The Best SXSW Brand Activations

Posted by Gabriella Prieto on March 8, 2017
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The Austin, TX based festival, South by Southwest (referred to as SXSW or simply South by for those in the know), is an experiential, and experimental, marketing opportunity for the world's boldest brands. With 72,000 registrants and artists in attendance, SXSW is one of the most effective channels for promoting your business to professionals connected in the interactive, film, and music industries. SXSW's 100+ sessions, parties, screenings, and keynotes are all centered around one, simple message - the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together. 

Check out Pop2Life's brand experiences coming to SXSW this year, as well as our favorite experiential activations from 2016 and prior.

Sneak peak of Pop2Life’s activations at SXSW 2017

Sundance TV: In order to promote Season Two of Hap and Leonard on SundanceTV, we are creating a bull-riding activation across the street from the convention center at SXSW. Inside the activation, fans are invited to test their 'Mojo' (a major theme of the show), by seeing how long they can last on a bucking bull. The longer they stay on the bull, the more Mojo he or she has. The entire experience is being captured by a GoPro that is attached to the bull, which digitally transforms the bull into a horse to match the show's key art, which shows the two main characters jumping over a cop car on a horse. Additionally, fans are invited to take their mug shot against a branded mug shot wall.

Comedy Central: Kegs and Eggs is Comedy Central's annual SXSW party featuring free breakfast tacos and beer for all guests. There are several activations throughout the space that highlight Comedy Central's programming like the Drunk History dunk tank, Broad City paint by numbers wall, South Park couch, gif photo booth and more. Guests can also spin the prize wheel to win prizes from many of the networks' shows.

@Midnight Live: Chris Hardwick's game show @Midnight is coming back to SXSW for the second year in a row. Guests include comedians Thomas Lennon, Nick Swardson and Whitney Cummings who will compete for POINTS! There will be a live audience at the legendary ACL Live at the Moody Theatre on Friday, March 10 - doors at 7 p.m. 


Our favorite past SXSW brand activations

Mashable (2016)


Photo Courtesy: SHIFT Communications

The Mashable House has been a staple at SXSW for the past 4 years, but the 2016 theme was “The Future of the Internet.” This media company does not have a physical product, but they have had the opportunity to give people a tangible and fun experience for their partners, such as Pepsi, Qualcomm, Amazon Launchpad, Las Vegas Convention, Facebook, Hasbro’s Transformers, Quaker and HBO. The future of the Internet is portrayed at their brand activation.

For example, there was a realistic representation of Silicon Valley, you get to take a cinemagraph photo of yourself and send it to your phone, and there was also a Pepsi Inspire truck to customize the drink of your choice. They also set up an Invisible Museum - there is nothing in it besides some plastic little figures, but when you hold up a tablet to them the story becomes a live augmented reality

Warner Bros, Suicide Squad (2016)


Photo Courtesy: AdWeek

Attendees that attended the SXSW festival lined up for tattoos-real or fake-of artwork of the characters from the movie, Suicide Squad. To promote the new movie that came out in the summer of 2016, Warner Bros transformed Affinity Tattoo and Body piercing on East 6th Street in Austin into Harley Quinn’s Tattoo Parlor, complete with decor from the film and free tattoos. Harley Quinn is girlfriend of the Joker, enemy of Batman and part of a secret government task force of super villains. Some participants are die hard fans of Suicide Squad and Harley Quinn, while others were just excited to get a free tattoo.

American Greetings (2016)


Photo Courtesy: CNBC

Greeting card companies have had an uphill battle over the last decade - surviving the dawn of the e-vite and digital invitation systems. American Greetings was excited to stage a massive activation at SXSW last year to mesh together the digital and analog world. To get their message across, they set up their activation at 325 E. 6th Street in Austin, Texas titled #Analog to remind the festival-goers how much fun they can still have with paper. “When you use analog forms of communication, you can elevate digital things...the idea is to say that analog and digital aren’t at war with each other,” said Alex Ho, executive director of marketing at American Greetings.

American Greetings’ lettering artists helped attendees create custom greeting cards for anyone they wanted. There was also a station dedicated to taking Polaroids of digital images, so that the physical picture could be sent in a greeting card.

A&E Bates Motel (2015)


Photo Courtesy: AdWeek

This fully immersive experience got fans excited about A&E's creepy drama, Bate’s Motel, with its artfully blended and spooky exploration of the hotel. This included every uncomfortable detail, including blood stains in the bathroom. There was a sweepstakes element that led up to the event and sharable content at the experience, extending the brand’s reach beyond the week long installation. Each day there was a sweepstakes in the “motel’s” office, and guests were invited to enter for a chance to win a night at the motel. Also, there was an on-site GIF booth that allowed guests to create a custom animation to share.

VISA (2015)


Photo Courtesy: Claire Zinn Design

This was the first year VISA participated at SXSW and they kicked it off with a bang, setting up a private VIP performance by John Legend and also an interactive event that featured NFL superstars Drew Brees, Colin Kaepernick, Larry Fitzgerald, and other football exclusives. They also sponsored an entrepreneurial competition to inspire new and more effective means for marketers to engage the elusive millennial. This competition was judged by CMO Antonio Lucio’s marketing leadership team.

An "Everywhere Lounge" was set up to pull in powerhouse brand partners and celebs, as well as hosting panels and job fairs, providing the opportunity to both network and learn. The lounge also offered craft coffee and beer to all attendees.


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Topics: experiential marketing, stunts, go beyond, experiences, brand experiences

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