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Searching for the best Super Bowl experience

Will Northover, account director at Blackjack, reveals his pick of the live activity around this year’s gridiron spectacular, NFL Super Bowl XLIX.

Attracting a record 111.5 million TV viewers last year, the Super Bowl, the culmination of the American Football season, is simply the biggest sporting event on the planet. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a marketing phenomenon, with prime time TV slots going for over $4 million.

The biggest US brands simply daren’t miss out, causing air time costs to rocket, not to mention sponsorship deals. However, by far the most creative activity with the most impact – and probably the smallest budgets – is experiential.

Locally across the US – in fact, make that the world – people, local authorities and businesses set up satellite events to capitalise on fans’ desire to share the muscle-bound, cheerleading, hotdog-fuelled, ear-splitting experience. But here’s my pick of what the big brands are up to…

On trend

The growing trend of brands basing TV ad campaigns around a live experience was embraced by Budweiser in its “The Perfect Beer for Whatever Happens” Super Bowl commercial. It features unsuspecting regular twenty-something guys going for a beer and being asked by the bar tender: “If I gave you a Bud Light are you up for whatever happens next?” Of course the guys agree – after all it’s a free beer! They are then sent down the road where a giant coin is lying on the pavement waiting to be inserted in a huge slot. The chaps duly oblige, and immediately the doors of the building in front of them fly open to reveal a party in full swing. But this ain’t just any party, as one of the guys soon discovers, as he is thrown into a live Pacman game, and must take on life-size Pacmen to escape. The effect is incredible and what a great idea!

Bud Pacman

Bud Pacman

On site

Technology giant SAP pulled off a real coup by using its know-how to create an experience on the ground in Arizona, where the Super Bowl takes place, that couldn’t have resonated more with fans and media. It sponsored and powered the official NFL.com Stats Zone – a high-tech, interactive experience that transported fans into a world of numbers, images and insights about American football. The interactive experience used SAP’s social media analytics to measure all of the chatter surrounding the Super Bowl, and showcased each team’s fan experience throughout the week leading up to the game. Fans could also cast their vote for the NFL.com Fantasy Player of the Year and create video pitches to share with their friends for a chance to win tickets to next year’s event, Super Bowl 50. The NFL Experience commanded a prime location at the Phoenix Convention Center.

SAP NFL stats zone

SAP NFL stats zone

On another planet

Finally, a few days before the Super Bowl, a crop circle mysteriously appeared in a field in Glendale, Arizona, just half a mile from the match venue. It seemed to indicate that American Football’s influence was not simply global, but intergalactic. That was until closer examination revealed the circle to closely resemble the logo of a famous soft drink brand. Yes, this was not extraterrestrial activity of any kind, but an experiential stunt – or more specifically guerrilla – by Pepsi.

Pepsi crop circle

Pepsi crop circle

It was arguably the most interesting part of Pepsi’s multifaceted, months-long Super Bowl campaign with a 30-second game-day spot and its sponsorship of Katy Perry’s halftime show. Wonderfully, the Pepsi crop circle was roughly the size of a professional American football field.

Event has also highlighted some Super Bowl American football-themed experiences to look out for from brands in the US.

3 brand experience trends for 2015

With behaviours to the fore and post-millennials demanding authenticity and relevance, experiential will be central to market strategy this year, says guest blogger Alex Smith, planning director at agency Sense. 

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There has been a shift in marketing recently. No longer can we work by identifying the latest hot platforms (Facebook, Twitter, viral videos, etc) and crafting creative to fit them – we’re now in an era where brands need to decide what they’re going to do, what behaviours are appropriate to their message, and then be confident that there will be an appropriate platform for amplifying that action. This has made brand experience central to marketing strategy – a behaviour is an action is a brand experience, and thus so much contemporary marketing has brand experience at its heart.

With that in mind, here are three brand experience trends we expect to see become more prevalent in 2015.  Think about which chime with your brand’s purpose, and how interesting your marketing could become…

1. Product launches as campaigns

So many great leaps currently occurring in marketing stem from the realisation that everything has a communications value. If a brand hires a new CEO or relocates, it says something about the brand. A new product says a hell of a lot.

Product launches aren’t usually done with a brand communication in mind, as they have a more direct business imperative. But who says you can’t start with your marketing communication – what you want to say – and launch a product with the primary purpose of saying just that?

This is exactly what CANALPLAY, the video on demand service of Canal+ did. It wanted people to think there was so much great stuff to watch on its service that the only way you could possibly do it justice would be to forgo sleep altogether. So it launched an ultra high caffeine coffee. 

This approach has the potential to expand businesses into entirely new – but strategically legitimate – markets. These new products don’t have to be just stunts, in fact they’re more effective if they aren’t. They should be taken seriously, up to the point, dare we say, of paying for themselves. The less a campaign looks like marketing, the more people will pay attention to it, and the more authenticity it will have.

Brands with rich existing customer architecture have an advantage in this space, as for them it’s as easy as tweaking their existing product experience. Pizza Hut’s unconscious menu, which “reads your mind” to select you a pizza, is one such example.

In either case, product innovations occupy a much less crowded market than traditional marketing. This imbalance is there for you to exploit.

Ask yourself this: What other things could enhance the effectiveness or enjoyment of your core product?

2. Marketing eats CSR

It’s bizarre, but marketing and CSR have always tended to sit apart. CSR being the more the intentionally less interesting cousin, devoid of marketing’s neat strategy and snazzy creative. Yet both share the goal of showing the brand in a good light. And when you consider that most brands claim to have a purpose that has a generally positive effect on the world, it shouldn’t be hard to come up with marketing initiatives that simultaneously talk about the brand in an interesting way (marketing), while also doing something worthwhile (CSR).

A famous example of the sweet spot between brand purpose and good deed is the Dulux Let’s Colour programme, where the paint giants proved its belief that a splash of colour can transform a dingy environment by engaging in charity public painting projects around the world. From favelas to sink estates, a few buckets of paint did a lot of good while making a pretty compelling point.

dulux_lets_colour

Thinking beyond the campaign and marketing can take a leaf out of traditional CSR’s book by adopting an always-on operational approach, through building altruistic functionality into the heart of your brand.

Ultimately, if you’re spending all this money anyway, you might as well do something worthwhile with it – from the brand’s point of view, as well as the world’s.

Ask yourself this: What does your brand bring to the table that is genuinely good for the world?

3. Brand Piggybacking

This could also be called brand collaborations of course, but piggy backing is often more appropriate as it tends to feature one party riding on the expansive infrastructure of another.Uber have led the charge as “the pig” with a constant stream of collaborations, such as their Uberlibre promotion in association with Bacardi. It was pretty much as simple as using its app to request delivery of a mixologist in one of its cars to whip you up a Cuba Libre wherever you happened to be. Simple, but bizarre enough to warrant great exposure for both companies.

Uber is archetypal of a growing number of “real world platform” brands, that facilitate massive, but tangible communities. This marks a giant leap forward for brand experience, because formerly such giant platforms were only intangible, online entities such as Facebook, with fundamentally limited possibilities. But now through the likes of Uber, Airbnb and the new economy they’re spearheading, brands have the opportunity to collaborate in very specific, tactile and helpful ways.

What might have once been called “product placement” is now becoming more subtle and sophisticated. Instead of just trying to get products in front of people, more care is being taken to identify the ideal contexts that allow people to experience brands in just the right way.

The result is the perfect brand fulfilling the perfect role, for the benefits of all parties concerned – it makes you wonder why almost everything around isn’t the product of a crafty brand partnership.

Ask yourself this: Where does your product really belong, and who owns that space?

CES 2015: Stand-out experiential exhibition stands

Exhibition stands with an experiential feel from CES 2015, courtesy of guest blogger Hayley Lawrence, operations director of brand experience agency Brand & Deliver, who visited the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.

Hayley_lawrence_brand_deliver_event_technology_CES_2015

On my travels around the Las Vegas Convention Center halls at CES, my attention was drawn to the larger manufacturers’ stands where they were showcasing their latest tech with really engaging and interactive demonstrations.

3D camera

Intel’s stand featured its very own tiered seating presentation auditorium, behind which ran a curved tunneled walkway dedicated to the Intel RealSense 3D camera.

The RealSense camera senses depth and tracks human motion. Devices with the RealSense 3D camera have three lenses: a conventional camera, an infrared camera, and an infrared laser projector.

REAL_SENSE_CES_2015_event_tech

The camera infers depth by detecting infrared light that has bounced back from objects in front of it, without using markers or points on the subject being scanned. This data creates a touch-free interface that responds to hand, arm, and head motions as well as facial expressions.

I stepped up to take the demonstration. On the screen in front of me was the outline of my head and shoulders. As I started to move, so did the millions of dots on the screen, shown in a low-resolution state to give the user a better idea of how the subject is being mapped. The demonstrator asked me to turn sideways, allowing the camera to measure the depth of my features, clearly showing my glasses and the movement of my mouth when I spoke.

The RealSense demo corridor didn’t stop there. Another section showed the higher resolution scanned image, which was then integrated into a snowboarding app, putting my face on the avatar in the game. This is a great piece of software and with continued and varied app developments, will transform how we take photos of ourselves.

Brain-powered Emotiv headset

Something groundbreaking was also happening over in the next hall. Rather than the tech being solely intuitive, this activity required the power of the mind. ‘Forward thinking’ was the theme on the IEEE stand this year, where the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers showcased a great interactive experiential using a headset developed by Emotiv, an Australian electronics company that develops brain-computer interfaces.

Using nothing more than brainpower, the mind-controlled game saw two participants wearing the headsets equipped with sensors measuring brain waves. Users alternate between a ‘neural’ state and a ‘push’ state, the latter being where the player actively thinks about moving the car forward. The aim was to accelerate a car along the track in the quickest time possible. Racer times were added to a leaderboard with the winner receiving a $500 gift card.

Sadly, I didn’t make it onto the leaderboard, not even close! But this kind of technology brings us into an exciting new world of experiential marketing and I can’t wait to start exploring the possibilities for brands.

CES 2015: Event Tech of Tomorrow

Event technology from CES 2015, courtesy of guest blogger Hayley Lawrence, operations director of brand experience agency Brand & Deliver, who visited the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week to find the next big thing in event technology.

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My first time to Las Vegas and subsequently my first time at CES, I’d heard the stories of mammoth taxi queues, vast halls and crowds of people.   The experience can best be described as an overwhelming attack on the senses. In such a good way…

We always want to seek out the latest gadgets and innovations.  Products that, at first glance, wouldn’t seem relevant in the event world but with a bit of creative thinking, and the right project, are brought to life and given a purpose, made into a talking point and a not-to-be-missed experience for brand experiential.

I headed for Tech West, where the wearables, fitness, start-ups and a plethora of high-growth technologies were on show. I was on the look out for B&D’s next event hero to take back to the UK.

SKATES

The first stand that caught my eye featured a small track with visitors rolling up and down wearing very cool looking strap on skates. RocketSkates are lightweight, remote-free smart electric skates, just strap them on and off you go.

The ACTON mobile App connects to the RocketSkates via Bluetooth and allows you to track your route and also connect with other RocketSkate wearers close by. An SDK will allow developers to create custom apps, games, or integrate with other devices such as watches or glasses.

Continuing with smart transportation, I was wowed by and I’m desperate to purchase, the IO Hawk. A skateboard style Segway that moves by you using slight pressure in your feet and by shifting your balance.

IOHAWK 2

It’s been described as the new way to move. I’m sold and wish I’d had one to get around the show this year. This product will be a great addition in promoting brands; imagine an army of brand ambassadors on IO Hawks gliding along in unison! They would certainly get noticed.

Tech West gave me a lot of food for thought and I came away with a barrage of great tech that we’ll look to mobilise in 2015. I’ll definitely be looking into pet wearables this year, which would have come in very handy at a recent event featuring rabbit showjumping!

The 3D printing section, which I’m told has grown immensely since last year, is also a sector I’m keen to watch. MakerBot had a great display on their stand. From little vases, napkin rings and tea light holders, they really showed how useful 3D printing can be in everyday life. The unit prices are decreasing, filament is getting smarter and print times are getting quicker. 3D printing opens up a host of opportunities for branded items and giveaways, I see it being used more and more within the experiential realm in the not to distant future.

Exploring the strange world of virtual reality

Last week, Event was invited to try out Rewind FX’s Oculus Rift headset – technology designed to give the wearer a truly realistic experience. Katie Deighton spoke to the company’s managing director Solomon Rogers about the technicalities of virtual reality, what it can add to an event and his plans for the future.

RewindFX_RedBullAirRace_Press_03What’s the product?

The Oculus Rift headset creates a truly surreal experience for the wearer – one minute you’re sat in a chair in a pub in Teddington, the next you’re flying a plane in the Red Bull Air Race, complete with the exhilarating lurch of your stomach. It works by using virtual reality (VR) technology in a five-inch display, which is split into two halves. The head mounted display is a very small distance from the face, and a motion-tracking sensor inside detects the direction the user is viewing from and sends this information very quickly to a computer. As the head is turned, the image updates in real time, giving the illusion of entering another world completely.

“VR has been done from as early as the seventies with a large push in the nineties which was very unsuccessful,” says Rogers. “Oculus Rift has taken the concept of the technology and integrated it into a very succinct unit.”

What’s the story?RewindFX_RedBullAirRace_Press_01

Rewind FX itself works with a range of visual arts in events, from producing stunning visual mapping for companies such as Microsoft, to creating interactive activations for Disney. Rogers started as a solo freelancer outside his work as a university lecturer.

“When the work started to become too much for me, I decided to employ someone to assist me, which soon became three,” Rogers recalls. “We created a limited company with the view to deliver high-quality animation and visual effects, usually for television commercials and online, and since that point we have continued to grow by following trends within our industry and changing needs of our clients.”

After preliminary testing and research of the Oculus Rift headset, Rogers and his team soon realised the potential for showing people entire new worlds in the event industry. He explains: “The units lend themselves very well to the dwell time periods at events, so we decided to take our Oculus Rift to an event where we had a stand to show some of our work and saw that we had a continuous queue for the entire three days we were there.

“We noticed that the device itself has a real draw, but also that people want to experience the new and the different,” he continues. “From this moment, we knew it had real potential for brands at events, allowing attendees to experience the content or a campaign in a very different way.”

RewindFX_RedBullAirRace_Press_02What’s next?

This summer sees Rewind FX take the Red Bull Air Race VR around the country on a tour of festivals, events and supermarkets, as well as at the air race itself at Ascot racecourse on 16 and 17 August. Plans are in place to develop the scope of this technology further too, Rogers reveals: “We will always look to continue engagement beyond the event. For instance, with the Red Bull Air Race we can create an online 3D game version and those who are best at flying the plane are given the opportunity to win a flight in a real plane, with one of the Red Bull pilots.”

As for the future of the Oculus Rift, Rewind FX is confident that it is something here to stay in the world of brand activations. With a number of technologies we work with, we see huge interest levels from crowds, whether we’re in a train station or on a stand,” explains Rogers. “We believe the big wins will be with those companies investing in keeping their event presence engaging, exciting and immersive keeping them in the spotlight at any event.”

Stepping into the world of wristband technology

The humble wristband has come a long way in the last decade. Now no longer simply the souvenir 17 year-old festival-goers refuse to remove, technology has meant it is making the lives of events producers and planners easier. Katie Deighton takes a look at three tech companies who are thinking creatively with wristwear from around the globe.

Xylobands

What’s the product?

Xylobands creates stunning visual shows by using the crowd as a lightsource – audience members are given branded wristbands to wear and a spectacular lightshow is formed via LED flash patterns. The company can produce this effect at events large and small, and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is built in to harness data and produce social media content.

What’s the story?

You’re more likely to find the team from Xylobands in a pub in Wiltshire than you are in Silicon Valley. The idea for these light-up bands came about when inventor Jason Regler was captivated by the euphoria of the crowd at a Coldplay show.

“He was intrigued as to whether this experience could be heightened to unite the fans one step further and make them part of the show,” explains Xyloband’s Lucy Main. “It was at that point Jason had his ‘eureka’ moment and went about creating the first Xyloband prototype. What followed was a certain twist of fate and some chance encounters that finally resulted in a partnership between himself and Coldplay.”

Xylobands supply its product to a range of events, from small weddings to huge arena gigs. Alongside Coldplay, the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z and Rihanna have used the technology, while Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Facebook have partnered with the company at corporate events.

What’s the plan?

This year will see Xylobands develop its product further. New bands will contain LEDs that produce a full spectrum of colour, and a hand-held control system will let more intimate events make use the bands at a smaller cost. RFID technology will also be on offer to connect the bands to social media and collect data. Xylobands will be expanding outside of wristbands too, with a products such as inflatable balls and lanyards, installed with the same Xylo technology, on the cards.

Intellitix Access Control

What’s the product?

Intellitix provides access control through contactless technology at events. Wristbands, cards or devices are tapped to secure entry into events through Intellitix ‘entrance portals’, reducing queuing times and staffing costs and providing organisers with real-time entry and exit statistics.

The devices work through a system of RFID. Eric Janssen, chief revenue officer at Intellitix, explains: “RFID is a generic term used to describe a system which transmits the identity (in the form of a unique serial number) of an object or person wirelessly, using radio waves.

“RFID is designed to enable readers to capture data on tags and transmit it to a computer system, without the need for physical contact. The RFID tag includes a small RF transmitter and receiver. An RFID reader transmits an encoded radio signal to identify the tag. The tag receives the message and responds with its identification information.”

What’s the story?

Intellitix’s CEO Serge Grimaux thought up the idea for contactless technology in 2008 after a career in the live events industry. Three years later the technology was developed in Canada, before the business expanded into the US, Europe and the rest of the world. The company has since provided its services at Coachella festival, the UEFA Champions League and the Irish open.

The technology developed by Intellitix has since been used to help out event organisers in other ways. In 2013, cashless pay platform Intellipay was developed, a system which lets users purchase items at an event with a tap of the wristband that gained them entry. The wristbands now have the potential to connect to social media too – event organisers can erect ‘check-in points’ that users can tap to update their Facebook status or send a tweet instantly.

What’s the plan?

Intellitix is keeping its cards close to its chest in terms of product development plans, but Janssen says it is focusing on making sure the Intellipay is the safest RFID system on the market, as well as expanding its clientele.

“Our main focus is on educating the events and festival market on the true benefits of RFID as well as the best practices for implementing for their events,” he says. “RFID for access control, cashless payment, and brand activation is a proven technology, and we’re already seeing a huge upturn with regards to new interest and new applications of it.”

IPourIt

What’s the product?

IPourIt lets guests at events purchase and pour their own beer. When a person enters an IPourIt station, their credit card is swiped at a central station and they are given an encoded RFID wristband which contains details of their card. The wristband is then touched onto a tap handle, which opens the valve. The truly unique part of the system is that the customer decides how much beer they want, and are charged accordingly. This not only saves businesses money on lost beer, but creates an online community for IPourIt users to track which beers they have drank and where.

What’s the story?

Joseph McCarthy, the president of IPourIt, explains: “The company was a labour of love for our founder, who got tired of waiting interminably at bars for beer and couldn’t sample many types at will.

“Brett Jones, our CTO, was the CTO of a publicly-listed company and I was the VP of mergers and acquisitions as well as general counsel at the time the system was cooked up.  Two years later, the summer of 2011, we had a working prototype and did our first commercial install in summer 2012 and raised money in October.  We now have 24 clients in 17 US states and two Canadian provinces.”

What’s next?

On top of constantly improving the systems software and hardware – both of which are developed in-house – the company are looking at more movable versions of IPourIt. “We are working with a few clients who are building mobile beer trailers with anywhere from 12 to 40-tap capacity and we hope to be able to use those at events such as music festivals,” says McCarthy.

New blog on eventmagazine.co.uk: Tech Talks with Oliver Richardson

We are delighted at Event HQ to introduce a new member of our dedicated online blogging community to you. Oliver Richardson is group sales and marketing director at DB Systems and will be sharing all his event technology know-how on his soon to be launched blog Tech Talk.

To get an insight as to what he will be writing about, here is his first blog post on interactive technologies for events.

WEB_Oliver_RichardsonAcross the spectrum, events are becoming increasingly interactive – the Olympics saw some top brands delivering experiential events which really got the public involved.  The advent of social media has turned us all into active participants, sharing our experiences and thoughts throughout the day, which raises the bar to create memorable events which give reason for visitors to talk about and share what they’ve seen.  Technology can provide some much-needed assistance in this.  For my first blog, I thought I’d share with you my top five ways that technology can help make your events more participative.

1. Mobile Augmented reality

We’ve used AR on a number of projects to help bring a particular technology or product to life with informative animations and graphics which interact with the product and user.  Mobile AR is great for delivering extra info to visitor’s palms in an innovative way – it basically enables the user to see a particular product with additional animation and information overlaid on their screen as they point their mobile at it -totally transforming real-life static displays into fun experiences.  The bonus is if you create something memorable and funny enough visitors will want to share their interactions, helping to further spread the word about your event.  Check out this very clever example at a TED event: http://youtu.be/frrZbq2LpwI

2.    Triggered technologies

You can have a lot of fun with this technology and it’s easy to implement, we’ve used it on exhibition stands and have had people queuing to come on the stand and “have a go”.  Triggers might include pressure sensors, movement, or the completion of a specific action.  For example, on an aerospace event standing in a specific spot triggered a “rumbling floor” along with a video to mimic the start of a jet engine – we could have added wind for even more authenticity!  Another example is responsive floors which changes scene as someone walks through it – for example walking across a winter wonderland, and the lighting and image change so that it becomes summer as you walk.

3.    Minority-report style touchscreens and holoscreens

Move over Minority Report, eat your heart out Tony Stark (Iron Man) – the interactive touchscreens that were until now confined to the movies are increasingly becoming possible and have a sexy slickness which will set your event apart.  Semi-transparent holoscreens have a particularly sci-fi feel to them, tapping into the uber-cool high tech world of comic book heroes.  They can be used to jazz up presentations and encourage visitors to interact and get involved – for example, you might project the schematic of a building onto a holoscreen which users can then delve into and pan-around, getting additional information by zooming in, swiping across, double-clicking.

4.    Interactive product reveals

The recent arrival on the market of the first truly see-through screens has provided a wealth of new opportunities for us to help clients sex-up their product reveals at events.  At one event, visitors were sent a USB stick and invited to bring it along and plug it in to see the latest launch of a new  technology product– plugging in the USB triggered a video animation sequence which culminated in a stunning product reveal in which the product suddenly appears in what had looked like a black box.  Data, animation or additional info can sit on the screens that encapsulate the product, but the product can still be totally visible behind.

5.    Interactive Projection mapping

Cars, buildings, lorries – palaces! – with clever projection mapping techniques you can create stunning visual effects.  The brilliant projection mapping of Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Jubilee closely followed by an awesome execution as part of the Olympics Opening Ceremony has truly put this technology centre-stage.

It’s an incredibly powerful way of creating a real wow-factor for any event.  What you may not know is that this technology can be combined with infra-red sensors to make it interactive and responsive.  We’ve created some amazing projections which are, in part, triggered and controlled by a visitor’s movements – the speed and direction they walk past the projection controls the speed and direction of the video: so stunning acrobatic displays can be suspended mid-air as the visitor pauses, sped up or played backwards depending on their movements which visitors love to play with.

Wanted: naked sledders

Here at Event HQ, we quite fancied our first blog post of the year to pack a little punch. Imagine the shivers of delight when we came across this little nugget of news.

Honey bees: the definition of team building

I’ve long since had a fascination with bees. I’ve interviewed beekeepers, planted flowers bees like, and eat enough honey to rival Paddington bear.

Becoming a Masterchef

The Event team (well, two thirds of it) continued with the foodie theme last week with a visit to Cactus Kitchens – the home of BBC 1’s Saturday Kitchen.

cactus300

Greeted by Cactus Kitchens’ managing director, Amanda Ross, we entered the ancient chapel that is now home to the studios in Clapham, south London, and took a peek in to James Martin’s dressing room, where we admired the array of brightly-coloured, striped shirts.

Then it was on to the studio itself which, believe it or not, looked just as it does on the telly.

Amanda explained that the single most popular part of a team-building day is often the ‘Omelette Challenge,’ which brings out everyone’s competitive side.

We then took it in turns to pose for the obligatory pan-shaking pose on set.

Next up, we climbed the stairs of the very homely studios, which opened out into a custom-built, country house-style kitchen, fitted with identical workspaces for groups.

There, we were greeted by a smiling (we were shocked too) Monica Galetti, who made a name for herself on Masterchef: the Professionals as Michel Roux Junior’s right-hand woman.

In the light-filled kitchen sipping on bubbles, she gave us a demonstration of how to make the perfect white chocolate mousse with strawberries and basil.

Answering questions along the way, Monica explained that her steely exterior on the television is her ‘in work mode’ – a far cry from her warm and friendly self in the Cactus Kitchens.

She laughed as she told us about one man who had ‘been sent’ on the experience by his wife, who anticipated him suffering a day of cooking wrath. It was he who had the last laugh.

At the end of the session, Monica posed for pictures (see attached) and we were all given recipe cards with the exact ingredients required to make the same thing at home.

Full up with white chocolate mousse and bubbly, we left the sun-filled kitchens and went on our way.

Is there a better way to spend a Friday?