5 Things B2B Marketers Can Learn From the Disastrous Glasgow Willy Wonka Experience

Unless you’ve been stuck in a chocolate river’s drainage system for the last few weeks, you’ll know all about the…

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willy wonka sculpture

Unless you’ve been stuck in a chocolate river’s drainage system for the last few weeks, you’ll know all about the horror show that was Glasgow’s very own take on the Roald Dahl classic ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. Disinterested actors, pitiful amounts of actual chocolate, inexplicable story amendments, and a total police shutdown are just a few crumbs from this steaming hot slice of humble pie.

Poor planning, chaotic leadership and an over-reliance on AI led to total meltdown, with organisers being forced to issue full refunds and a contrite apology. Advertisements for the event had promised ‘a world where dreams take flight and every corner holds a delightful surprise’, and ‘visually stunning and intricately designed settings – a visual feast.’

willy wonka experience collage

It would be an understatement to say that House of Illuminati, the team behind the fiasco, overpromised and underdelivered – but there are some positives to take from all of this (not for them, obviously).

If you’re a B2B marketer, or you simply just can’t get enough of this story right now, here’s five things you can do to stop your brand from inciting the next angry Glaswegian mob.

angry glaswegian mob

AI should augment NOT replace human intuition

House of Illuminati went BIG on AI. Too big. From wild, nightmarish depictions of Willy and his factory, to incoherent and garbled event descriptions, guests of the experience were sold the dream.

AI is unavoidable, sure. It’s being implemented into every facet of our lives, and for the most part it’s helping enhance customer journeys. Banks, weather services, retailers and more are using AI in some form. 64% of B2B marketers consider AI to be valuable in their marketing strategy, which highlights just how important it has become.

But it should not be relied upon to carry out entire, large-scale operations such as the Wonka event – particularly one that labelled itself as ‘immersive and interactive’ and promised a personal touch.

Because that’s just the problem – AI doesn’t have the capability to replicate human nature. Actors were given AI-generated scripts to learn and perform on the day, rather than receiving direction from actual professionally-trained stage writers. The likes of Secret Cinema and other immersive experiences have enjoyed sustained success as a result of their handcrafted scripts and detailed direction.

Combine this with a misleading agenda for the day, plus wacky overbearing imagery, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a very sticky situation.

Use AI sparingly – and cautiously. Let it be an outlet to improve and optimise human decisions. It can be a useful option if you’re in need of rewriting one or two sentences, or your photo-editing skills aren’t quite up to scratch. But ultimately, you are the creator, and AI is one of many tools at your disposal.

lollipop and candy paradise

Plan wisely

A wise man once said: ‘poor planning precedes poor performance’.

Organisers claim that one of the key reasons behind the chaos was being let down by a prop supplier on the morning of the event. This may well be true, and even if it’s not, there’s still something to be learned here.

If you’re hosting an event that vastly relies on the presence of visual aids in order to create ‘a world of enchantment’ (their words not mine), surely it’s a bad idea to have it all delivered on the day you go live?

You wouldn’t wait around until launch day for all your copy, creatives, and execution strategies. You’d take advantage of scheduling tools, team liaison and properly thought-out timelines.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re planning an event, content campaign, product launch or anything else. Do not underestimate the importance of planning in your B2B strategy. Give yourself the time, space and peace of mind to rearrange things here and there. Map out potential problematic scenarios, improvements, and communicate with your teams on how you see your assets being used and unfolding.

The average B2B content campaign requires 70 hours per month to reach its full potential – around 6% of this is in planning and strategy. Small, but without it your campaign has no platform to build from. It will fail, and then the other 94% doesn’t even matter.

Find your winning formula

The inexplicable rogue inclusion of a character simply labelled as ‘the Unknown’ was one of many eyebrow raising elements of this sugar-coated shambles, but it does seem to hold a deeper meaning for B2B marketers.

cloaked ghoullike costume

This cloaked, ghoul-like oddball hides behind mirrors and threatens children, but was notably absent from Roald Dahl’s classic tale. And yet, somehow, they found their way into the Glasgow rendition. We think this may have been another AI-recommended ‘improvement’…

If you’re fortunate enough to have unlocked your brand’s secret sauce, that winning concoction that keeps your customers coming back for more, the lead-gen forms flying through the door, and KPIs consistently dwarfed, hold on to it. Treasure it. Nurture it. Protect it. Utilise it at every turn! House of Illuminati had the hard work done for them – taking Dahl’s existing, world-famous IP and replicating it to the letter should have been a cakewalk. The script was quite literally already laid out for them. Why on earth would it be necessary to include this untried, untested, and unwanted Halloween-esque abomination?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with experimenting with your B2B marketing ideas. That’s not what I’m saying. But know your audience, do your research. What might they be receptive to? What has worked well before? Consider AB testing as a way to plot out what might be a successful approach long term. 46% of B2B marketers already are, and crucially, they’re getting results.

This is the way to do things. Not by going too big, too early, and too… unknown.

Ensure everyone’s onboard and knows their role

One of my favourite and most circulated images from the Wonka calamity is the downbeat Oompa Loompa at her workstation.

oompa lumpa station at glasgow willy wonka experience

Now if you are wise, you’ll listen to me.

She clearly doesn’t want to be there, and you can’t really fault her for it. But if your team aren’t inspired by your vision, then how can you expect your customers to be?

A B2B campaign is only as strong as the people behind it. Therefore, it’s imperative that you offer a full 360° view of each individual’s role and their significance within the overall strategic framework. Teams need to see how the work and effort they put in affects and improves the lives of others. This is how you make your staff feel valued, respected and important to the project. Happy teams make happy customers.

A study by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology states that a bit of gratitude makes employees 50% more productive, especially when it comes from their manager or supervisor.

Moreover, 36% of employees are willing to forgo $5,000 in annual salary for greater workplace happiness.

Don’t overpromise!

All this unpleasantness has left an extremely sour taste in the mouth of the Glasgow faithful – and at the root of it all is an insatiable urge to deliver the undeliverable.

Thanks to the rotten use of AI-generated event descriptions and imagery, families were sold a wonderous and whimsical day out. They of course received nothing of the kind. Now, House of Illuminati face lawsuits, closure, and permanent public embarrassment.

The moral of the story: know your capabilities.

We all want to go the extra mile for our clients and delight them at every turn. And as marketers we’ll always strive to. However, if the resources are not available, both creatively and from a peoplepower standpoint, then they should not be offered.

Going over-capacity or risking team burnout is not an option. Understand what you have the capability to offer and build from there.

Clients would much prefer to have 100% of the agreed workload delivered on time and in-budget, than 99% of rushed, hashed-out, sub-standard extra work.


With the dust beginning to settle on the Wonka whirlwind, there’s a legacy that will remain unwavering for years to come.

Perhaps an unwanted legacy, if you’re House of Illuminati, but for B2B marketing there’s a raft of takeaway treats here.

AI is here to stay, but it should never be used as a replacement for the many talents of the human genetic. By sacrificing creativity, originality and personality, you surrender your chances of success by default.

Considerably more so when you replace authentic leadership and planning with a greed-fuelled desire to overpromise and mis-sell to your customers with reckless abandon.

Remain honest, professional, and always strive to deliver your best work. Your clients deserve it.

event cancelled poster

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