7 Ways Secret Cinema Uses Experiential Marketing To Engage Film Fans

How cus­tomer-cen­tric think­ing helps Secret Cin­e­ma meet and exceed expec­ta­tions at key moments.

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 0 comments

When it comes to cult cin­e­ma, fan expec­ta­tions are incom­pa­ra­bly high. Secret Cin­e­ma uses a vari­ety of orig­i­nal ways to engage their high­ly devot­ed cus­tomer base. Above all, a com­mit­ment to cus­tomer-cen­tric think­ing gives the brand an edge when inter­act­ing with such fans. While immer­sive events clear­ly won’t be a fit for every­one, there are lessons here for all mar­keters look­ing to reach high­ly engaged fans and audi­ences.

Since it’s birth in 2007, Secret Cin­e­ma has become a cel­e­brat­ed spec­ta­cle amongst devot­ed groups of cin­e­ma afi­ciona­dos. The immer­sive expe­ri­ence which com­bines screen­ings of cult films in secret loca­tions, with live-action enter­tain­ment and the­atri­cals, has become a run­away suc­cess.

Last year’s reju­ve­na­tion of the 1985 sci-fi clas­sic “Back to the Future” saw the orga­niz­ers recre­at­ing an incred­i­ble set of the sto­ry’s Hill Val­ley loca­tion, and after a shaky start, putting on a show to match.

This year, the event has its sights set on a galaxy far, far away. That’s right, Secret Cin­e­ma 2015 will cap­ture the spec­tac­u­lar inter­galac­tic space opera that is “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”.

Engaging Cult Film Fans

At the essence, Secret Cin­e­ma relies on a sim­ple, but huge­ly effec­tive for­mu­la: engage a core group of high­ly devot­ed fans of cult film, and host an incred­i­ble immer­sive expe­ri­ence which is both excit­ing and social, allow­ing them to enjoy the event and con­nect with sim­i­lar­ly devot­ed fans.

How­ev­er, this busi­ness is unique­ly chal­leng­ing for one key rea­son: when it comes to cult cin­e­ma, fan expec­ta­tions are incom­pa­ra­bly high. The onus is on the orga­niz­ers to flaw­less­ly deliv­er com­plex, intri­cate pro­duc­tions and events – or else suf­fer the wrath of the fans.

Case in point: Last year’s “Back to the Future” pro­duc­tion flirt­ed with dis­as­ter when the first day of the event was can­celed just 90 mins before it was due to begin, with many excitable atten­dees already in cos­tume and on their way to the venue.

Lessons Learned

Ensur­ing that this year’s event goes with­out a hitch is of para­mount impor­tance for the orga­niz­ers this year, and it seems they are will­ing to go to some lengths to ensure fans and tick­et hold­ers remain hap­py.

For exam­ple, while “May the 4th” is unof­fi­cial­ly rec­og­nized the world over as “Star Wars Day”, the scale and chal­lenges of stag­ing an inter­galac­ti­cal­ly themed pro­duc­tion have meant that this year’s immer­sive cin­e­mat­ic expe­ri­ence will actu­al­ly begin a month lat­er, on June 4th.

Fans and tick­et hold­ers of the event look­ing to cel­e­brate Star Wars Day how­ev­er, were not to be dis­ap­point­ed. In a spir­it­ed move no doubt designed to ampli­fy fan engage­ment on a cru­cial day for “Star Wars” fans every­where, Secret Cin­e­ma host­ed a ‘RebelX Gath­er­ing’ (a.k.a., a par­ty) in a secret loca­tion in Lon­don. Tick­et hold­ers were informed of the mys­te­ri­ous gath­er­ing via a swift­ly word­ed email:


Cus­tomers were also teased with a guer­ril­la mar­ket­ing cam­paign which con­nect­ed real-life expe­ri­ences to social media to pro­vide clues of the events loca­tion. 

The ‘Secret’ to Success

If there’s a real “secret” to the suc­cess of Secret Cin­e­ma, this would be it. A com­mit­ment (even if it was learned the hard way after last year’s delays) to ensur­ing an active brand pres­ence in the build up to the event, and the fun­da­men­tal assur­ance that cus­tomers’ high expec­ta­tions are in no way com­pro­mised, espe­cial­ly when they are seek­ing a brand inter­ac­tion.

The nature of Secret Cin­e­ma’s audi­ences – many will be high­ly devot­ed fans – means that it’s impor­tant that their cult film expe­ri­ences remain unmarred through­out.

For Secret Cin­e­ma, sen­si­tiv­i­ty and aware­ness of the cus­tomer jour­ney – from the moment a cus­tomer signs up to the mail­ing list or pur­chas­es a tick­et, right through to their expe­ri­ence of the event – forms the back­bone of the over­all expe­ri­ences that they pro­vide.

As the exam­ples below show, the orga­niz­ers are mind­ful of the needs and desires of an audi­ence of high­ly engaged, pas­sion­ate film­go­ers and fanat­ics, and react to those touch­points accord­ing­ly. They do this by a vari­ety of means, but the one aspect that unites their activ­i­ties is their will­ing­ness to act on audi­ence desires, and deliv­er excep­tion­al cus­tomer-cen­tric moments.

Here are sev­en ways Secret Cin­e­ma uses super-expe­ri­en­tial expe­ri­ences to engage cult film fans.

1. Engage Loyal Fan Bases

Nat­u­ral­ly this is step one for Secret Cin­e­ma. Film has long inspired and stirred pas­sion amongst admir­ers of the medi­um.

Whether it’s pop­u­lar clas­sics such as “Back to the Future” or “Star Wars”, or more cult offer­ings such as “The War­riors”, the great thing about engag­ing groups of loy­al fans is that you can be fair­ly cer­tain of an enthu­si­as­tic and will­ing audi­ence. It’s fair to say that most fans will be will­ing to share con­tent about the films, sto­ries or char­ac­ters that they are pas­sion­ate about, and some, would bite your hand of at a chance to express their fanati­cism.

Here’s the kick­er: when you engage loy­al fan bases, the stakes are sim­ply high­er. Cer­tain­ly, there are big­ger, bet­ter oppor­tu­ni­ties to engage, but loy­al fans have par­tic­u­lar­ly high expec­ta­tions and it means there is a greater risk of dis­ap­point­ing cus­tomers.

2. Put On A Show

If you look at Secret Cin­e­ma’s his­to­ry over the past few years, you’ll see that there is very lit­tle expense spared in the way of pro­duc­tion qual­i­ty.

Secret Cinema Shawshank

Tak­ing over an aban­doned school in Hack­ney, 2013’s pro­duc­tion of The Shaw­shank Redemp­tion saw atten­dees hav­ing to par­tic­i­pate in prison drills before being sen­tenced to watch the film.

Secret Cinema Back to the Future

2014’s Back to the Future Pro­duc­tion allowed audi­ences to have a burg­er and a milk­shake in a repli­ca 50s din­er just like the one that fea­tured in the film.

The ben­e­fit of putting on an incred­i­ble show is that it moves peo­ple emo­tion­al­ly. That fil­ters through to peo­ple’s social media and image shar­ing net­works, and the dig­i­tal con­ver­sa­tions become part of the event.

Lim­its are pushed because that’s what it takes to amaze. When it comes to enter­tain­ing super-fans, a brand is expect­ed to deliv­er an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence.

While not every busi­ness will be based around events, espe­cial­ly where tar­get audi­ences are devot­ed fans, putting on a “show” that can amaze and delight (per­haps major tech keynotes are the best exam­ple) can dri­ve con­ver­sa­tions and pos­i­tive engage­ment around an event.

3. Capture A Moment

Right from the ear­ly days of Secret Cin­e­ma, there has been an innate under­stand­ing that immer­sive moments are the key to defin­ing incred­i­ble expe­ri­ences. The orga­niz­ers look to cre­ate envi­ron­ments that audi­ences can whole­heart­ed­ly embrace.

As Secret Cin­e­ma founder Fabi­an Rigall said in an inter­view with screendai­ly:

When we cre­ate an expe­ri­ence, we give every­one a char­ac­ter, we want­ed to cre­ate an expe­ri­ence in which the audi­ence steps inside the moment… We cre­ate this world for the audi­ence to become a part of.”

Immer­sive­ness is becom­ing a bench­mark for stand­out brand expe­ri­ences. It’s some­thing that is increas­ing­ly being applied to dig­i­tal con­tent – check out recent exam­ples from HBO and Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Killing Jesus.

These days, when brand expe­ri­ences are look­ing to encour­age shares, immers­ing audi­ences, and let­ting them get lost for a moment can inspire real loy­al­ty.

4. Create An Experience That Elicits Social Interactions

Secret Cin­e­ma’s expe­ri­ences are always high­ly social, and the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the event amongst mil­len­ni­al audi­ences means that social media net­works are a key part of the even­t’s pro­mo­tions. Dur­ing the events them­selves, these net­works will light up with activ­i­ty. Accord­ing to Rigall:

The oth­er thing that’s real­ly impor­tant to me is the sense of com­mu­ni­ty… Maybe with the rise of dig­i­tal cul­ture, we become more and more dis­con­nect­ed, that by cre­at­ing these expe­ri­ences, peo­ple are com­ing togeth­er.”

While Secret Cin­e­ma’s actu­al events are marked­ly expe­ri­en­tial, one that audi­ences can feel and touch, what it real­ly does is bridge the gap between real life and con­sumers’ dig­i­tal lives. The over­all jour­ney, includ­ing buildup and hype, have a strong online pres­ence, espe­cial­ly when it comes to the way fans are eager to share expe­ri­ences on social media.

Secret Cin­e­ma used guer­ril­la mar­ket­ing tac­tics to drop clues about the this year’s secret loca­tion.

5. Use The Power To Change People’s Perceptions

This one goes right to the heart of the Secret Cin­e­ma con­cept. One of the rea­sons why the con­cept works so well is that it rede­fines some­thing that audi­ences already know and love, and changes their per­cep­tions of what to expect.

For founder Fabi­an Rig­gall, it was to make view­ing a film a jour­ney. Not only between the start and end of a film reel, but beyond that, cre­at­ing an expe­ri­ence that immers­es and has the capac­i­ty to won­der and amaze.

Secret Cin­e­ma has the pow­er to move peo­ple, and change their per­cep­tions of what see­ing a film entails. When you have to pow­er to move con­sumer, it means you can stand out from the crowd and win the loy­al­ty of your audi­ences..

6. Infuse A Sense Of Mystery

In the ear­ly days of Secret Cin­e­ma, the events were pro­mot­ed with the tag line “Tell No-One”. It gave the events an air of exclu­siv­i­ty, but above all it cre­at­ed a sense of mys­tery and thrill around the whole event.

As Rigall said, Secret Cin­e­ma seeks to “play with the idea of the mys­tery… I always come back to this quote (Roald Dahl), and that the world has lost a lit­tle bit of that mys­tery, that romance that adven­ture.”

Secret Cin­e­ma aims to cap­ture a sense of mys­tery that is fleet­ing and rare in every­day life, because often, that’s exact­ly what con­sumers want. The nat­ur­al reac­tion for a brand doing these kind of events may be to push a heavy pro­mo­tion sched­ule, but some­times less is more. Think­ing from the audi­ence’s per­spec­tive allowed the orga­niz­ers to con­sid­er how build­ing mys­tery served an impor­tant aspect of the expe­ri­ence.

7. Do A Bit Of Everything

The live nature of Secret Cin­e­ma means that it is always going to have it’s hic­cups. What audi­ences love about the events is that every­thing more-or-less comes togeth­er on the night, to cre­ate an unmiss­able over­all expe­ri­ence.

Infus­ing a sense of mys­tery means that peo­ple can be sur­prised by events, and their expec­ta­tions can read­i­ly be exceed­ed. That then fil­ters through into social media con­ver­sa­tions which also becomes part of the event.

What makes the con­cept so strong is that all the activ­i­ties that Secret Cin­e­ma engage in con­tribute to the final result.

Do you know any oth­er valu­able ways to engage super-fans? Let momen­tol­ogy know on Twit­ter or in the com­ments below.

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

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