Thanks to Forbes
It's All About The Experience: A Party Scene Even Selena Gomez And Zac Efron Would Admire
The crazy, happy shrieking! The flash of photographers’ light bulbs! The glitz, the bling, the glamour! Ladies and gentleman, it’s a night on the red carpet! And how exciting – and so very real – it is. Except it’s not. Real, that is. What it is, however, is a truly inventive brand idea brought to life in exacting detail by its creative founders, event planner, Craig Saslow and Actor’s Studio alumna, Eva Shure. It was just recently that I had the delight of escorting my daughter to a party produced by Red Carpet Kids, a business that provides a “once-in-a-lifetime, interactive, Old Hollywood-inspired event” that comes about as close to the real deal as one could imagine. As captivated as I was watching my daughter and her tween friends totally get into the festivities, I was equally captivated by what a display of terrific brand management this was.
As a marketing guy, I can’t help but be on the lookout for examples of great branding. And, perhaps, nowhere is great branding more difficult than when trying to create an experience, be it a hotel, a restaurant, an airline, or a retail experience. It’s one thing to brand a product, wherein you have a singular point of delivery. But successfully branding an experience requires people – a whole bunch of people – working together in orchestrated fashion to bring the idea on which the brand is based to life. Companies that struggle at this endeavor do so, most often, because the idea on which the brand is based is not clear enough, focused enough, or sticky enough. This means the people charged with bringing it to life can’t execute the vision as expected.
What’s great about the idea of a red carpet is that it’s so well understood, so sharp and evocative, that it’s easy, not to mention fun, to get a whole bunch of people to deliver on it. And in the case of Red Carpet Kids, they do, brilliantly. It’s not like telling employees that the objective of the company is to make people happy or to feel good. Everyone’s interpretation of what this means is different. It’s another story to tell them to make customers feel like they’re on the red carpet, at a Hollywood premier. Anyone can envision the whole Hollywood bling thing.
So, being the marketing guy I am, I decided to call on Craig Saslow to find out a bit more about Red Carpet Kids. While it’s a newbie brand, you’ll see from the following conversation that its founders adhered to some pretty traditional rules of brand-building as they launched their experiential enterprise. Here’s just a portion of my talk with Craig:
Allen Adamson: Many businesses start with a product idea. You started with a clearly focused brand idea. You knew from the get-go what you wanted your brand to stand for and how you wanted to bring it to life. Tell me about your background and what prompted you and your partner to come up with this idea.
Craig Saslow: Well, I went to school at Cornell and concentrated in hospitality management. After I graduated, I went out to Los Angeles and did some acting, but also worked in hospitality, at restaurants and in clubs and hot spots where I got to learn about red carpet events, celebrities, and got a sense of what this experience is like. When I moved back to New York, I worked in restaurants, again did more acting, and met my fiancé, Eva, who is an actress. We were thinking about starting something that had to do with the theater and with the hospitality business, and also with kids. We knew that whatever we did, it had to be unique, recognizing that to compete in the marketplace you’ve got to have something that stands out, or you’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
AA: It’s branding 101. You need to come up with an idea that’s different and relevant in a way people care about. It also helps if it’s something that’s compatible with your skill set.
CS: Right. Eva and I looked at our backgrounds, hospitality and theater, and realized that, combined, we could create something no one had done before. We also realized that people love reading and hearing about celebrities. They follow their favorites and keep up with the happenings in Hollywood. We also had a sense that being treated like a celebrity and the adventure of attending a Hollywood event – the red carpet, the paparazzi, the TV interviews, the filming of a movie, the Oscar parties – is something people would really like to experience for themselves. We believed the concept was universal in its appeal. We also knew this was something kids were really into.
AA: There are companies that do aspects of what you’re doing, but no one has pulled it all together the way you have, created the total experience where you come in and do everything from walking on a red carpet, putting on costumes, shooting a movie, attending a “world premier” with cameras flashing, and attending a post-party. You’ve even got the whole special effects thing down.
CS: Eva and I combined our talents with a film guy who worked for Marvel, and with movie producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and he’s the mastermind behind our technology, and creating the movie, which is the centerpiece of the whole Red Carpet Kids experience. He makes it credible, a quality effort, because he’s an expert in the field.
AA: It was obvious to me that the kids love everything about this experience – being interviewed as if they were actual celebrities, having the make-up ladies gossip with them about Kristin Stewart or Justin Bieber like they’re Hollywood insiders. From a brand point of view, you have a very ownable idea and the details are paramount to supporting your premise. The execution is key to its feeling authentic.
CS: It’s the details that make each party, every experience, so special. One of the things we do is make sure we customize everything for each individual party, so if you’ve been to one, the next will be a totally new experience. If there’s a particular celebrant, we customize the marquee with the child’s name, we customize the movie, the cake, and we make sure their favorite candy is stocked. Kids, even young kids, are so sophisticated, especially New York kids. Nothing can feel fake. You have to get the details right. They can tell when something isn’t right on. We hear that it’s both the authenticity and the wholesome fun that is what families love about us. What would it be like to be at an old-time Hollywood premier, to be a celebrity? There’s no cynicism. All of our staff are actors who play out different characters, from the Swedish TV interviewer to the British butler who escorts kids up and down the stairs. And, with so many factors involved, we look for people who are good with improvisational skills. They have to be able to quickly make adjustments, roll with the punches. Just like in an actual Hollywood premier, you never know what’s going to happen!
AA: All of your branding signals, starting with the name, communicate exactly what the brand is – a Hollywood glam experience, experience being the key word. From one point of touch to the next, be it the poster in the concession stand featuring the “star” of the movie they just shot, the way the kids give their Oscar acceptance speeches, and especially the actors who so obviously enjoy getting completely into the event with the kids, everything is consistently “on brand.” There is no break in the role playing from beginning to end. The idea of a red carpet is so extendable, it “has legs” as we say. What do you see next for the brand?
CS: Well, we’ve actually partnered with the Four Seasons Hotel in New York which has been looking for a way to expand its family business and differentiate itself from other hotel family programs. Our Red Carpet Experience at the Four Seasons is totally in keeping with its brand promise of exceptional service, and is a wonderful opportunity for the whole family to enjoy the total movie-making and celebrity experience together. They get to stay at one of the most elite hotels and enjoy the whole red carpet event.
AA: It’s hard to create a brand that catches on as quickly as yours did. But, by starting out with a clear idea of exactly what you wanted to represent, which is enabling your cast and crew to follow through so beautifully on every detail, all in alignment with the original idea, you’ve been creating quite the buzz.
CS: When we launched in January, we got a lot of press and were actually voted Best Over-the-Top Kids Party by New York Magazine. The bottom line was that we had a vision and we knew that to bring it to fruition with any success, we had to do it right.