Last December, the blockbuster Hollywood film Wonka, a prequel to the classic book and film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Timothée Chalamet as the famous Willy Wonka, was released to theaters. Branding activities designed to help promote the Warner Bros. release took place around the world.
One standout example of this creative branding was “Wonka’s Sweet Escape,” an immersive experience that could be found at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto. This particular activation offered fans and visitors the chance to walk around inside Wonka’s candy shop and enjoy a series of photo opportunities.
Gene Tegola, president of Reignite Marketing, worked on the initiative with Warner Bros. Canada and Oxford Properties’ Yorkdale Shopping Centre. In fact, Yorkdale Shopping Centre is one of the five major malls in the country with dedicated space for hosting these types of events.
Long-term partner Global Printing Enterprises (GPE), a Mississauga, Ontario-based print business with experience in large format event specialties, was brought onboard to support the printing and installation of the project. The company ended up producing wall murals, displays, backdrops, and floor graphics. (Note: GPE operates out of a 10,000-square-foot facility with, depending on the season, ten to twelve employees on staff, including three full-time designers, an industrial designer and a part-time engineer to figure out loads and angles.)
The company already implemented plenty of display projects for the mall including experiential graphics installations featuring key iconography and catchphrases for TV series Friends and The Office, as well as a massive (and massively well received) 400-foot-long-by-40-foot mural for the movie Aquaman back in 2018.
As well as ensuring that the printed materials used in “Wonka’s Sweet Escape” stood out and captured the attention and imagination of the general public, GPE had several other major challenges to deal with during the project. These included strict requirements for the materials being used—such as indoor-air quality standards, anti-slip certification, and fire compliance.
“Printing, cutting, and finishing are so second nature to us now that we can do it with our eyes closed. It’s all the behind the scenes work that’s challenging now—meeting all the regulations, insurance, and criteria that the mall has for the safety of the people who are in it,” says Carlo Toscano, president of Global Printing Enterprises. “They didn’t want anything that had a UV or solvent smell. All the materials had to be American and Canadian fire-retardant.
“And we had to find a product that met both dry and wet slip resistance, so when the floor becomes wet and grimy from people coming in with their winter boots, no one would fall.”
The print provider used Drytac Polar Grip Air, a white, polymeric, self-adhesive vinyl with air release technology, and Polar Premium Air, a self-adhesive vinyl also featuring air egress technology, for this immersive project. They also employed ReTac Smooth 150 polymeric PVC film and FloorTac matte white polymeric PVC film, which they paired with Interlam Pro Emerytex.
The company ended up printing over 5,000 square feet of graphics (give or take 500 square feet) for this tasty project. To address the air quality standards, GPE used their HP 3200 Latex printer to produce all the graphics.
The range of prints created for this experience was truly remarkable.
For instance, GPE produced a vibrant carpet floor graphic measuring 32-by-70 feet, as well as a 20-foot-wide entry graphic featuring the Wonka logo and premiere date.
“We applied all the graphics to a ceramic floor with 1/4-inch grout lines,” explains Toscano. “Being on our knees was very time consuming. We used large squeegees and a laser level to keep everything square.”
The vinyl floor graphic looked like real carpet. “People were putting their hands down on the ground and being amazed that what they were touching was not actually carpet,” boasts Toscano. “They couldn’t believe it.”
The print specialist also produced and installed a cobblestone path adorned with a thirty-five-foot-tall cherry blossom tree. “We created the cobblestone path from a high-resolution sample picture that was tiny (12-by-16 inches),” explains Toscano. “We then repeated the pattern, and thanks to some Photoshop magic, we made it round and sized to a twenty-foot-wide circle.
“In true Willy Wonka fashion, we then converted the gray cobblestone to reddish-pink hues. We next printed it out in multiple patterns and applied it over top and around the center tree area.”
The cherry tree, oversized mushrooms, flowers, and lollipop displays were all courtesy of fabricator dpfx.to.
Additionally multidisciplinary design and fabrication agency Drawbox Design & Fabrication contributed a colossal, 3D-rendered Wonka chocolate bar, while large-scale graphics featuring beloved characters from the film completed the captivating scene.
Although the props looked like edible chocolate, these components were mostly made out of EVA and Polyurethane foam, cardboard, and paper.
“The tree was put in place first. We worked around it, laying the floor down first and then the cobblestone path second—hence multiple layers of floor graphics,” explains Toscano. “All these components had to be either painted or sprayed with a fire-retardant liquid in order to meet fire codes.”
“Wonka’s Sweet Escape” was not only an “eye-candy” visual experience but a sensory one as well. Being inspired by Wonka’s chocolate, Toscano contacted a U.S. scent company on the Internet with a “never-ending” list of scented offerings to add to the display.
“We hid their chocolate-scented bags inside the tree. It’s a concentrated chocolate that lasts about a week,” says Toscano. “When we put a little fan to it, the whole space ended up smelling like chocolate. A little bag covered about 500 to 1,000 square feet in radius.”
The effect was a success as people smelled chocolate everywhere they walked throughout the experiential display, wondering where the scent was coming from. “People were starting to believe the tree was made out of chocolate,” laughs Toscano.
The display was so realistic that GPE had to go back in and replace parts of it during its run, as things like mushrooms and lollipops were often stolen. “People thought they were real, but I guess when a kid would bite into it and find it tasting of lacquer, it wouldn’t be such a good thing,” says Toscano.
“Wonka’s Sweet Escape,” which ran until January 2, successfully provided an immersive brand experience for a massive audience throughout its run (with security guards even considered at one point). The display also generated a tremendous amount of excitement and significantly increased recognition of the film—evidenced in a substantial surge in movie ticket sales for the film at Yorkdale Shopping Centre.
“They sold out tickets at the cinema in the mall. They even had to expand to two additional screens to exhibit the movie, thanks to people enjoying and interacting with this display,” says Toscano. “It was incredible.”
And GPE’s work on this project earned equally rave reviews from both kids and adults.
“I think the next step for most of these big retail locations is how to incorporate an indoor branding event leading to an outside event, especially in the summer months,” says Toscano.