As excitement builds for SXSW 2019, we thought it would be fun to reflect on some of the past SXSW activations from the biggest experiential event in the world.
1. HBO’s #SXSWestworld by Giant Spoon
You can’t talk about experiential marketing and not mention HBO's Westworld activation at SXSW 2018. Giant Spoon and HBO recreated the show's town of Sweetwater on a 90,000 ft2 site, filled it with a cast of about 60 actors, and created immersive storylines to engage attendees in the action and make them feel like they were part of the show. Attendees who missed out on the daily ticket allocations waited up to 9 hours on standby just to be in with chance to see it.
2. Swisse Wellness encouraged attendees to #CelebrateLifeEveryDay
Capitalizing on the wellness trend, Swisse Wellness, an Australian multivitamin brand, created a highly Instagrammable wellness experience at the SXSW Wellness Expo in 2018. In addition to offering plenty of places to relax away from the busy event, their booth brought the ingredients in their products to life visually. Attendees were attracted to the cranberry bog ball pit, a blood orange orchard, and an artichoke garden, seeking the perfect shot for Instagram.
3. me Convention
A collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and SXSW, me Convention was a cross-disciplinary event that connected artists, scientists, tech visionaries, and musicians through their shared passion and visions for the future. Themed around an existing playground, it leveraged swings, slides, and nooks to facilitate networking and connection. The event was purely about great experiences and active learning. The benefit for Mercedes Benz? Brand awareness and emotional connections with consumers.
4. The IBM Cognitive Studio by George P. Johnson
IBM, one of the oldest tech companies in the world—and one of today’s most exciting innovators—had a mission at SXSW: to rejuvenate the brand and highlight how IBM’s diverse solutions impact our everyday lives. To create an immersive cognitive experience, George P. Johnson (GPJ), IBM’s marketing agency, transformed a 5,000 ft. restaurant beside the convention into the IBM Cognitive Studio—a custom venue with nine key engagement areas. Guest experiences were personalized with RFID bracelets as they progressed through a cognitive cocktail bar that served personalized drinks from Watson, a virtual reality cycling experience, an interactive Watson touchscreen experience, a live Chef Watson cook-off, an app lounge, developer playground, and arcade, a mind-controlled BB8 Droid experience.
5. Vimeo’s The Decade
Vimeo replicated a theater for its SXSW 2018 activation and created experiences to allow people to walk a mile in Marcel the Shell’s shoes, be yelled at by Danny DeVito, and spend a day in Jim Carrey’s art studio. Inspired by iconic films from the past 10 years, The Decade was an activation with many layers—the more you looked, the more you uncovered. No detail was missed (check out the creepy clown standing on top of the event’s mural wall!).
6. Uber Ride and Dine
To celebrate the launch of their new Visa credit card, Uber hosted dinners prepared by a local chef in a double-decker bus. The experiential marketing agency Manifold produced the event and nailed all of Uber’s value propositions in a single, memorable, shareable experience that speaks for itself.
7. Bumble’s Empowering Connections
Bumble went big at SXSW 2018. The Empowering Connections experience created the perfect amount of buzz at the event. The Bio Bar helped guests create the perfect profiles, the Elevator Pitch helped aspiring startups with advice, and the 5-Minute First Dates area connected people over a quick game of minigolf. Each of the Empowering Connections experiences took place in a selfie-worthy space with live music, tasty bites, and delicious drinks—truly tantalizing all the senses.
8. Funny or Die, HBO, and Silicon Valley
Funny or Die and HBO created a virtual-reality experience that guided attendees through Silicon Valley’s tech headquarters. The activation named Inside the Hacker Hostel allowed guests to interact with characters from the show and created photo opportunities at Three Comma Club and the infinity room with hanging hot dogs. For fans of the show, the activation was a hilarious must-see.
9. Pinterest House
Pinterest took over Austin’s famous Container Bar on Rainey Street and brought Pinterest House to life. Guests were invited to take an interactive questionnaire—the Taste Tuner—which resulted in a personalized Pinterest Taste Graph, showcasing how people use Pinterest to make decisions about what to do or buy.
10. Spotify House
Spotify House is an annual staple at SXSW. It is the perfect example of how brands can craft experiences instead of delivering traditional event marketing. There’s no direct selling. Just come along, have a great time, and leave with a good feeling.
These ten examples offer a sample of the legendary activations from past SXSW events. Each year brands get more and more audacious than the previous year. We can’t want to see what surprises lay in store for 2019 SXSW activations.
To learn more about these brands brought their experiences to life, download our ebook, 6 Experiential Marketing Trends from SXSW.