20 February 2013 // Thoughts

The 5 Keys to Creating Successful Brand Lands: Part 1 – Unlocking the Authentic

Following Keith James’ recent presentation on brand experiences at the Trends in Leisure and Entertainment (TiLE) Conference in Hyderabad, India, Shawn McCoy writes on the keys to success for branded attractions.


For over 25 years, JRA has created attractions for some of the world’s top brands, from theme parks to museums to visitor centers. Through this experience, JRA has learned that the more successful brand lands are those that incorporate some, if not all, of the following keys to success:

  • • AUTHENTICITY – an authentic location (e.g., a corporate headquarters or production facility), real stories, real people and real processes
  • • ACCESS – providing visitors with access to things (collections, artifacts, and memorabilia), processes and people
  • • ONLY HERE EXPERIENCES – providing guests with the opportunity to see and experience things that can only be found at the attraction
  • • PERSONALITY OF THE BRAND – letting the personality of the brand shine through the architecture, aesthetic, exhibits, media experiences and people
  • • HUMAN INTERACTION – putting a human face on the brand by allowing guests to interact with employees and brand ambassadors.

JRA’s first branded theme parks were LEGOLAND Windsor in 1996 and its Carlsbad, California counterpart in 1999. Contrary to the examples we will discuss later, these parks were built in places other than where their brand originated (though the first LEGOLAND park was constructed in its home country of Denmark). But even though these parks are hundreds to thousands of miles away from the brand’s home, they both make a clear visual statement about their inspiration – LEGO bricks. Each of the parks’ activity areas relate to a different LEGO play theme and offer rides, shows, interactives and a Miniland – a series of recreated towns built meticulously from millions of these bricks. Through its design process, JRA learned that the child needed to be the hero in each activity, whether riding and jousting on a horse or working together with a family to put out a fire, just as they are the heroes when they complete their LEGO creation at home. This feeling of heroism is the hallmark personality of the LEGO brand.

A year after the opening of LEGOLAND California, JRA completed its next branded attraction over 5,600 miles away in Wolfsburg, Germany. Volkwagen Autostadt is an authentic tribute to the car brand and offers a glimpse into the tradition and design that have made the brand a success. The ZeitHaus (auto museum) features one of the largest car collections in the world, telling the story of the development of the automobile. Its authenticity derives from the fact that the first car displayed is the Mercedes, the world’s first automobile. In the history gallery, exhibits showcase the personality of the company, as it evolved from its “People’s Cars” roots in World War II to its Love Bug reputation of the 1970s to its current reputation as an innovative and sustainable company. Autostadt offers a series of “only here” experiences, where you can take a ride inside of a gyroscope to learn about safety or walk through an automobile testing facility.

But the real “only here” experience can be found within the site’s towers, which are filled with cars recently produced at the adjacent factory, the largest automobile manufacturing facility in the world. These cars are ordered by customers, which are placed into the tower via an elevator. The sense of anticipation reaches its peak when customers see their appointed time come up on an electronic board, and they can go pick up their car. Its reverence to automobile tradition, its tongue-in-cheek look at Volkwagen’s history and personality and its abundance of “only here” experiences are the reasons why Autostadt has welcomed over 25 million visitors since 2000 and spurred the economy of this small German town.

Moving back across the pond but further forward in time, we arrive in Lynchburg, Tennessee at the Jack Daniels Distillery Experience, which JRA completed in 2007. This attraction, located in the heart of whiskey country, creates another authentic atmosphere, where you can see the production process and bottling line and witness the Jack Daniels coopers making and charring the barrels. Guests can also have the unique experience of visiting the natural spring water source at the heart of every bottle of Jack Daniels and learn why the distillery is located where it is.

The most expensive “only here” experience is the By the Barrel program, where guests can hand-select and buy a barrel of single malt (if they can afford it). Each barrel costs about $10,000, but it provides you with about 240 bottles of Jack Daniels. The distillery notifies you when your barrel is ready to be picked up and hosts a ceremony when you arrive. You also get your name on a custom plaque in the visitor’s center. These authentic, “only here” experiences have garnered the Distillery rave reviews. The attraction has a five-star rating on TripAdvisor, and one guest lauded, “I loved it! This has been one of my favorite tours…from the moment you step into the room, you can smell the whiskey.”

Our final tour stop today is another beverage brand attraction – The World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia, which also opened in 2007. Atlanta is The Coca-Cola Company’s birthplace, so its very location screams authenticity and enables guests with access to the very heart of the brand, especially its people. Guests can see images of the real people who produce and bottle the product around the world and hear the real stories of consumers’ love of the brand. The attraction even features a real miniature bottling line to showcase the authentic process of how to make a Coke. At the end of the tour, you get to take a bottle off the line to take home.

The World of Coca-Cola provides access to the largest collection of Coca-Cola artifacts and memorabilia in the world, including the “Advertising Theater,” which showcases all of the great Coca-Cola commercials. More than just a display of authentic Coca-Cola products, the attraction also incorporates authentic human (and bear) interactions. You begin your visit with an overview of the company, provided by a live host. You also encounter 1950s soda jerks, who can answer your questions and serve you your favorite drink. Exciting to the littler Coke fans is the opportunity to have a picture taken with a walk-around Polar Bear character, created by Jim Henson Productions. But the main one-of-a-kind attraction is the tasting area – the only place in the world where you can taste all the drinks that Coca-Cola produces around the world.

By creating authentic, only here experiences that showcase a brand’s personality, people and tradition, these attractions are enjoying big numbers in both their attendees and their bottom line. Tomorrow, we’ll visit two of JRA’s newest brand attraction projects, and we promise it will be distilled into a red hot post that inspires a need for speed.