As I type this, I glance out the window as a lengthening queue snakes around a building across the road. What’s the fuss about? People of all ages waiting to get a coffee. But this is no ordinary cafe. It’s London’s own Central Perk — an eerily accurate rendition of the Friends set. It’s interesting because the experience is live and “real” although the show is no longer in production.
A replica of the set in LA that depicts a fictitious coffee shop in New York recreated in London. It’s a simulation of a simulation of a simulation. Central Perk was never an actual place. And thus, the simulation is just as “real” as the one we know from TV.
This is not the first time a media property has inhabited physical property. In Boston, you can still get a beer at Cheers. What’s different is that Central Perk is a pop-up, time-limited experience. Hence the buzz.
This intersection of branded content, physical experience, and time-limitation that this initiative is an object lesson in realtime value creation. If content can catalyze retail, couldn’t the creative output also flow in the opposite direction? Imagine Portobello Market or Urban Outfitters translated into aspirational, serialized programming. Topshop or Selfridges as lifestyle reality shows. The Nokia Store as a physical social networking site and matchmaking program. As in, connecting people.
It’s not such a leap, when you consider that retail environments — any environment where people interact, for that matter — are theatres, sets where various narratives play out. So why not create a bit more of a script?
Sadly, we can’t pop down to Central Perk and actually interact with Friends — or create a version of our own. But right now, the opportunity to simply feel immersed in the nostalgia of the show, while episodes play on flat-screen TVs around the space, is enough to pull the customers in and get people like me to write about it.