Experience Radar: The “Joyconomy” Is Here And London’s High Streets Are Being Reimagined

At The WXO, we want to connect the dots across the Experience Economy and across the globe – so each week, we’ll be bringing you our round-up of the experiential stories that we think reveal something interesting, relevant or transferrable about the Experience Economy.

Welcome to Experience Radar 61, where we’re indulging in a spot of deep play as we reap the benefits of the “joyconomy”, throwing some shapes with Goofy at Disney’s YA experience, and getting our hearts pumping at an immersive workout.

1. Welcome To The “Joyconomy

Headline and above image; Wonder of Friendship: The Experience, Global; Viva Magenta by Pantone

The perfect antidote to the gloom of the cost of living crisis and ongoing global turmoil is the emergence of the ‘joyconomy, which aims to bring colour, happiness and hope to our uncertain world. As reported by Wunderman Thompson, joy and play are setting the tone for 2023, and brands are clocking onto the power of positivity to sell their products, prioritising jubilation, community and connection in their social spaces. Best of all, there’s no age limit here – the trend spans generations as brands seek to encourage adults to indulge in ‘deep play’ as a means of escaping the relentless bad-news cycle.

Hoping to spark joy, McDonald’s has introduced Happy Meals for adults, complete with the obligatory toy at the bottom of the box. Meanwhile, feel-good feeds on social media are gaining momentum as a counterpoint to the permacrisis we find ourselves living in. Social media in general will get more niche and intimate this year, as people move towards networks where they can connect with like-minded people with shared interests. In fashion, bold, joyful colours like Pantone’s ‘Viva Magenta’ are in vogue as consumers embrace dopamine dressing to lift their spirits, and mood-boosting workouts are becoming a thing, as emotional health is woven into the fitness arena.

2. Derelict Store Becomes Creative Hub

Loft’s Marketplace, Hounslow

We’ve been following the trend for repurposed and reimagined retail spaces with interest. Last year we reported that Secret Cinema founder Fabien Riggall is to transform former department store Allders in Croydon into a community arts and entertainment space called Lost to regenerate the high street, foster connections and create new job opportunities. Ahead of the curve, his idea is catching on, as news reaches us of a similar regeneration project in West London’s Hounslow neighbourhood called The Loft. Set to take over the top floor of a former Debenhams, the multipurpose creative hub will promote independent businesses and support local communities.

The Loft‘s main features include The Marketplace, an open-plan collection of 64 stalls selling crafts by independent makers with a centralised payment system, and The Kitchen, a new restaurant and bar featuring a rotating evening menu curated by refugees with proceeds going towards their legal fees. The concept will kick off with taco venture El Jarochito. The Loft’s support work, including a legal advice centre for refugees and creative projects for local communities, will be financed by its commercial offerings. Backed by the Mayor of London’s High Streets for All Challenge Fund, The Loft, which will soft launch in February, will boast an office space, workshop and therapy rooms. 

For more on reinventing retail for the experience era, check out Help! How Can The Experience Economy Save Our Cities?How The Experience Economy Can Save Retail Real Estate, and It’s Playtime For Retailers – If They Want To Win The Future.

3. Disney Launches YA Immersive Experience

Wonder of Friendship: The Experience, Global

Think Disney is just for kids? Think again. The magic maker has just launched an immersive experience for adults to mark its centenary across three key cities: London, Paris and Berlin. Called ‘Wonder of Friendship: The Experience’, the event takes visitors on a journey through some of Disney’s best-loved characters, celebrating 100 years of dynamic duos and unlikely pals. Taking place in former brutalist office block 180 The Strand, which has carved a niche for cutting-edge video art, the London show features 1,000 square metres of installations themed around Alice in Wonderland, Lilo & Stitch andThe Lion King.

According to Time Out, you’ll be able to venture down Alice’s rabbit hole to her ‘Garden of Mystery’ filled with ‘bread-and-butterflies’, catch some waves at Lilo & Stitch’s Ohana Bay, and dance with Donald and Goofy in the ‘Wonderverse’. Weaving tech into the mix, characters will come to life in full AR glory with the scan of a QR code. The multi-sensory pop-up is being targeted at young adults but is open to everyone over the age of eight. To help lodge the memories in your mind long after the experience has ended, visitors will each receive a bespoke Disney memento and will have the chance to take ‘one-off photos’ throughout.

4. Secret Cinema Shelves Prison Screenings

Key Details by Nate Embrey

Illustrating the importance of nailing the setting when designing experiences, Secret Cinema has shelved its plans to host its next immersive film experience in the wildlands of Wormwood Scrubs. As reported by the Evening Standard, the firm withdrew its attempt after locals objected to its plans to host two shows, citing damage to the local hibernating bat population, spotted woodpecker nests, song thrushes and juvenile warblers. Thousands of revellers were due to descend on the 200-acre nature reserve surrounding the prison in August.

Secret Cinema released a statement confirming the screenings won’t go ahead after the firm failed to complete a feasibility study into the ecological impact of the experience. “It has become clear that more information is needed to assess our impact, in particular the impact on the ecology surrounding the site. We will continue a dialogue with LBHF to assess the feasibility of holding events in WSOS,” the statement said. The entertainment juggernaut recently put on its first US event in LA, providing creative direction on a Stranger Things drive-thru experience. Last year Secret Cinema was snapped up by digital ticketing platform TodayTixGroup in a deal worth over US$100m.

5. Meta Nets Streaming Deal With NBA

Meta x NBA partnership

Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta has netted a deal with the National Basketball Association to launch a new VR fan experience via the Meta Quest headset. The multiyear partnership extension will include 52 live NBA League Pass games in virtual reality – including five immersive 180-degree monoscopic live VR games in 2880 resolution ­– throughout the season. Accessible through Meta Horizon Worlds, the NBA Arena will feature interactive mini-games and sell NBA-licensed apparel in the Meta Avatars Store along with NBA League Pass access in Xtadium, a VR sports hub app offering shared watching experiences in high definition.

Fans will be able to sit in a virtual courtside seat to watch live NBA games and host private screenings with friends. They’ll also be able to dress their avatars in NBA togs, which they can flaunt on Facebook and Instagram. “Our extended partnership with Meta will provide more immersive and innovative ways to experience the NBA,” said Jennifer Chun, NBA’s executive vice president. “Meta’s digital world opens up exciting possibilities for NBA fans to virtually attend our games and interact with other fans around the world.” Click here for the full VR game schedule.

6. 360° Workouts Are Getting Pulses Racing

E-Pulsive, London

The fitness arena is the latest sector to be given the immersive treatment as news reaches us that E-Pulsive, which bills itself as London’s leading Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) personal training provider, has just launched a third studio in collaboration with Studio Society in West Hampstead to complement its High Street Kensington flagship. Bringing an experiential twist to your morning workout, as reported by Vanity Fair, the innovative classes in this immersive gym combine elements of sight, sound and smell to make you work up a sweat, with 280-degree floor-to-ceiling video screens and cinematic sound helping to drive you towards the finish line.

For the uninitiated, EMS works by sending low-frequency electric impulses to manually contract your muscle fibres while you exercise, increasing the intensity of your workout. Engaging 98% of your muscles – rather than 60% in a standard workout – just 20 minutes of EMS training will see you burn around 500 calories and allegedly achieve better results than a workout three times as long thanks to the space-like body suit you’re asked to don at the door. The ultimate goal is for gym goers to get the maximum outcome from their workout with as little effort and time as possible, which is an idea we can get on board with.

7. Set-Jetting Is 2023’s Hot Travel Trend

The San Domenico Palace, The White Lotus hotel. Photography by Peter Vitale

We were early in on the TV tourism trend, reporting on the growing phenomenon last year. Now it seems to have a new name, set-jetting, which is set to explode this year. As recent Forbes study found that 96% of respondents have chosen travel locations based on their favourite films and TV shows to live out the storylines of their on-screen idols. The trend illustrates how we’re open to being sold the dream of being able to walk in the footsteps of our silver-screen heroes. Netflix has hooked up with the UN World Tourism Organization to help destinations make the most of screen tourism, while Airbnb is offering overnight stays in the Moulin Rouge windmill overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

“After spending the last three years watching more TV and film than ever before, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing set-jetting as a trend, as people are desperate to live the life of their favourite show’s main character,” Clare Armstrong, head of guest experience at London Luton Airport, told Stylist. It isn’t a coincidence that many an Apple film or Netflix series are filmed in aspirational settings – such scenic spots are chosen to lift people out of their everyday lives to somewhere more beautiful, exotic, and full of promise. Paris is top of the menu for globetrotting girls keen to make like Emily for the day, while Taormina in Sicily has benefitted from a boom in bookings due to The White Lotus.