The ‘experience economy’ is making us boring

When the term ‘experience economy’ was coined in the nineties it was posited that the value in experiences lay in the memories created. Today, it seems like the value of an experience is measured by the 'likes' it receives on social media. It's an obsession influencing not only a brand's creativity but also impairing our ability to just enjoy ourselves.

Last week I was on the 33rd floor of a hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Approaching the pool in 32°C heat my reflexes stopped me in my tracks. Before I knew it, my phone was in hand and photos of the dreamy infinity pool were sent to my nearest and dearest.

When I looked up, I realised I wasn’t alone in wanting to capture the experience. In fact, I was an amateur. My fellow guests were taking their quest to maximise their 'likes' very seriously, with two groups commandeering the best (and most precarious) shoot locations.

Couple A were taking it in turns as they ran through a seemingly pre-agreed shot list. Moving through sultry poolside poses (dry hair and accessories required), to shallow end acrobatics (selfie stick, and if you were being sensible, a helmet), the shoot culminated in a curious synchronised star jump (GoPro mandatory).

Group B had their hearts set on capturing the ‘instagrammable’ pool in all its glory. This was not a one take wonder, and the final poses had them resting their collective body weights over the lettering of the 'DO NOT LEAN' signs on the glass surrounding the pool (and overlooking the 33 floor drop).

In the several hours we spent there, nobody actually swam

Once the respective shoots were over, everyone hopped onto their sun loungers and began frantically editing and perfecting their photos on their phones.

A momentary pause in the collective finger tapping signalled the caption competition had begun. What use is a cracking photo without a witty humblebrag to accompany it?

In the several hours we spent there, nobody actually swam.

Ultimately we’ve all seen, and probably been responsible for, scenes like this. What’s more, as marketers, it’s pretty much our job to make this problem worse.

I’m not sure it has to be this way.

In an Amsterdam café recently I saw a poster which read:


Weekends are screen free days. No laptops, screens, iPads etc. Make some time for yourself. Read a book. Talk to someone. Get your life back.

Punchy, but it didn’t seem like this was bad for business.

A packed café saw people sprawled across the various armchairs and sofas. Some enjoying the company and genuinely laughing out loud (not just LOL’ing), whilst others looked bored (which science says isn’t a bad thing for people in the ideas game).

If marketing is about selling a dream, the Dutch café scene won hands down and there was no infinity pool in sight.

Rather than capitalising on our addiction to capture the moment, and measure success by the number of clicks, I wonder if brands can instead play a role in reminding us what it is like to really experience something.

Sure, we might still want to write a post about it afterwards, but instead of a vacuous shot accompanied by a pun, we might actually have something more interesting to say.

• Emily Horswell is an eatbigfish strategist.