Imagination EMEA

Creating value for a world at 'peak stuff'

Patrick Reid (right) is the chief executive and Julian Baker is the executive creative director at Imagination EMEA
Patrick Reid (right) is the chief executive and Julian Baker is the executive creative director at Imagination EMEA

Late last year, a high-ranking executive from Ikea took to a London stage and did something utterly unexpected. 

He proclaimed that we had reached "peak stuff". More specifically: "We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff… peak home furnishings."

When a brand that has created an entirely new segment of stuff called storage solutions (essentially stuff to hold our stuff) sees a waning in our desire for material things, we should all pause and reflect.

And it’s not just Ikea. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that, since the turn of the century, our average consumption of material fell from 15 tonnes to ten tonnes.

Why has this happened? We can probably simplify it down to two key factors: climate change and Moore’s law.

First, as a species we are rapidly recognising the effect that excess consumption has on our world. If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, we must change the way that we live our lives, organise our cities and our economies – unfettered consumption is no longer desirable. We have international agreements and targets to back that up and, increasingly, people are calling on brands to play a greater role in society beyond the purely commercial.

Second, innovation: as computing power increases, chip sizes decrease and machine intelligence gathers pace, we have innovated away vast swathes of "stuff’’. Service-driven content models are replacing CDs, videos and books. Car ownership is being reimagined as car-sharing and beyond to new models of mobility. More and more brands are discovering that their businesses depend less on physical products and more on the experiences that they facilitate.

In short, we have reached a tipping point in the way that brands relate to their customers – one in which the value of the experience with the brand is an increasingly important factor in determining the longevity of the relationship and the commercial success of the brand.

Or to put it simply: people want more experiences and less stuff.

The research backs up the notion that money can only buy so much happiness. A Cornell University study into the Easterlin paradox found that, over time, people’s reported happiness from experiences went up while their satisfaction from purchases went down.

So what does this mean for brands and agencies?
We believe the relationship between brands and people will change too. In the past, we have talked in terms of value exchange – a model of marketing and communication that implies a transactional relationship. 

We believe that, in this new experience-valuing world, brands must progress from transactional relationships to transformational relationships. This means that, instead of seeking ever-more creative ways to insert messaging into customers’ lives, brands should enable experiences that are more memorable, more emotionally engaging, more shareable and value-creating.

In short, we are moving from a world of value exchange to a world of value creation.

This implies a new way of thinking about creativity and a different approach to using creativity to meet the needs of our customers and our customers’ customers – creativity as a transformative force with measurable commercial outcomes.

This new world demands new ways of using emerging technologies and behaviours in order to create value for both brands and their customers.

Value-creating brand experience trends for 2016 

Experiences that are more connected, shareable and measureable
The Internet of Things has freed the creative shackles in enabling intelligent, responsive, personalised, rewarding experiences in truly smart spaces. 

When combined with mobile, social media or more cutting-edge sensor-based technology such as image recognition or biometrics, it can blur the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds. It can connect with customers before, during and after an experience – and integrate physical interactions into analytics dashboard and sales funnel tools such as Salesforce.

Our Imagination Experience Platform brings together these technologies in a scalable way for value creation, enabling smart, always-on experiences that connect with people before, during and after the experience. 

From one-way virtual reality to two-way mixed reality
Many are declaring 2016 to be the year of virtual reality, and it certainly seems to be the flavour of the month. The danger is that brands fall into the trap of simply repurposing existing advertising mechanisms for this new platform. For it to really create value, we need to put people in control of their own experience and contextualise it to their world.

The future lies in mixed reality – where the virtual and the physical are overlaid and can interact with each other. Our cutting-edge mixed-reality experience for Jaguar enables people to see, customise and step inside a new car. 

From shareable to ‘participate-able’
There’s a reason why the Super Bowl is the most expensive advertising space that you can buy: it’s not just about guaranteed eyeballs, it’s about a once-only state of mind in which a massive audience is connected by a common experience and heightened emotional state. From anticipation through jubilation or even despair – once-only experiences carry a weight that makes them more memorable and more valued.

It’s no coincidence that Twitter’s latest throw of the dice is called Moments – social media and mobile technology have supercharged our ability to document and socialise these "in the moment" experiences.

For brands, this means looking at how both in-person and virtual experiences can be more immersive, more shareable, more interactive – more "participate-able".

What does this mean for Imagination?
In this new world of value creation over value exchange, we’re "eating our own dog food" and building value-creating relationships with our clients. A key tool for this is our lab – a series of places and programmes that connect our hubs in London, Shanghai, Sydney and Detroit. It is dedicated to transforming business through creativity, where we seek out the new – new technologies, new insights, new ideas – and use them as the starting point for value creation with our clients.

Ultimately, we’re pretty sure that Ikea won’t go out of business any time soon, nor will we live in a world without consumer goods. But we know that a changing world requires a new approach to creativity and creative partnerships between agencies, brands and their customers. We’d love to explore the possibilities with you – go to to find out more.

The case studies

The IOT experience
The Internet of Things enables brands to create truly responsive spaces and experiences that are more connected, more shareable and more measureable. Pop-ups such as Inside Rolls-Royce at the Saatchi Gallery change the environment based on the actions of visitors, while experiences such as the Shell Energy Lab enable people to create and curate their own memories of a once-only experience, from the moment they started planning their day to the experience itself and personalised content afterwards.

Mixed reality
Our mixed-reality experience for Jaguar used Samsung Gear VR and a paired tablet to enable people to see, customise and step inside a new car in true-to-life dimensions, right there in front of them. At the same time, retailers can use a paired tablet to control or guide customers through the experience.

A ‘participate-able’ world
For Ford at the Detroit Auto Show, we reimagined the traditional stand as a content creation platform - Connected Innovation Studio - that invited people to create their own moments, welcoming participation from people outside of the physical space. We partnered with YouTubers and influencers to curate multiple versions of the same experience.

Patrick Reid is the chief executive and Julian Baker is the executive creative director at Imagination EMEA