The Mayor of London's New Year's Eve Firework Display was flagged as the spectacular visual extravaganza we've come to expect, but this year it was also billed as the world's first ever 'multi-sensory' firework display thanks to a partnership with Vodafone and experimental food scientists Bompas & Parr.
Fireworks you can taste and smell as well as see and hear? Of course I wanted to experience this first-hand, so off I headed to the South Bank.
In the weeks before the event, Vodafone had announced the launch of its new Firsts initiative - a social media strategy that focuses on people achieving 'remarkable' things whilst connected through Vodafone technology. Sharing a multi-sensory fireworks show with revellers on the South Bank and at home was to be the Firsts' kick-off event.
So there I was right in front of the London Eye on the South Bank, chosen as the site for the multi-sensory fireworks display. In the build-up to midnight, Vodafone handed out special branded packs loaded with scratch and sniff programmes, LED wristbands and flavoured sweets to 10,000 revellers in the area.
It all looked very impressive and well-organised, although from where I was standing by the Hungerford Bridge I wasn't close enough to get one. Perhaps a bigger catchment might have been in order?
But I can't fault the anticipation in the lead-up to midnight. We had projections onto the Shell Centre including the countdowns (20 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes and then second by second to midnight), giant fruit - especially strawberries - and the occasional Vodafone logo. I've seen the strawberry as a brand icon for the Vodafone Firsts campaign previously and in this case it seemed to promote the sensory firework experience.
And as Big Ben struck midnight, a special audio programme was timed to hit alongside the pyrotechnic display - if a little difficult to hear through the wind and rain.
That's when the full sensory bombardment began. Edible flakes of peach snow and banana confetti, orange flavoured bubbles and clouds of fruity mist rained down upon hundreds of people in this key viewing area - in a 'taste'-led interpretation of the firework colours. As an exponent of sensory marketing, I was fascinated in how taste and smell could be achieved on such a massive scale for the first time. Clearly, it seems that the fireworks created a blanket over the sky, presumably trying to overcome the wind and rain and reach as many areas of the viewing audience as possible. The visual treat was incredible and on its own, did not disappoint. Raising the bar on previous years, this alone was worth the wait. But added to it the smell of the fruit was an incredible extra. My immediate thoughts were of recreating the spectacle of opening a bottle of champagne, as the primary colour of the exploding sparks was suitably golden and its re-creation visually seemed to represent this celebratory moment.
For those who weren't able to get close to the action, Vodafone created an app enabling users to view the fireworks from their smartphones and tablets, using GPS and augmented reality to create the London skyline in their living rooms.
Sadly I wasn't close enough to taste the fireworks, but I did catch some pleasant fruity scents amidst the classic cordite aroma. Flavouring the fireworks is one of the most ambitious and audacious Bompass and Parr initiatives, brought to life through Vodafone's imagination. Whilst firework displays can usually only raise the stakes each year through budget increases, this enhanced the experience several steps in the game. I also still love the smell of gunpowder, linked to happy memories of Guy Fawkes Night pyrotechnic displays.
Sensory marketing of this kind is proving increasingly popular among marketers. This project had a lot of noise and scope, and the partnership with Bompas & Parr was an excellent one - the studio's previous experimental projects include giant jelly works, tasting drive-thrus and turning the River Lea emerald green.
Vodafone Firsts is an important development for this major brand, demonstrating an openness and willingness to explore ways to engage an always-on, thrill-seeking audience.
But even if the scented portion of the Mayor of London's New Year's Eve Firework Display was only experienced by a select few, it was certainly one of the most talked about New Year events that brought in 2014. The media and social coverage proved that word of mouth is still a powerful tool to build anticipation for any campaign.
Overall, it was a great night and an intriguing creative concept, if rather lessened by the awful weather. I just hope those lucky few who tasted the fireworks enjoyed the experience.Suggest a correction