Customer Experience Review

Stranger Things by Secret Cinema: an irresistible, innovative customer experience

Andy - 21 st November 2019

‘Immersive experiences’ has become something of a buzz phrase in the world of leisure, with guest expectations constantly on the increase and attractions seeking to wow these guests.

Customers have told us time and again about 5 fundamentals that attractions have to get right if they’re to immerse their guests:

  1. FOMO - creating anticipation, exclusivity and a genuine fear of missing out
  2. Stars of the show – making sure customers are in control and can influence the action
  3. Never break the spell – impeccable theming and performance that makes the magic believable
  4. Multi-dimensional experiences – avoid the monotone of same-same experiences, and mix it up to keep customers guessing
  5. Leave on a high – whilst the majority of experiences ignore the Peak End rule and end on a whimper, the smartest save the best til last.

Whilst many claim to do it, Secret Cinema is regularly referenced by customers and the best in the category, transporting their guests to the world of the film in question, and creating a genuinely immersive, unique event.

With the launch of their latest venture - Stranger Things by Secret Cinema – Gary and Andy headed down to the Hawkins High School reunion to see what all the fuss was about, and to think about what conventional attractions could learn along the way.

SPOILER ALERT! If you’re going to the production and don’t want to uncover any secrets, read on between your fingers!

Hawkins intro
Once our tickets had been purchased – way back in May – we somewhat forgot about this November event, until an email from Mayor Kline himself landed in our inbox, announcing the Hawkins High School reunion. We were invited to sign up for more news, which drew us into a world of twitter and facebook posts from the ‘mayor’s office’. When time came to register for the reunion, anticipation was really building. Each of our group was assigned a name, role and dress code (!), which suddenly made the experience feel very real.

Whilst Secret Cinema insiders knew where the venue was, us mere mortals were only told to head to Canning Town tube station and await instructions, which made the fear of missing out very real! Fortunately, when we emerged from the tube, there were cheerleaders with placards directing us to the reunion. We were going to make it after all!

Mayor letter
Stars of the Show
To be truly immersive, the guest has to feel like they’re in control and the star of the show. Secret Cinema has this in spades!

Upon entry, we found our graduation year representative and she welcomed us into the reunion. We were then briefed on our secret mission, and sent off to find another character who would give us another clue.

Within seconds, we were actively involved and felt like the stars of the show.

The other thing worth noting is the perfect balance between ‘controlled fun’ and abandonment. Whilst there were clues and things to do, it never felt overly serious. It provided some structure and helped us navigate the fairground that was at the heart of the reunion, but we never felt forced to have fun.

Never Break The Spell
This is, in many ways, the golden rule of an immersive experience. If, for one moment, you’re taken back into the ‘real world’, then the make-believe ends.

Upon entry to Stranger things, our phones were sealed… whilst we kept them with us, we couldn’t access them. It was only when we were enjoying a beer in the 80s themed bar that we realised the impact of this. People were looking up. They were engaging with each other. They were noticing things that would ordinarily have been missed as they checked Twitter or Instagram. It was the way it used to be, and boy did it feel good!

As well as the impeccable theming – even the toilets were in character – the other thing that ensured that the spell wasn’t broken was the other guests. These were uber fans of Stranger Things, and 99% of them (we can only apologise) had adhered to their style guide and come as a punk, new romantic or hip hopper. Everywhere you looked, you felt like you were in the ultimate 80s party. We were truly in another world, and loved it!

Multi-Dimensional Experiences
Before the day, we had a few chats amongst ourselves. What’s it going to be? Are they showing episodes of the show? What else will be going on? Maybe we’ll only stay for an hour (it was billed as a 3-hour experience).

We needn’t have worried.

Whereas many experiences focus on the one thing they do, and do it repeatedly, guests today want a variety of different types of experience. Think festivals – a complete sensory explosion. Stranger Things by Secret Cinema was the same. We had elements of a murder mystery or escape room, we had pure fun in the dance offs in the bar, we had nostalgia in the gaming arcade, retro indulgence with the pizza and coke floats and completely random stuff that was weirdly captivating in the piggy racing.

Put simply, it kept us guessing, wondering what was coming next. And just when we thought that it was over, we realised that it had only just begun…

Leave on a High
We’re huge advocates of the peak end rule – that our brains are so overwhelmed by experiences, we can only remember a peak in the experience (whether good or bad) and what happens at the very end. But so few attractions, with Disney’s amazing fireworks displays the exception, are designed in this way. Instead, they reveal their hands early, and leave the ending to be deflating let down.

Not so at Stranger Things.

After the big ‘finale’ where the Action For Truth revealed itself and challenged the mayor, the Demogorgon showed its hands. All 1,200 guests were quickly ushered into a darkened, cold room. Up above, all round the outside of the room, were screens. An incredible mixture of live acting interspersed with favourite scenes from the show then played out. It was completely captivating. People around us were in tears, others were scared and cowered, and everyone joined in the rendition of Never Ending Story. It was a celebration of the things that people loved about Stranger Things, without being overly reverential or something you could do in front of Netflix at home. It wasn’t completely new, but it wasn’t same old either. It was done with love and respect, and created the most incredible ending to a truly immersive night.

So, thank you to Stranger Things by Secret Cinema for an incredible night that set the immersive benchmark incredibly high.

And, as Mike says, “If we’re both going crazy, then we’ll go crazy together, right?”

Sling Gary Jon

Andy is a Director at Brand Vista, with over 15 years experience in advertising and innovation consultancies. He’s happiest when operationalising brands, creating ideas that excite staff, delight customers and bring the brand to life throughout the customer experience. 
Find out more about Andy