In-store sleepovers. Giant piano staircases. Chatbots for insomniacs. Elephant holograms. Supercar-branded submarines. These phenomena – created by IKEA, Volkswagen, Casper, WWF and Aston Martin respectively – are not just one-off marketing stunts. They’re part of a trend that has been sweeping the globe for more than two decades – the so-called experience economy, a trend that now extends across every aspect of consumer life.
The trend was first identified by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore in their 1998 paper Welcome to the Experience Economy in the Harvard Business Review. They used the simple birthday cake as an example of something they called the progression of economic value – the inexorable advance from commodities, goods and services towards something with greater perceived consumer benefit. First, people made the cake from scratch using basic ingredients. Then came the ready-made packet mix, followed by specialist birthday-cake shops delivering cakes as a service. Today, the cake can be outsourced as part of a whole party package – often thrown in for free, and just part of a much broader and engaging offering.