Making Meccaland: behind the scenes at Australia’s biggest brand experience

Meccaland welcomed 15,000 customers through its neon tunnel over the weekend, the culmination of months of work for creative agency Taboo. Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby speaks to creative director Reece Hobbins and group account director Kate Prowse about what other agencies and brands can learn from what is now Australia's biggest consumer brand experience.

Reece Hobbins wanted the 15,000 people who walked through Meccaland’s neon tunnel over the weekend to feel like they were entering Disneyland.

The three day beauty festival was the brainchild of Taboo, including its creative director Hobbins. The creative agency dreamed it up as a way for makeup brand Mecca to provide a customer experience outside of shiny Westfield stores.

A warehouse in Sydney’s Eveleigh was the perfect foil to glossy shopfronts, the stage for an experience Taboo wanted to be less “paying entry for a shopping centre experience” and “more of that festival, Disneyland experience”.

This is Meccaland’s second year, and its first in Sydney

“We looked a lot at how Disneyland progressed over this decade in terms of their customer experience,” Hobbins tells Mumbrella.

“Those intangibles that you don’t realise that someone’s actually thought about. Whether that’s smells, or conversations you have with staff, the food around it, themes … all those little touchpoints that make you forget about where you are, as opposed to ‘I’m in a big warehouse space surrounded by booths of brands.’”

Group account director Kate Prowse agrees, explaining that pulling off a successful activation on that scale, branded as a ‘festival’, meant thinking beyond the traditional retail experience and creating something immersive.

“How do you feel when you get in there? Exactly how are the staff briefed? What’s the voiceover that you’re hearing, the music,” Prowse says.

Taboo’s process of answering those questions involved drawing inspiration from cultural moments and events well beyond the scope of the beauty industry.

“We lean heavily on things that are going on in fashion globally, street culture, music festivals,” Hobbins explains.

“We knew that we had to evolve last year’s [inaugural Meccaland festival in Melbourne] to this one, to not only make it even better but to provide more value to customers … so that it didn’t just feel like another big Instagram backdrop and that’s the trap that a lot of people who are behind the curve fall into.”

Meccaland was divided into ‘worlds’, including Popstar Park, into which brand pop ups and experiences were grouped.

Meccaland was most certainly a series of aesthetically pleasing Instagram backdrops. There was the hall of mirrors, mini ferris wheel, sea-saw resembling a double-ended makeup brush, sink filled with a human-sized toothbrush and cotton swab, and bath tub teeming with clear plastic balls. Then there were the slippery dips, swings hanging from the roof, and stations at which to have your hair styled or makeup refreshed. All were designed to be uploadable, worthy of tagging #meccaland and adorning your final photo with special Instagram GIFs created just for the event.

But, according to Hobbins, it was also much more than that. The addition of masterclasses and panel discussions, food trucks and facials, a few exclusive products and the ability to customise others, he says, is what brought the festival to life beyond a Boomerang posted to an Instagram story or a selfie taken behind one of many ring lights. He claims that these add ons make the format a genuine asset that builds loyalty to the Mecca brand.

“It’s getting exclusivity, it’s getting to customise products, it’s getting the ability to see what’s new and fresh before it comes out,” Hobbins says, adding that the chance to meet brand founders who explain “how these brands are made and what they’re made with” make attendees, most of them big beauty spenders, feel part of the industry.

This access and these brand interactions are what Prowse dubs an “experience focused strategy” that showcases that “what a brand does is more important than what a brand says”.

While Meccaland launched last year in Melbourne, its 2019 Sydney offering was triple the size, making it Australia’s largest consumer brand experience. Hobbins says that Taboo and Mecca ramped up the scale once they’d determined how the 44 global beauty brands involved could incorporate the event into their annual marketing spend, since most are based overseas and therefore “don’t necessarily have the ability to ship any kind of activation or brand assets over here”.

“We oversaw all of those 44 brands and worked with different agencies for each of the different builds,” explains Prowse, including positioning the brand pop ups based on the marketing message or launch being pushed.

So what will Meccaland 2020 look like? The answer, Hobbins says, lies in creating something that attendees care enough to give feedback on.

“Do you go bigger, do you go smaller, do you grow it?” he asks, explaining that customers’ feedback will help Taboo and Mecca with those decisions.

As for what other agencies can learn from Meccaland? Hobbins explains that it’s most important to “focus on strategies and solutions where you have the most amount of control”.

“Meccaland is an ideal retail experience because every decision was given the opportunity for creativity. The perfect customers, the perfect staff, the space, entertainment, music, food and smells,” he says.

“Often, as agencies, we waste creative and smart ideas on either unrealistic expectations, the wrong environment or to an audience that is too broad and large to really appreciate it.”

He adds that, to execute such an idea successfully, you need to “know the customer better than they know themselves”, and “live in their world, speak their language, and genuinely share the same interests”.

“Adding real value doesn’t mean just giving away free product. It is also creating moments worth remembering,” he says.

“Community, honesty and trust is the most important and hardest thing to get right. Friends don’t try and sell you bullshit.”


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