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Our Love Affair With Instagrammable Moments

Cautionary tales of the pop-up experience and how to make brand moments really count.

Brightly colored murals, ball pits made of joy, and sprinkle pools too fun to resist have saturated our news feeds. Over the past few years, Instagram—and all of us—fell in love with these must-see-it-to-believe-it, perfectly staged photo ops. So much so that we saw the rise of entire “museums” devoted to these Instagrammable moments, a way to capture and chronicle our obsession with IRL experiences. But, as happens with many fervent relationships, it wasn’t meant to be. And like all relationship endings, we’ve decided to analyze that inevitable question: “Why?’”

It wasn’t what we thought it’d be.
The photos, perfectly cropped and filtered, don’t show the hour-long line it took to capture the moment. Worse yet, when it came time to be in the moment, people found that the experience fell flat—looking fun-down and dingy in-person, made to pop in photographs only. The experience had the opposite effect of photos taken IRL—like seeing the Grand Canyon or Mona Lisa, which are often described as “hard to capture” for the awe they inspire. Quite simply, the shine on our pop-up relationship wore off.

We were getting mixed signals.
For many of these pop-up experiences, the point was unclear and the promise fell short. The NYTimes article, “The Existential Void of the Pop-Up Experience,” told the story of Rosé Mansion—an experience dedicated to everyone’s favorite pink-hued wine, where the celebration seemed farcical at best. Look no further than hyperbolic claims that “sweet wines have been the most famous and sought after wines in the world for the pat 5,000 years.” For many pop-ups, loose and confusing themes have left people feeling less than satisfied.

We’re just not that into you.
Perhaps most importantly, influencers are no longer interested. Gen Z has an appetite for more than surface-level relationships. They crave authentic connections, which means less staged, less perfectly planned photos. Content that appeals to Gen Z is messy and in real time—they are after moments that can’t be duplicated. When you can easily switch out the person against the backdrop, the experience isn’t working hard enough to share something meaningful. Not all pictures are worth 1,000 words.

Still some sparks.

Brands still looking to create sparks with the pop-up experience can take note from Blue Apron, which took its Instagrammable pop-up a step further by incorporating cooking classes. Influencers could capture real-time content with real takeaways for audiences—like tips for weekly meal-prepping. The result was more holistic and meaningful brand engagement. Or Prudential, which took a people-first approach to its pop-up. Prudential’s finance-themed escape room invited participants to collaboratively crack the code on financial success and the shared goal of retiring early. Yes, the room was photo-worthy, but to play the game, participants had to not be on their phones and instead focus on making connections.

Brands and retailers have become adept at capitalizing on the sharable social capital of these types of moments, and it’s worked. But to stay ahead of the curve, brands may want to focus on creating that next-level meaning and personalization within their Insta moments, or offer more holistic experiences that feel truly worthy of a share. So, the murals, ball pits, sprinkle pools? Rest assured they aren’t going anywhere. They may just evolve becoming more about connecting with real people and creating real content than amassing likes, just because.

February 14, 2020