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When reality meets fantasy

Mary Lewis explores imaginative new ways of bringing the world of spirits brands to life by letting fantasy take centre stage

Mary Lewis Lewis Moberly

Have you ever dreamt of jumping into a painting and let fantasy become a reality? Airbnb and the Art Institute of Chicago collaborated to meet the challenge with a rental looking exactly like the Van Gogh bedroom, which the artist painted in Arles, South of France in 1889.

ABQ is not the usual bar you expect; it is a lab in a van where a manual replaces the menu, a manual to create your own cocktail inspired by the Breaking Bad acclaimed series.

This summer in Paris, the Breaking Bad fans will have the opportunity to visit the identical ‘making’ lab van of Walter White who claims to “produce a chemically pure and stable product that performs as advertised”. The same pop-up bar attracted 45,000 fans in London, created over 60,000 cocktails and was rated as one of the year’s favourites by the London Diaries.

What Van Gogh’s bedroom and the Walter White van have in common is a porosity between fantasy and reality, potentially inspiring endless immersive cultural and personal experiences. If reality has always inspired fantasy, fantasy may now inspire reality. What does this mean for the spirits category? – The opportunity to find more imaginative ways to bring brand worlds to life.

After a decade or so dedicated to craft, portraying founders and makers, there is now an opportunity for imagination and fantasy to take centre stage. What defines spirit brands is not only the pedigree but also the poetry. Many of them are story-rich, and could evoke a film title – think Bombay Sapphire, or Havana Club.

Even in ‘classic’ categories such as malts, age is no longer the exclusive driver for amateurs and connoisseurs. Both expect a new vocabulary – yet to be defined.

Monkey 47, the niche premium gin recently bought by Pernod Ricard, cleverly mixes reality and fantasy on its website – The Monkey Drum. Designed as a daily, slightly vintage style newspaper, true stories meet mysterious tales in a savant mélange. You discover encyclopaedic information on botanical ingredients, couture cocktails and learn about the remote yet fascinating brand homeland, the Schwarzwald, as enigmatic as folkloric. Iconography appears in neutral black & white but if you click the images, they colour themselves, transporting you into present time. Reality blurs with fantasy - a great form of escape.

It is an exciting time for brand experience and communication. New vistas of opportunity are there, limited only by the limits of our imagination. 

Pictured: Breaking Bad Bar in London - the 'lab in a van' with a manual to create your own cocktails (above insert - the original van as filmed in the series). 

18 July 2016