Big experiences come in small packages

I’m always hearing about how retailers like Bass Pro Shops and American Girl are the masters of building a brand through a great experience. Instead of peddling merchandise on bland-looking racks in its stores, American Girl creates a fun destination where families can dine together and explore themed rooms patterned after its popular dolls. But you can find some pretty cool experiences beyond the confines of in-store retailing. I recently attended the Cirque du Soleil Kooza show with my family in Chicago. No surprise there — you expect a Cirque du Soleil show to be an engaging experience. But what about the compact disc recording of the show’s soundtrack? After all, CDs are supposed to be dying in an era of digital downloading — so you could forgive the Cirque for packaging the CD in a pedestrian slip case.

But not so with the Cirque. The Kooza soundtrack slip case is engineered to form a jack-in-the-box with the CD popping out of the box as you open it (a clever tie-in with the show’s visual motif). One moment, you’re studying the back of the case. The next moment, you’re playing with a beautiful box full of purple and yellow color, which builds anticipation for the music you’re about to hear.

You should have seen the reaction inside a restaurant where my family and I were playing around with the box. Waiters walked over to get a peek. Diners glanced at our table and smiled. In effect, we become willing brand ambassadors for the Cirque, with the humble, dated device known as a compact disc at the center of the experience.

To that, I’d add the amazing packaging for the re-release of Bonnie and Clyde on DVD this year. The “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” lives up to its name. DVDs containing the movie and bonus features are packaged in hard-bound casing along with a reproduction of the pressbook used to promote the 1967 release of the movie and a hard-cover booklet with production stills and other cool memorabilia. All these elements are packaged inside a striking black case that invites exploration. Warner Brothers benefits from word-of-mouth marketing when my friends see me totally engrossed with the goodies — before I even flip the movie into my DVD player.

Someone forgot to tell Cirque and Warner Brothers that digital downloads are supposed to be putting an end to this kind of fun.

Where has someone surprised you with an effective marketing experience lately?

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