Monday, October 2, 2023

For brands and licensors, LBEs provide worldwide opportunity and customer engagement

Building brand loyalty with family adventures and storytelling

by Jane Neal, Content Editor at Informa Markets

In anticipation of the 2022 Licensing Expo (May 24-26, Las Vegas) and its special focus on the LBE (location-based experience) sector, InPark is pleased to share Jane Neal’s exploration of how brands are embracing LBE to enable their customers to step into new worlds. This fast growing global trend will be on display and under discussion at Licensing Expo. Free registration: Licensing Expo

Imagine your nostalgia for a favorite childhood book or TV show coming alive in a completely new way, perhaps as an amusement park ride or interactive trail hike. Location-based experiences (LBEs), especially ones aimed at kids, are on the rise.

Larger theme parks like Disney (Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge), Universal Studios (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter), Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi (DC Comics) and Six Flags (also DC Comics) have offered branded, themed experiences for decades, but the business of creating these specifically for children is burgeoning. LBEs are moving beyond theme parks and into unexpected environments including pop-up venues, live shows, interactive museum exhibits, dedicated indoor play spaces and outdoor adventures. Some companies are using AR/VR to deliver the experience of being inside an entertainment world.

It’s no coincidence that location-based experiences are the theme for Licensing Expo 2022.

LBEs are a natural extension of consumer brand engagement. Attractions aimed at kids enable them and their families to interact and build a different level of relationship to brands, creating loyalty that can last a lifetime. LBEs can also engage children intellectually, making learning engaging and fun.

COVID-19 fatigue and our hunger to get out of the house and back into the world only makes these experiences more enticing. We’re seeing brands from Peter Rabbit to Crayola creating these new experiences and popping up globally, from Great Britain to Dubai.

It’s all happening at the zoo

As the pandemic ushered in a transition from indoor activities to safer outdoor options, nature trails and zoo-themed experiences have really taken off in the world of location-based activities — with many created in the U.K. As mentioned in the “Special Report: British Experiences” in the November 2021 issue of License Global, Acamar Films partnered with the Zoological Society of London to introduce “Bing”-themed activities including story time sessions, photo opportunities and a self-led Activity Trail around the zoo with clues and interactive activities at each station.

The Joester Loria Group (JLG) and The World of Eric Carle started to look at experiential areas for children back in 2016, spearheading the LBE move into zoos and trails. This past summer, they partnered with the London Zoo for branded activities and collaborated with the Bronx Zoo to put on productions in front of key areas on-site, like performing “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” in front of the bear exhibit and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in front of the butterfly conservatory. Next summer, they’ll collaborate with Zoo New England for “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” live performances.

Happy trails

Eric Carle has been partnering with the Bluewater Nature Trail in Dartford, U.K., since 2019 for a branded outdoor hiking experience.

“Especially if you look at the last 2-3 years, I think LBE is just a fascinating space and we’re really excited to continue to expand Carle there,” says Jackie Demaio, director, licensing, The Joester Loria Group.

JLG and Carle partnered with Kew Gardens for Easter 2022 with a new interactive trail that followed the journey of the caterpillar from egg to butterfly though a series of 3D installations. Visitors to the trail experienced the caterpillar’s metamorphosis as they toured the gardens, digesting facts about the wonder of nature and the close connections between plant and insect life on earth. Following in the caterpillar’s footsteps, they wound their way through fruit sculptures in varying sizes, playing with sensations of proportion and perspective to give visitors a unique insect’s eye view of the natural world.

This winter, 121 National Trust gardens and parklands across England, Wales and Northern Ireland invited families to enter the world of “Percy the Park Keeper.” In partnership with the best-selling author and illustrator, Nick Butterworth, the Percy the Park Keeper Winter Wander at National Trust sites introduced children and their families to the busy park keeper and his animal friends via a self-led trail.

Magic Light Pictures planned experiential activities as far back as 2010, including the first “Gruffalo” woods trail in Essex in 2010. Magic Light Pictures has a long-standing partnership with Forestry England with 20-30 self-led activity trails at sites across the country that receive more than 2 million visitors each year. Last fall, Kew Gardens and Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex offered The Gruffalo’s Child Trail, where visitors could search for The Gruffalo’s Child and other characters.

Malls, standalones and pop-ups

This year, Hasbro will bring The Game Room powered by Hasbro to American Dream, an entertainment complex located in Bergen County, New Jersey. Anchored by powerhouse Hasbro brands including Monopoly, GI Joe, My Little Pony, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Clue, Connect Four and Candyland, the new attraction will feature a reimagined arcade platform with midway games, as well as new interactive attractions such as Skee Golf.

In December, License Global reported the planned launch of a standalone attraction featuring characters from the “Peter Rabbit” animated series in Blackpool, providing visitors the opportunity to explore the oversized world of Peter and his friends. The attraction, which includes five themed zones, is set to open next door to the famous Madame Tussauds Blackpool.

Last September, Falcon’s Beyond Global announced plans to integrate PBS KIDS properties and characters into interactive, hands-on experiences, beginning with the Curiosity Playground complex, an experiential edutainment destination intended for multiple locations around the world.

From mid-December through January, the Pokémon Company International took over part of Selfridges’ toy section in three U.K. locations. “Pokémon”-branded areas were created at the Selfridges on Oxford Street in London, Birmingham Bullring, and the Trafford Centre in Manchester to promote the “Pokémon” range in-store and provide an immersive experience for shoppers. The activation also offered photo opportunities, including costume character visits to the Oxford Street store.

Crayola owns and operates Crayola Experience, an indoor family attraction packed with dozens of hands-on activities in five locations across the U.S. The company announced it was meeting with potential partners to license the concept both domestically and internationally.

Family day at the museum

Museums also feature in the kids’ location-based experience arena. In 2018, Snoopy Museum Tokyo, the first satellite facility of the California-based Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, opened in Japan. Crayola’s state-of-the-art museum experience, the Crayola IDEAworks: The Creativity Exhibition, drew crowds at its world premiere at The Franklin Institute on February 13, 2021, and ran through November.

“Thomas & Friends”: Explore the Rails, an interactive and STEM-based “Thomas the Tank Engine”-themed exhibit is currently rolling its way through a tour of various U.S. and Canadian children’s museums.

“Wild Kratts”: Ocean Adventure! and “Wild Kratts”: Creature Power are two traveling exhibits presented by Minnesota Children’s Museum and the creators of the PBS Kids TV series, “Wild Kratts.” Both exhibits, focused on nature and ecology, are currently on tour in the U.S.

In May, the Minnesota Children’s Museum will open Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep: Shear Genius, where visitors can step into the wacky world of animator Nick Park’s beloved claymation characters Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and other familiar Aardman Studios characters.

Faraway lands

LBEs are circling the globe. In 2019 Monopoly Dreams, the first fully immersive “Monopoly”-themed attraction, opened in Hong Kong in 2019 and NERF Action Xperience, a fully immersive experience, opened in Singapore.

The World of Eric Carle partnered with Kiddy Art Museum to launch the “The Playful World of Eric Carle”-themed pop-up mall event located in The Bund Finance Center, in Shanghai last year. The event kicked off August 1 and ran until November 7, transforming nine of Carle’s classic books into large-scale installations including “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” a story about growing up; “10 Little Rubber Ducks,” a tale of courage and exploration; “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?,” “From Head to Toe” and “Draw Me A Star.” “The Playful World of Eric Carle” will be headed to Hangzhou — March 18 through June 19.

In Japan, The World of Eric Carle partnered with A&B Holdings to launch “Play Park Eric Carle,” the first dedicated indoor play space for children based on the World of Eric Carle, in Tokyo’s Futako-Tamagawa Rise Shopping Center with nine interactive zones including an indoor maze, art studio, playground, baby zone, complimentary beverage station, reading/relaxation area and shop.

In 2021, Universal Beijing Resort opened Transformers: Metrobase, the world’s first theme park land dedicated to Transformers. NERF Action Xperience, a fully immersive NERF-themed attraction, opened in Singapore in 2019 and another is planned for the U.K. Hasbro will be opening its first NERF LBE at the Beto Carrero theme park in Brazil this year.

Taking it on the road

Licensed tours are nothing new — everyone from “Barney” to “Blue’s Clues” have done tours. But it’s a trend that is growing and attracting new brands in new ways.

In December, License Global hosted a webinar, Location-Based Events and Experiences, featuring Matt Proulx, vice president, location-based entertainment, Hasbro; Warren Schorr, vice president, business development and global licensing, Crayola; and George Wade, founder and president, Bay Laurel Advisors; with Judith Rubin, editor, InPark Magazine, as moderator. Wade spoke about the importance of licensing organizations being able to adapt their ideas of what an LBE is as trends develop.

“Everyone was focused on the fixed-asset location,” says Wade. “Then about five or six years ago, the Museum of Ice Cream began to change our models and we saw pop-up experiences. The first few were very generic, and then, operators began to look to brands and today you see The Dr. Seuss Experience, NERF Live, ‘The Office Experience,’ the ‘Friends’ Experience and the Peanuts Experience is due to open. Crayola has the IDEAworks touring experiences. Touring has become so important to LBE licensing.”

During the webinar, Schorr spoke about the significance of Crayola IDEAworks.

“What made it so exciting for us is that it was an expansion of the brand in multiple dimensions,” says Schorr. “It moved us from physical locations into the touring industry. It moved us into the museum space. It was a new way to think about our core brands and be authentic. Instead of being about creative play, it was about teaching children and families the concepts of design thinking, innovation and invention, using the process that Crayola uses to create and invent our own products. Unlike other prior touring exhibits, ours is highly engaging and immersive with interactives along the way and take-home activities. So, I think it was a great build on multiple levels, both for the brand and as well as a build into the category and where the category could evolve to.”

In the preschool space, details for the world premiere of “CoComelon LIVE! JJ’s Journey” were revealed in October 2021. “CoComelon” is a property of Moonbug Entertainment, the company behind the children’s show. The first performances of the multi-year world tour were held in December 2021 in the U.S.

Theme parks

Of course, permanent theme parks aren’t going away; new ones open and older ones are adding attractions to appeal to changing popularity and newer IPs. In 2017, Magic Light Pictures opened “The Gruffalo” River Ride Adventure at Chessington, U.K., with additional attractions opening there and at Warwick Castle in the years since. The world’s first “Peppa Pig” theme park recently opened at LEGOLAND Florida.

Sesame Place, a longstanding “Sesame Street” LBE with locations in San Diego and Philadelphia, includes rides, water slides, character shows and parades. Both parks are also Certified Autism Centers, with staff members who have completed autism sensitivity and awareness training and a park-specific sensory guide for parents.

Acamar Films has more plans for “Bing”-related live events and experiential activities. The company teamed up with Dutch theater production company Trend Media to bring “Bing” to life on stage with “Bing is Jaring” (“Bing’s Birthday”), which had soft launch performances in the Netherlands last October with more shows this spring.

A family poses for a photo with Flop and Bing from the children’s show “Bing.” © Acamar Films

Italian theme park Leolandia currently has a popular Bing and Flop mini show and meet and greet, and in 2023 will open a “Bing”-themed attraction covering 9,500 square meters (102,000 square feet) including interactive play areas, live show venues and themed Flop and Bing merchandise.

For older kids or the young at heart

LBEs for kids can also be enjoyable adventures for the whole family. When the World of Eric Carle plans LBEs, it looks at ways to create immersive experiences for everyone to make sure there are different zones that allow all ages to participate.

“As a parent, when you take your children to a children’s museum or an indoor play space, you also need to be entertained,” says Demaio.

Families with older kids or just “Transformers” fans in general can look forward to branded experiences soon. Hasbro’s plans for the world premiere of Transformers: The Experience in North America next summer. The state-of-the-art exhibition will include a tour throughout the region. A second experience will launch in China in Q4, with other cities to be announced in the future. Game lovers of all ages in the U.K. can head to the recently opened Monopoly Lifesized attraction with board games, escape rooms and team challenges.

Consumers can expect to see more opportunities to engage in location-based events and experiences as the world opens up. The location-based experiences field remains wide-open for new ideas in brand engagement.

This article originally appeared in License Global magazine, published by Informa Markets, and is reprinted with permission.

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