POSB. These brands have perfected the balance of exuding authentic local flavour married with the best of international standards; combining high tech and high touch in their service experience.


China’s top 30 list effervesces with icons like local beer brand Blue Moon, as well as new brands that have changed the marketplace in a short space of time like online shopping mall and travel provider Ctrip. The market, obsessively mobile-oriented and tech driven, offers a better-connected world for consumers than most Western markets.

Perhaps most refreshing, is that the usual suspects: Apple, Facebook & Google, with their West Coast synthetic world view, did not dominate these local markets in quite the same way.

But the key insight of the roadshow came from the Asian consumer’s mobile first world, a world that is so apparently ahead of the rest. Asian brands have a seductive flair for retaining local character whilst embracing new international expectations.

China Mobile First

With every annual release of the Experience Index, we, as Group XP, hope to continue the conversation at the heart of our proposition, and provide clients with direct evidence that investing in great brand experience is the key driver of business growth today.

“The Index has finally added hard proof to the soft concept of experience, and this has helped us immensely in our prospecting. What really resonates, is that we have proof of its effectiveness in Asia.” – Andrew Crombie, FITCH

“It was really powerful to see Brand Union and FITCH working together. Our shared goal is to help grow client relationships, and position our whole network as thought leaders within the brand experience category.” – Monica Lee, Brand Union

Read the full 2016 report here.

Group XP’s latest brand experience study is an in-depth look towards the future of an industry on the brink of monumental change.

Find out how automotive brands can use innovations in service, design and connectivity to survive the new mobility economy.

The Future of Hospitality

The Future of Mobility Experience

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Every month we gather and share five exemplary brand experiences of recent times. This month, we focus on New York:


Top Brand Experience FordHub

Ford are no longer a car company, but a mobility provider working to empower smarter cities. To showcase some of their revolutionary thinking at the collision of tech and transportation, they opened the interactive FordHub in New York. Here, visitors are invited to experience an exciting world, as powered by Ford technology and creativity.

Cadillac House

Top Brand Experience Cadillac House

Open since June 2016, Cadillac House is part car show-room, part art gallery, part coffee shop and part pop-up retail space. By holding a dialogue with NYC’s far-reaching cultural scene, Cadillac successfully invite you to expose yourself to (and interact with) their brand at your own pace.

Syfy’s Hall of Magic

Top Brand Experience Syfy House of Magic

Syfy recently opened the Hall of Magic to promote the second series of hit show, The Magicians. Working with artists and designers, the memorable installation in New York’s William Vale hotel was a fantastical world of levitation, spell casting and mind control – perfect for the Instagram generation.

Lufthansa’s FlyingLab

Top Brand Experience Lufthansa

On February 8th Lufthansa entered the world of fashion at 30,000 feet, hosting two fashion shows for guests on their way to New York Fashion Week (a preview of New York designer Rubin Singer’s women’s collection, and a look at 60 years of Lufthansa flight uniforms). Lufthansa also allowed travellers the use of in-seat fashion technology devices and free lectures from fashion experts via the airline’s in-flight conference system.

Casper’s Pop-Up Store

Top Brand Experience Casper Soho Store

Online mattress retailers, Casper, took to brick-and-mortar this winter with a clever pop-up store in NYC’s SoHo district. Marketed as “the perfect place to explore, take a snooze, or shop for Casper products”, there was only one house rule: “kick back and relax”. And they meant that literally of course, as guests are encouraged to try out the mattress, sheets and pillows to their hearts’ content.

One might naturally assume that hospitality brands would rank extremely highly when it comes to customer experience. Interestingly, however, they do not.

Our latest brand experience investigation digs deep into the hospitality industry, to find out what hotel brands are missing that service brands such as Amazon, IKEA and Southwest already so well understand.