What Can The Museum of Ice Cream Teach Marketers About Experiential?

Lauren Taylor on 10/24/17 5:02 PM

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The Museum of Ice Cream is not a museum. And despite its gift shop—which sells everything from pink journals to $149 "self-love pinky rings"—it's not a store. It's also not a confectionery, even though ice cream, cotton candy, and other treats are available to visitors as they wander through the exhibits.

So what, exactly, is the Museum of Ice Cream?

According to Maryellis Bunn, MoIC's co-founder and creative director, it's an experience.


Bunn is pushing boundaries and blurring lines. MoIC doesn't fall into any pre-defined categories about how square footage, time, and money can or should be used. Her goal is not to push a tangible product or provide an interactive history lesson. The Museum of Ice Cream's mission is "to design environments that bring people together and provoke imagination." It's a new kind of goal—one in which the experience is not a means to an end, but the end in itself.

Businesses and organizations will, of course, always run experiential and event marketing campaigns in order to reach larger goals that drive business results. But regardless of the purpose, size, or scope of our events, there's something for all of us to learn from MoIC's success.

The first major takeaway is that people crave experiences. The Museum of Ice Cream doesn't have a permanent location, but instead has opened extended pop-ups in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, all of which have been wildly successful. Their first exhibit, for which they made thirty thousand tickets available, all priced between $12 and $18, sold out in under a week. They're now in San Francisco and on their third iteration of the "museum," and tickets are selling—quickly—for as much as $38. Demand is so high that they just extended the duration of their San Francisco pop-up.

But people aren't clamoring for a ticket because they crave any experience. The MoIC is setting a new standard for what experiences can and should be, and Bunn is clearly onto something. Whether you're on a shoestring budget or have the ability to go big, anyone running an event or experiential marketing campaign should aim to incorporate elements or ideas from the Museum of Ice Cream into their own projects. Here are the MoIC takeaways I found most compelling for marketers:

Appeal to people's emotions first.

The Museum of Ice Cream isn't about ice cream. There might be a few Google-able, one-off facts about the treat scattered throughout the museum, but MoIC is less about ice cream as a subject and more about ice cream as a feeling. As Bunn told NY Mag, everyone "has an ice cream story... Ice cream is just a way to get people in the doors and feel safe."

Everyone loves ice cream—but more importantly, everyone has nostalgic attachment to their memories surrounding ice cream. Bunn and her co-founder settled on ice cream as a broader theme for their exhibit in order to appeal to the ubiquitous emotion and nostalgia surrounding the frozen treat and get people in the door—and it worked.

The point isn't that marketers should arbitrarily choose something unrelated to their organization and build an event around it—but we can't make events (or any marketing content) just about our product. As Simon Sinek's popular TED Talk and book makes clear, we have to start with the why. People are immediately drawn into the why of your company or product than the what or how—and this is something Bunn and her team have drawn on to build their success.

Create an immersive experience.

The walls at MoIC are plastered in various shades of millennial pink, and exhibits feature everything from pools of rainbow sprinkles to unicorn sculptures.

In a feature about MoIC, a reporter at Mercury News explains that guests "wander through the technicolor maze into rooms like the Gummi Bear Garden, the Cherry Room with cherry sculptures the size of small hippos, where you're handed a wisp of cherry-flavored cotton candy. There's a rock cave, where 'Ally Mode' passes out strawberry Pop Rocks: 'Freshly mined from the cave!!'" And it goes on and on.

Again, the point is not to create an experience as outlandish as MoIC—but anyone hosting an event should aim to create an immersive experience. There should be a noticeable difference in atmosphere when people step into a venue. The more senses you're able to engage, the easier it'll be to do this.

Little things like background music, lighting, and any food or drink you're offering (and how you serve it) can go a long way. You want your attendees to feel like they're part of an experience, not just standing in an event venue. The more you're able to accomplish that, the more likely it is that you'll create an experience people will want to talk about, and one that they'll remember.

Remember that people have short attention spans.

I was surprised to learn that a visit to the Museum of Ice Cream is designed to last 45 minutes. Some people probably spend more time waiting in line than they do inside.

But Bunn was extremely intentional about creating a shorter experience—it's part of her plan to optimize MoIC for today's world where everyone feels busy and attention spans are short. Remembering her day-long trips to Disneyland as a child, Bunn told NYMag that her "generation doesn't want to spend six hours doing anything. I love Disneyland... but it's not for today."

The takeaway for marketers: Don't feel pressure to create a longer experience simply to make it longer. Make sure your attendees will get the most out of each minute spent at your event, but don't make it longer than necessary. If you're hosting a longer conference, keep people engaged by breaking up the day into small chunks.

If you want people to share their experience, give them something shareable.

So many events today hope to generate social media impressions simply because they tell people to share their experience on social media.

Unless it's gimmicky, encouraging social shares probably won't hurt, but it also won't go very far if there isn't anything interesting to share.

The Museum of Ice Cream has mastered the art of creating shareable experiences. On Instagram alone, #museumoficecream has over 87,000 impressions and #moic has over 25,000. Everyone from Gwenyth Paltrow to Jay Z and Beyoncé have Instagrammed their visits to MoIC.

It makes sense—built into the nature of MoIC is that it's optimized for Instagram. Where else would someone find a pool full of rainbow sprinkles to take a selfie in?

But they also don't make a gimmicky play to encourage visitors to share their experiences. People want to share them because MoIC is different, and the exhibits make it easy for them to create their own engaging content.

Not all events have to be optimized for Instagram, though, and you don't need crazy installations for people to want to share their experiences. As long as your event's content—whether it's an art installation or a panel discussion—is high-quality, people will want to share it. People want to be online and offline. If you give them the opportunity to share something unique across their social media channels, they'll do it.

You might also be interested in: "How to Use Experiential Marketing to Reach Millennials (Hint: You're Overthinking It)"

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