MALL OF AMERICA: Bloomington, MN

A partnership with Mall Of America

Hotopp had the good fortune to become connected with the Mall Of America in September. It was late in the season to begin a project for Christmas 2020, so both parties mobilized quickly to customize the Candy Cane Institute for their available 7,000 square foot space.

The folks at Mall of America loved the idea of the Christmas testing-lab, so we expanded the concept to cover the first half of the room allowing for several small groups at a time. The second half of the space would allow one group at a time.

The Christmas laboratory is where the elves set up experiments such as The Ugly Sweater Analysis machine and the Naughty or Nice Machine 1225. The “delicacy” of these experiments became the scapegoat for the no-touch environment and gave even more reason for the elves to be dressed in PPE.

The second story beat featured a focus group room where guests are interviewed by an elf who inevitably failed at using technology to decipher what the guest wanted for Christmas – this resulted in the group being sent straight to the ‘big guy’ himself. The third beat is a Santa Zoom experience inside the head elf’s office where the guests are dialed-in to the North Pole.

The retail market was already experiencing hardship prior to the new challenges brought on by COVID-19. Hotopp addressed this challenge with a concept for a unique attraction aimed at filling large empty tenant space, generating foot-traffic, and encouraging repeat visitors every year.

The first experience we developed using this strategy is called the ‘Candy Cane Institute’ which features a backstory unlike anything on the market. Not only is CCI a fresh take on Santa and his Elves, it also allows for many story-constructed ways to integrate the use of social distancing and protective gear into our guest experience. A win-win for themed attractions in 2020!

Our Backstory: The CANDY CANE INSTITUTE was founded in 1972 by a group of curious elves seeking to make improvements to Christmas by leveraging cutting-edge technology to deliver data-driven results. The misguided elves have finally convinced Santa to let them set up a field office in your local shopping mall in order to conduct market research and get to the Initial schematic designs used a fictitious anchor store space to conceptualize the guest experience. The first plans included activity spaces such as a craft studio, snowball challenge and a beer garden. All spaces had a 70’s overlay that pulled it all into funky dated-world. (The Elves decorated it of course, and they haven’t been south in decades!)

The CCI experience was designed to welcome small family groups using timed entrances and engaging interactions at each story beat. We used guidelines developed by the major themeparks to plan for a generous amount of square footage per guest.

From storytelling to style guide there was plenty of world-building that went into creating the Candy Cane Institute.

• Character development

• Script

• Graphic Content

• Style Guide

• Website

• Props + Decor

• Design/Build Scenery

• Installation/Art Direction

Guest Experience

The Candy Cane Institute is a seasonal ‘outpost’ where Santa’s Elves have set up shop to conduct research on modern Christmas activities and traditions. At CCI, the ultimate goal is to improve Christmas by harnessing as much data as possible.

Guests are invited to explore the Christmas lab where various experiments are being conducted, a CCI analyst is always giddy to get their feedback!

At their appointed time, small groups are led through the focus-group rooms where their Christmas preferences are studied. If they puzzle the market-research captain, they might just escalate the group’s ticket and send them for an interview with ‘the boss’!

If space allows, additional stops on the CCI bucket list are the media dome for an immersive film explaining all the latest North Pole technology, the Craft-makers workshop – a hands-on experience, and the Worst Christmas Ever Bar where all the silliest and ‘worst’ things about Christmas are on display while the Eggnog flows.

Welcome Center

The Welcome Center is where those conducting the survey have their orientation, become familiar with the history of CCI, get a basic understanding of the trouble Christmas cheer is facing, and learn how they might save it!

Christmas Lab

The Elves are making a list, and checking it 27,437 times for variations and significant outliers. By carefully analyzing key elements of the holiday season like ugly sweaters, gift wrap, and stale candy, they’re optimizing a Christmas experience that will receive consistent, above average ratings from all participants. Forget building train sets – for these elves, real holiday happiness is in data-sets! 

Focus Groups

This is where the “snow meets the sled”, so to speak… Three separate rooms, each it’s own puzzle. Work together and figure it out as a group, then move to the next room. It all culminates with an elaborate toy-filled escape room experience. If your input is especially intriguing, you could be sent straight to Santa’s office for further analysis!

Santa Zoom

CCI always has a direct line to Santa! The Elves need to keep him informed of all the most recent data. If you make it to this point, your input is of high-value. In this room your group can dial in to have a quick chat with the Boss himself, update him on all that you have shared and learned at the Candy Cane Institute.