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Why I Hate Inflatables and Handheld Video Games

By Mike Underwood, Sr. Director, Business Development/Creative Services - Sponsorship and Events Saturday started off like any other weekend family day - a foggy wakeup call with a quick cup of coffee, the morning newspaper, some BB e-mail exchanges and then the bomb drop from the Mrs. - "don't forget you're taking Katherine and Aiden to Colin's birthday party today." Oh really? After a series of colorful dialogue exchanges and inevitable submission, we were off to "Pump It Up" for an exciting 2-hour fun-filled adventure (or so it said in the brochure). Translation: an afternoon of screaming kids, refined sugar and really bad pizza. We arrived at our location in a warehouse building district where this unassuming playtime birthday mill business resides. "Welcome to Pump It Up!" our pierced lipped Goth party hostess, Jasmine, said as we entered. I instantly wondered if my kid's vaccinations were up to date. Like a slingshot, their shoes were scattered and they ran into a dark room filled with giant inflatables of every kind - some that you slid down, others that you climbed on, some that you stuck to wearing special Velcro® gloves in addition to the huge inventory of projectiles in every size and shape to outfit a kiddie army. I noticed an abundance of kids sitting on the sidelines, noses buried in handheld gaming units. It was at this moment that my mind drifted to work and I saw the parallels between the kid party I was attending and the 'adult parties' we produce every day. And I realized something profound: how much I hate inflatables and portable games! As an event marketer, we're taught to create experiences that everyone can participate in. As I looked around the room at Mom's and Dad's standing around I thought to myself . . . this is not an event, this is not a party. What happened to intimate backyard birthday bashes where parents took pride in planning the day's festivities - where the whole neighborhood pitched in and let you borrow their extra lawn furniture? Outside, Dad would tie up the piñata to the largest tree while mom took care of tacking up the 'pin the tail on the donkey' activity. If your family had the big bucks, the birthday experience may have included a magician or a clown that made balloon animals too. It seems like the simple days of kick the can and hide n' seek have been replaced with reclusive activities like text messaging and heldheld gaming units removing us from participating in these immersive experiences. As a marketer and an active consumer I demand more for me and my kids. I want them to grow up with the social enrichment of strolling museums, peering into the universe under the stars of a planetariums sky, camping out in the backyard and digging for sand crabs on the beach with flashlights at night - all without social hindrances of handheld gaming units in tow. Parents should be the catalyst for creating lasting memories and familiar pastimes that they can own, participate in and pass onto their children. And marketers ' good ones at least ' should be tasked with the same responsibility. So what have we learned? An experience is what you make of it. How it's translated and delivered to the consumer is up to the people who create it. We deserve more from an experience than just settling for a 'bounce house' or a handheld video game unit. Consumers should be active participants in their brand experiences. Captivating that audience is the marketer's responsibility. If we didn't believe in the power of sensorial events, we would have tossed up a giant Elf balloon rather than recruited hundreds of consumers to wear an Elf suit and sing Christmas songs together, striving toward a World Record. We would have chucked a free download card to tweens instead of organized an international gaming tournament in which kids and their parents lined up for hours to show down together! We would have emailed Moms an e-coupon instead of mixing them drinks and serving them organic local fruit from the back of a branded vintage apple truck at Farmer's Markets. But that's just me. And that's just AMP.

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