The YOLO Economy Is a Movement, Not a Moment

The YOLO Economy is a Movement, Not a Moment
Photo courtesy Roger Harris/Unsplash

From as far back as I can remember, gathering people has been my thing. At 14, I was put in charge of (well, put myself in charge of) my eight-year-old sister’s birthday party — which, of course, I turned into a talent show, where I was the host and a contestant. At least I allowed one of the eight-year-olds to win.

It was a hit with the kids and adults, and it wasn’t long before I became the neighborhood party planner. But even then I loathed the title. I wasn’t a party planner! My creative ambitions couldn’t be reduced to tablescapes and goody bags. I was bringing people together to do things they hadn’t done before, curating experiences and creating core memories, for God’s sake. Likewise, when it comes to gifts and celebrating milestones, my philosophy has always been:

Who wants a big-ticket item when you can have a communal adventure to carry with you forever?

This is why, at 30, my bestie and I hosted a roast-and-toast birthday, where we rented out Ciel Rouge in Manhattan and invited people to pay tribute to us via song, dance, comedy, and art. Someone opened things up with the National Anthem. When I turned 35, I headed to Paris with my nearest and dearest (four of us crammed into one hotel room) to celebrate with an Eiffel Tower tour, a winding trek through the Catacombs, amazing meals soaked in butter, and an ill-fated visit to the Moulin Rouge (my advice: skip it and just watch the movie). 

For 40, I rented a massive farmhouse to host a bonfire and chili cookoff for 25 friends, family, and oh so many dogs. Turning 50 called for a weekend-long extravaganza with a haunted hayride, a barbecue feast and costumed karaoke. I’ve also become known for my experiential-skewing gifts: concert tickets, Broadway shows, a pizza-making class, a trip to see the Rockettes, and even a Cheese Bootcamp for my comté-loving sister. And I’m not alone. 

A recent report from Bank of America, “Funflation in Full Force,” confirms what we here at XP Land already know in our bones: experiential is everything.

The report crowns “relatively disruption-proof” live entertainment as the “biggest star” in the experiential universe. And yes, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and the Sphere were the clear winners of 2023, but also: Coachella doubled its attendance over 2022, Broadway returned to nearly pre-pandemic levels, and despite the actors’ strike, Comic-Con attracted more than 150,000 attendees — up from the typical 135,000 in non-Covid years. 

Dubbed “funflation” in the report, this explosion of consumer spending on experiences — to the point of actually driving up the cost of those experiences — is here to stay. And while no one wants to see experiences become cost-prohibitive (and there are already signs of some cooling; see the Las Vegas Grand Prix debut of Formula 1), this phenomenon points to something deeper and more exciting for us experiential architects. 

It used to take me ten gorgeously designed slides to explain why experiences matter. But after making it through the pandemic, when we were forced to isolate, people now instantly understand the appeal of gathering to laugh, sing, dance and even cry. It turns out, that sitting at home letting ourselves obsess over everything we wanted to do when the world was normal again was a pretty solid growth strategy for experiential creators.

There’s a place in the funflation economy for brands, too. 

The report states that consumers are continuing to move away from goods and toward experiences — which presents a huge opportunity for brands. Although most brands don’t have an Es Devlin or Felix Barrett on their team, it’s still possible, and imperative, for creative brand leaders to tap into what audiences are craving. But how? 

It starts with cultivating a strong, thoughtful editorial voice that connects with your audience on an emotional level. Then it’s time to figure out the why: why are you gathering people? And what do you want to achieve with that gathering? Starting with the community in mind makes it easier to get there. Once you’ve nailed down your why, look to collaborators to bring your voice to life. There are artists and other creatives who can translate — and level up — your brand voice and help to create an unforgettable experience.

Then it’s about going where your people already are. Yes, it’s tempting to jump into producing your own live experiences, but there is much to gain from partnering with organizations that are already convening your people. The goal is to craft a complementary experience in that existing world with the demographic you’re targeting —  sparing you the legwork of convening, adding a layer of trust, and providing an opportunity to transition to your own experiences. 

Sephora is a great example of this strategy. 

The brand used to host activations at Coachella and Toronto Film Festival, building its voice and audience in conjunction with brands in the experiential space. By 2018, its flagship consumer event, SEPHORiA, was born, and the beauty community rejoiced.

Sometimes going where the audience already lives means joining them online; not every incredible experience has to happen IRL. Tapping into technology can help brands move beyond flat virtual experiences to engaging ones. Fashion brands are leaders here, picking up new fans by outfitting their avatars in the alternate digital universes of Roblox, Fortnite, and the rest of the Metaverse. In her role as senior product manager at Roblox, XLIST honoree Annie Zhang has created a yoga retreat where participants can don Alo Yoga gear, hosted virtual beat-maker stations with Spotify, and crafted a fashion event with model Karlie Kloss.

Despite its trendy-sounding name, “Funflation” isn’t a fleeting trend.

The summer tour dates may be behind us, but this is not a moment — it’s a movement, as innovation, desire and changing consumer behavior converge to bring us together. It’s up to brands to make live experiences a core part of their strategy, to give people the connections they crave, to produce activations that make attendees turn to their neighbors and say, “That was mind-blowing!” To give us all a lifeline when the headlines are rife with despair. Encourage us to spread the gospel. Be hopeful. Be transformed. 

Just don’t call it party planning.

Join us in XP Land. A community for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all of those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.

Welcome To
Experiential Is Everything

XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.