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storytelling at scale, Towards World Expo 2025

As we look toward World Expo 2025 in Japan, we look back at Expo 2020 in Dubai.

In November 2021, the world gathered under a dome in Dubai. With the lights dimmed, onlookers held their breath in anticipation of the premier spectacles months in the making: the National Day Ceremonies at the Al Wasl Plaza, the architectural and cultural centrepiece of the Dubai Expo.

None were more anxious that the marketeers in the audience, briefed to deliver something unprecedented for their respective countries – an immersive 3D light show to be played out on the world’s largest 360-degree projection surface.

Among them was our client, the Bahrain Economic Development Board (Bahrain EDB) and Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA), with whom we had worked tirelessly over the preceding weeks to prepare roughly 10 minutes of content that could make or break reputations on the world’s biggest stage.

Creating content of this type, for this medium, was a first for both us and the client. And an audience filled with heads of state, including Bahrain’s most powerful man, the stakes couldn’t have been higher. And yet, somehow, when the curtain closed on opening night it was to the sound of rapturous applause (along with one or two deep sighs of relief).

So, what did we learn?

Have a clear vision

Before even thinking about production, it’s vital to spend time defining the story you want to tell. In the case of Bahrain, we wanted to create a journey through the Kingdom’s history and culture, so aligned on a set of narrative themes which could translate well visually. Being an immersive medium, it is equally important to think about the impression you want to leave on your audience, the feelings you want to inspire, and the key idea or message above all you want them to take away.

Find the right partners

A lack of direct experience and expertise in-house does not need to be a barrier to entry. Al Wasl was unprecedented in scale and format; however, experiential light projection as a medium most certainly isn’t, and we were able to source a number of specialist suppliers with both the technical know-how and creative expertise to collaborate with. The table stakes for these kinds of production are high – money really talks. But it’s easy to spend a lot and still emerge with a mediocre product. Invest time up front finding a team aligned with your vision and don’t be afraid to listen to new ideas – their technical experience should add huge value to the creative process.

Keep it simple

Understanding how people will interact with your content is key. The Al Wasl plaza is a liminal space, and we couldn’t expect that our audience would absorb the spectacle in its entirety in a traditional manner as one would a TV commercial. We therefore avoided a linear narrative in favour of a much more organic and thematic approach, built on epic visuals and easily recognisable symbols of Bahraini culture in which the viewer could lose themselves. The result was that the audience was able to receive an emotional free sample of Bahrain regardless of when they joined the journey.

Music makes magic

One of the most effective ways of encapsulating a culture is through its musical traditions. Each nation has a unique audio signature, and so in telling the story of Bahrain it was crucial that we created a soundtrack that felt authentic. As one of the largest immersive AV installations in the world, the Al Wasl Dome itself was the perfect stage for sonic immersion – a royalty free library track just wasn’t going to cut it. So we worked with local musicians, vocalists and traditional Bahraini instruments to create a bespoke composition which captured the sounds of the Kingdom. The result was transformative, elevating the experience and increasing the feeling of immersion in the country at a much deeper level.

This kind of storytelling at scale can feel daunting, not least because of the technical complexity, but the impact it can create is unrivalled.

As technology evolves, experiential media opportunities of this type are becoming more accessible and the brands with the bravery to take advantage of them are winning. Hyper-realistic 3D OOH ads have been stunning passersby on busy streets in China, South Korea, the US, Japan and the UK recently, while the unveiling of the new MSG Sphere in Las Vegas has made international headlines and offers tantalising prospects for marketeers looking to capture both eyeballs and column inches.

Food for thought as minds turn towards World Expo 2025 in Japan. If you're looking for new ways to tell your destination's story, or to maximise your impact at Expo, get in touch at , we'd love to talk.


Client: Bahrain EDB and BACA

Production partner: AIM

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