Immersive Museums 2.0: From Selfie Factories to Money Making Machines

Posted by Samantha Stallard on June 20, 2018
Find me on:


Immersive museums consistently flood our news feeds. We've watched Boomerang videos of friends jumping into pools of colorful sprinkles, liked countless selfies through Infinity Mirrors, and laughed at the seemingly absurd new themes, such as the Museum of Pizza, The Egg House, and The Cado Museum in San Diego (dedicated to everyone's favorite millennial treat, the avocado).

While the immersive museums we know today are traveling, pop-ups, the trend actually began accidentally years ago, as internationally acclaimed art museums began featuring interactive installations. In 2012, the Rain Room opened at London’s Barbican Center. The installation — a curtain of rain that paused when someone walked beneath it — later traveled to New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 

In 2015, the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian opened Wonder, an immersive art experience featuring nine contemporary artists. One room featured a prismatic rainbow made from 60 miles of thread; another room was wallpapered with dead insects, and another included 10 sky-high towers of index cards stacked and glued together. The exhibit, drew record breaking crowds, many of whom were eager to Instagram their experiences. Wonder became famous on social media, bringing more visitors to the Renwick during the show’s six-week run than the museum had seen in a year. And the Renwick embraced it, posting signs encouraging visitors to take photos. 

With countless offshoots constantly launching, the modern versions of the immersive, standalone museum all follow the same general guidelines for success:

  • Influencer promotion
  • Selfie lighting throughout
  • Large scale, cartoonish props and backdrops
  • Whimsy, kitschy themes 

But, has the market been saturated? Have we overdone it on themed, pop-up self promotion factories? According to consumers — no, we're just getting started. We polled Pop2Life's Twitter and Instagram followers who agree by a two-thirds majority, immersive museums aren't going anywhere.

Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 1.14.53 PM

Even with continued success nationwide, immersive museums must update their strategy in order to continue to attract visitors and support rising costs for short term rents, staffing, and promotion. Historically, these experiences have made their money through ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. The New York version of the Museum of Ice Cream was supported by 30 corporate sponsors, including Dove, Fox, and Dylan’s Candy Bar; in “Tinderland,” a room sponsored by Tinder, visitors could sit on a see-saw ice cream scoop or an ice cream sandwich swing and use an app to find their “true flavor match.”

Refinery29's annual, Fashion Week-adjacent experience, 29Rooms, featured numerous brand sponsorships, including a coffee tasting experience by Dunkin' Donuts and Aldo’s “Love Walk” runway with a heart-shaped mirror, red lights, and Aldo shoes plastered to the structure. Snap Inc. also partnered with Refinery29 for its first rental program. Attendees rented Spectacles for free during the three hours they had to explore the space.

29rooms_6The Dunkin' Donuts tasting room at Refinery29's 29Rooms in Brooklyn, September 2017

The degree to which these brands impact the experience differs by location, but the existence of brand sponsorships at all changes the meaning of these spaces, and the reason they exist at all. Now, enter, the licensing deal, the latest way investors are turning these selfie factories into money making machines.

Leading the pack, of course, is the OG of immersive museum experiences, The Museum of Ice Cream. Since first opening in NYC in 2016, the museum has toured the country — still going two years later, it's now in San Francisco — as $38 tickets continue to sell out almost immediately. A swimming pool filled with plastic sprinkles could only keep Instagram's content queens satiated for so long. Last month, the museum announced the opening of its new content store in NYC, the Pint Shop. The free shopping experience opened in New York’s Meatpacking District on June 6

The experience is an imaginative riff on a grocery store, featuring “life-size pint installations,” likely in the museum’s signature rainbow colors, and opportunities to take a million selfies and buy the new brand of ice cream. Guests can make paid reservations for a special tasting of all of the flavors, and they’ll have the opportunity to “learn about the making of ice cream through all five senses.”

As for those flavors: They have cutesy names, and some are direct references to experiences at the Museum of Ice Cream. The two signature flavors are Piñata, “vanilla ice cream with iced animal cookies, frosted cupcake bites, fizzy cotton candies and rainbow sprinkles,” and Sprinkle Pool, which contains the titular ingredient. There’s also Vanillionaire, Chocolate Crush, Cherrylicious, the cinnamon and churro-filled Churro Churro and Nana Bread, a banana ice cream with salted caramel almond butter swirls.

Beyond food sales, The Museum of Ice Cream is branching out into retail simultaneously. As a result of a design partnership with the museum, Target just announced a new venture in their Art Class Collectiona line inspired by the exhibitCurated just for kids, the Museum of Ice Cream Art Class Kids’ collection includes a variety of pastel-colored apparel, including jumpsuits, shirts, skirts, hoodies, dresses, shorts, and swimwear.

We predict other museums will follow suit with licensing deals, whether that be branded merch onsite or limited edition consumer packaged goods. To find out even more about the history of immersive museums, as well as the most successful exhibits across the country, download our latest experiential report!

 Download our Immersive Museums report


Topics: brand sponsorships, brand experiences, event production, experiential marketing

Subscribe to blog email updates