Adweek’s 2020 Experiential Awards Honor Taco Bell Hotel, HBO Activations and More

Amazon Prime, Comedy Central and agency Giant Spoon also received multiple top honors

Clockwise from top: Living Jiagu, Google/MediaMonks; Fortnite E3 Experience, Epic Games/FG|PG; The Flaming Lips, Google/Deeplocal; Unicef Backpack Graveyard, Unicef/in-house
Headshot of Adweek Staff

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, experiential was one of marketing’s most dynamic and rapidly growing fields. Now the industry is exploring what form such activations can safely and effectively take going forward, and our second annual Experiential Awards suddenly carries an extra layer of celebration—and unexpected poignancy.

After all, the campaigns honored by this year’s awards were all dreamed up before social distancing, back when the only parameters were the limits of one’s imagination. Was last year a high water mark for experiential, or will 2020 be a moment of profound transition that leads to new heights? It remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Adweek is excited to highlight these truly remarkable experiential executives and activations, a wildly diverse set of immersive scenarios ranging from a Taco Bell-themed hotel in the middle of the desert to fictional nuns touring the country in a Beelzebus to promote an Amazon Prime Video original series.

Experiential Brand of the Year
HBO

HBO's "Bleed for the Throne" SXSW activation in 2019
HBO

With zeitgeist-grabbing series like Game of Thrones and Westworld on its schedule, HBO has had a sky-high bar to clear for real-life extensions of those “incredibly immersive” dramas, in the words of Zach Enterlin, evp of program marketing and creative services.

The network has, in the past year, launched a global scavenger hunt, organized mass blood donations and created a fake technology startup for experiential programs that are “a critical part of our marketing mix,” Enterlin says, noting the goal is “to develop a deeper connection with our fans.”

Those viewers, already on board with the premium channel’s ad-free environment and “It’s Not TV” positioning, are tough to reach with traditional means. And they’re unlikely to respond to typical stunts that aren’t closely tied to their favorite shows’ DNA.

That could explain why some 30,000 people traveled 3 million miles in a quest #ForTheThrone and a seat at the final season premiere. Also in the name of their Game of Thrones obsession, more than 350,000 fans spilled their own blood for the American Red Cross, which “galvanized our fan base as a force for good,” says Enterlin.

And via Incite, Westworld’s evil corporate overlord come to life, select techies peeked into the future of data gathering, with spine-tingling results.

According to Enterlin, HBO’s events aim for “a deep sense of authenticity to the world of the show, a sharp focus on innovation and a constant emphasis on quality.” —T.L. Stanley

Use of Celebrity/Use of Out-of-Home Media Activation by a Media Brand
Awkwafina 7 Train Takeover
Brand: Comedy Central
Agency: OutFront Media, Posterscope

In January, when commuting on the subway in New York was still common, riders on the 7 train were treated to some humorous announcements from a voice that sounded like Awkwafina’s—because it actually was. The comedian and actress became the MTA’s first celebrity announcer as part of Comedy Central’s promotion of her new series, Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens. The network teamed with the MTA’s advertising partner, OutFront Media, and location-based marketing agency Posterscope for the weeklong promotion.

Awkwafina announced facts about each stop on the 7, which runs from Flushing, Queens, to Hudson Yards in Manhattan. The announcements included tidbits like, “This is 33rd Street. In other news, 33 is a palindrome. Wait. Can numbers be palindromes?” and a PSA to stop manspreading. According to the MTA, the promotion was slated to kick off a celebrity-announcer pilot program. But with the city still under lockdown and ridership down more than 90%, it’s unclear when trains will get a new guest conductor. —Ian Zelaya

Finalists for Use of Celebrity
Google Pixel 3 Interactive Photo Booth with Childish Gambino
Brand: Google
Agency: MAS Event + Design

Awesome SuperPretzel Cart at Super Bowl LIV with Guy Fieri
Brand: J & J Snack Foods Corp.
Agency: 160over90

Finalists for Use of Out-of-Home Media
Her Art Here
Brand: United Airlines
Agency: Wasserman

JFK Moonshot
Brand: JFK Presidential Library and Museum
Agency: Digitas

The Daily Show DC Impeachment Stunt
Brand: Comedy Central
Agency: In-house

Brave Heart Award, Pop-Up Activation $1 Million to $2 Million
The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort
Brand: Taco Bell
Agency: UEG Worldwide and Edelman

The high-pitched hum that emanated from Palm Springs, Calif., last August wasn’t just the cicadas doing their heat-of-the-day singing. It was the palpable buzz around The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort, a four-day brandapalooza that drew 400 superfans from 21 states to a “dream destination” in the desert.

For the over-the-top activation, which sold out in two minutes, UEG Worldwide execs remade an existing local hotel in Taco Bell’s quirky image, stocking it with a salon (for themed manicures and Taco Bell fades), a swag shop (with branded bikinis and swim trunks), fusion food, poolside concerts and synchronized swimmers.

Attendees—a mix of loyalists, honeymooners, influencers and newshounds—took innumerable selfies and drank spiked Baja Blasts against a backdrop that turned everyday objects like yoga mats, throw pillows and beach towels into facsimiles of the chain’s famous single-serve hot sauce packets.

“Fans want to spend time with this brand—they want to be part of this collective universe,” says Gabe Banner, UEG’s executive producer on the project, noting its wedding chapel in Las Vegas and exclusive dinners at its top-secret test kitchen. “It wasn’t that much of a stretch” for the fast-food marketer to dive into pop-up hospitality.

The project, with zero paid media, captured the brand’s “unique personality traits,” Banner says, and snagged north of 4.4 billion impressions and 5,000 stories. —T.L. Stanley

Finalists for Brave Heart
HBO’s Bleed #ForTheThrone
Brand: HBO
Agency: Giant Spoon

The East River Riviera
Brand: Stella Artois
Agency: The Bait Shoppe

Koalas of NYC
Agency: Cummins&Partners NYC

The Bush 2020
Brand: Flamingo
Agency: In-house

Finalist for Pop-Up Activation $1 Million to $2 Million
The Time Shop
Brand: Chick-Fil-A
Agency: McCann New York

Best Event/Conference Experiential Activation, Activation by an Entertainment Brand
Data Is Destiny
Brand: HBO
Agency: Giant Spoon

In honor of the Season 3 premiere of Westworld, Giant Spoon orchestrated a dinner hosted by Incite, a tech company featured in new episodes, to spotlight just how much consumers have shared online. The invitation-only event took place at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a perfect stage for the production since data privacy and regulation (CCPA was taking effect, but not yet enforced) were at the forefront of conversation. To pull off this eerie stunt, Giant Spoon put its team to work researching every guest who attended the dinner to find specific details about their lives, including what was posted in social media profiles and included in old newspaper articles.

“The team went much further down into the layers of constructing a profile for each individual,” Trevor Guthrie, co-founder of Giant Spoon, told Adweek at the time.

When attendees arrived at the swanky venue, paid actors approached them by name and inquired about things their research found, like where they spent the holidays. In all, Giant Spoon’s research amassed a script with over 600 pages for the roughly two-hour dinner. Every detail of the night’s flow was constructed by the team, including who they sat by and what they ate, and culminated in a performance that showed how the life of one attendee (also a paid actor) might have gone differently depending on which decision she made in life.

To illustrate the true impact a company like Incite could have, every guest received an estimated day they would die—a move that left attendees wondering how much of their lives could be predicted by an algorithm. —Sara Jerde

(Read more about Giant Spoon’s wins: Experiential Agency of the Year, Experiential Executive of the Year Patrick Jong, and Experiential Rising Star of the Year Victoria Sobel.)

Finalists for Best Event/Conference Experiential Activation
The Boys, The Expanse and Carnival Row Amazon Prime Video Experience at SDCC
Brand: Amazon Prime Video
Agency: Tool of North America

HBO’s Bleed #ForTheThrone
Brand: HBO
Agency: Giant Spoon

Finalists for Activation by an Entertainment Brand
Good Omens the Chattering Order of St. Beryl
Brand: Amazon Prime Video
Agency: Tool of North America

Quest For The Throne
Brand: HBO
Agency: Droga5

Best Use of Influencers
Bring the Anger
Brand: Angry Birds
Agency: Droga5

For Angry Birds’ 10th anniversary, Droga5 created more than 100 “Rage Riders,” scooters equipped with and powered by microphones, and gave them to top influencers with the instructions: “The louder you yell, the faster it goes.” Influencers started shouting, literally and socially, racing around and documenting their rides in millions of posts. The activation raised $100,000 for Unicef and aimed to “remind the world that anger, when pointed in the right direction, can be a force for good,” execs say. A related “Venting Machine” in Times Square doled out prizes for fitful outbursts. Downloads of the Rovio Entertainment video game jumped 24% year-over-year, and content snagged 36 million views and 3.9 million likes, shares and comments. —T.L.S.

Activation in Support of Diversity and Inclusion
Signs of Love
Brand: ANZ Bank Australia
Agency: TBWA\Melbourne

ANZ Bank planned to celebrate its partnership with Sydney’s massive Mardi Gras, one of the world’s largest LGBTQ pride festivals. But recognizing that 84% of LGBTQ people reported feeling unsafe traveling through other parts of Australia, TBWA\Melbourne wanted to bring the Mardi Gras message of pride and acceptance to the entire country. Sydney’s Pride march moves down the city’s Oxford Street, so the artists and designers at experiential partner the Glue Society worked with the agency and ANZ Bank to redesign and install new, inclusive Mardi Gras signs on all 122 Oxford Streets around the nation. “Sending the magic of Oxford Street and the Mardi Gras to every state in the country became this hugely potent act of love and support,” says a Glue Society spokesperson. —Mary Emily O’Hara

Finalist for Activation in Support of Diversity and Inclusion
Queer City: A CNN Experience sponsored by P&G and BMW
Agency: Courageous Studios

Activation by an Entertainment Brand
Grave of Thrones
Brand: Foxtel
Agency: DDB Sydney

How do you help some of the most passionate, obsessed fans ever mourn the end of their favorite TV show? When it came time for Australian cable and broadcast giant Foxtel to market the final season of Game of Thrones, DDB Sydney decided to give the fandom a place to grieve in real life: a cemetery in Sydney. The artists at the agency’s experiential partner the Glue Society “originated, designed, built and installed 30 headstones and two mausoleums in under two weeks,” explains a rep. There, more than 30,000 fans visited over a single weekend, encountering gravestones for beloved characters who had been killed off during the show’s eight seasons. —M.E.O.

Activation by a Retail Brand
Levi’s Haus Miami
Brand: Levi’s
Agency: Jam3

To hype an exclusive merchandise drop for Levi’s, Jam3 built a 43,000-square-foot pop-up in the heart of Wynwood Arts District Miami and opened it to the public on Dec. 5, in time for Art Basel Miami. A shipping container within the space, dubbed Levi’s Haus Miami, boasted a large LED countdown clock that, when it hit zero, produced a unique pattern visitors could trace on their personal devices to unlock access to a limited-edition denim product. To retrieve it, the customers were sent a unique QR code that they scanned once inside the shipping container, activating an infinity-mirror carousel pickup. “The challenge was to eliminate the frustrations merchandise drops create for consumers,” notes a Jam3 spokesperson. —Richard Collings

Finalists for Activation by a Retail Brand
NMD Hidden in Plain Sight
Brand: Adidas Originals
Agency: Firstborn

The Time Shop
Brand: Chick-Fil-A
Agency: McCann New York

Sports-Related Activation
Billie Jean King Your Shoes
Brand: Adidas
Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day

In 1973, one of the most famous tennis matches in U.S. history saw Billie Jean King trounce Bobby Riggs to win the so-called “Battle of the Sexes.” To celebrate the 45th anniversary of King’s feminist victory, Adidas resurrected the shoe King wore that day. But not in the way you’d think. With the help of TBWA\Chiat\Day, Adidas set up a booth at the U.S. Open where sneaker artists took any shoes people brought in—regardless of brand—and transformed them into the classic blue model worn by King. Even Stan Smith showed up to have his eponymous sneakers reworked. The campaign generated more than 100 million impressions and notched 250 news stories shared on every continent, and an online special-edition sneaker sold out in just 17 minutes. —M.E.O.

Finalist for Sports-Related Activation
Calmentaries
Brand: Glaciar
Agency: Ponce

Community-Focused Activation, Cause-Related Activation 
Bleed for the Throne
Brand: HBO
Agency: Droga5

Video: Josh Rios, Dianna McDougall

As every Game of Thrones fan knows, winter is brutal. And devotees of the HBO drama learned that the season, in real life, had been especially harsh for the American Red Cross, with snowstorms in late 2018 canceling blood drives and causing emergency shortages worldwide. To mobilize the show’s 34 million social followers, Droga5 spearheaded Bleed for the Throne, kicking off at SXSW and expanding to 3,000 blood drives in 18 countries. The project led to a 12% increase in donations over the prior year, with nearly 350,000 units of blood, far surpassing the shortfall. “Most heartening to us was that one out of every five donations came from new donors,” agency reps say, with the drives “inspiring a new generation of blood donors for life.” —T.L.S.

Finalist for Community-Focused Activation
Mutts4Trucks
Brand: Mars Petcare
Agency: BBDO New York

Finalist for Cause-Related Activation
Koalas of NYC
Agency: Cummins&Partners NYC

Activation by a Travel Brand
Only on Airbnb
Brand: Airbnb
Agency: Weber Shandwick

A dream for any budding fashionista, a night in Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse was once exactly that, a dream. Same goes for an evening on the Spice Girls’ tour bus. Until, that is, home-sharing platform Airbnb’s “Only On Airbnb ” campaign, which brought cultural touchstones and iconic abodes to life, allowing enamored fans a chance to live once-in-a-lifetime fantasies. The headlines practically wrote themselves as the campaign reached 1.4 billion social impressions and 25.7 million site views. Not just tethered to adolescent nostalgia, the activation also featured the Goodyear Blimp and the famed Highclere Castle from Downton Abbey. —Ryan Barwick

Activation $5 Million Plus
ComplexCon
Brand: Complex Networks
Agency: In-house

The first ComplexCon was held in Long Beach, Calif., four years ago. Since then, the two-day event, which caters to streetwear enthusiasts via concerts, art, food, pop-up shops and more, has grown and shows no signs of stopping. But last year, ComplexCon made its way to Chicago for the first time. The event, put on by media company Complex Networks, debuted with Community Week, a philanthropic push dedicated to helping those in need through various activations—for instance, Complex partnered with hot spot Tao Chicago to serve the restaurant’s meals to 100 homeless families. Chicago’s Community Week proved so successful that ComplexCon’s organizers brought it to Long Beach later that year. “2019 was a huge year for ComplexCon,” notes Neil Wright, head of collaborations and experiential at Complex Networks. —Minda Smiley

Use of Music/Audio
The Flaming Lips and Fruit Genie at Google I/O
Brand: Google
Agency: Deeplocal

What do you get when you combine AI, fruit and The Flaming Lips? The answer is Fruit Genie, an AI-powered instrument that uses bananas, oranges and more as buttons that produce different sounds when pushed. Google teamed up with creative studio Deeplocal to concoct the music maker, and The Flaming Lips played it while headlining the tech company’s annual developer conference last year. Adding to the surreal vibe, Deeplocal created fruit-shaped inflatables for the band’s performance, each of which had sensors that produced sound when touched, giving the audience a chance to play music, too. “This technology can redefine the concert experience,” says Matthew Pegula, vp of creative technology at Deeplocal, “by allowing the crowd to become part of the performance.” —M.S.

Finalist for Use of Music/Audio
Big in Japan
Brand: SingleCut Beersmiths
Agency: Zulu Alpha Kilo

Best Cause-Related Experiential Activation
Unicef Backpack Graveyard
Brand: Unicef
Agency: In-house

Sometimes the smallest shift in perspective can make the biggest statement. To dramatize the high mortality rate of children living in conflict zones, Unicef turned its blue backpacks into tombstones by arranging them to resemble a cemetery at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The 3,758 backpacks represented each of the kids killed in conflict in 2018—one of the worst years on record. “My idea was to flip what was usually quite a positive icon into something that was very hard to ignore,” explains Angus Ingham, Unicef’s head of special projects and partnerships. Revealed just prior to the UN’s General Assembly, the installation made headlines and reached a global audience of over 1.1 billion. —Paul Hiebert

Experiential Activation by a Beverage Brand
Calmentaries
Brand: Glaciar
Agency: Ponce Buenos Aires

When a game features the nation’s greatest rivals in the year’s most important event, tensions can understandably run high. So when Argentinian football clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors met in the 2018 Copa Libertadores finals, Ponce hired sports commentators to do the opposite of what they’re known for. Rather than announce every action as though it were “the last play in the world,” says Juan Pablo Carrizo, Ponce’s executive creative director, they delivered a subdued, passionless radio broadcast of the match. One commentator only offered positive observations. Zen music played in the background. By going against expectations, Ponce helped Nestlé’s Glaciar water reach an audience of 3 million, and millions more through media coverage. —P.H.

Experiential Activation by a Packaged-Goods Brand
House of Flamin’ Haute
Brand: Cheetos, Frito-Lay North America
Agency: The Marketing Arm

Snack brands and fashion don’t exactly go hand in hand, but at the start of New York Fashion Week, Cheetos decided to test that notion, debuting the House of Flamin’ Haute. The experience involved a style bar where attendees could get their nails, hair and makeup Cheeto-fied, along with a runway show featuring models fashioned in flame prints, repurposed Cheeto bags and lots of orange. The cheese-dusted spectacle generated over 400 media hits, helping Cheetos accrue 10,000 new social followers. To Brandi Ray, senior director of marketing at Frito-Lay North America, the endeavor ensured that “the idea of self-expression will be permanently engrained in our brand DNA.” —P.H.

Finalists for Experiential Activation by a Packaged-Goods Brand
Delishop Pop-Up
Brand: Dietz & Watson
Agency: Red Tettemer O’Connell and Partners

Talenti Gelato Layers
Brand: Talenti
Agency: Mekanism

Out-of-Home Media
Times Square Takeover
Brand: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Agency: AKA NYC

To promote the global expansion of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the play’s producers went big. So big, in fact, that—with the help of entertainment advertising agency AKA NYC—they took out not one but 51 digital ads in Times Square, each of which interacted with one another to tell a story. The result was a spectacular nighttime showing that involved eight media vendors, an accompanying soundtrack and an appearance from self-described “superfan” Sarah Jessica Parker. Fans, influencers and press watched the event unfold, generating a 71% increase in site traffic for 18- to 44-year-olds. “We wanted to celebrate the theatrical and go as big, as thrilling, as magical as this beloved brand,” says Sam McMenamin, creative director at AKA NYC. —M.S.

Use of Partnership
Scoops Ahoy: Operation Scoop Snoop
Brand: Baskin-Robbins
Agency: 22squared

Fans of Netflix’s Stranger Things know Scoops Ahoy, the ice cream shop where much of the third season’s antics take place. Seeing an opportunity, Baskin-Robbins tapped creative agency 22squared to help the chain transform two of its North American locations into Scoops Ahoy shops days before the season’s premiere. But Baskin-Robbins didn’t stop there: 22squared also created an alternate reality game aptly based on ’80s technology dubbed Operation Scoop Snoop that attracted more than 500,000 players. “Netflix let us read Season 3 ahead of time, which is the only way this idea could’ve come together,” notes Curt Mueller, group creative director at 22squared. —M.S.

Finalists for Use of Partnership
#PauseToRemember
Brand: HomeEquity Bank
Agency: Zulu Alpha Kilo

ComplexCon
Brand: Complex Networks
Agency: In-house

The Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse
Brands: Airbnb and Mattel
Agency: Weber Shandwick

Activation Less Than $1 Million/Best Use of Mobile
JFK Moonshot
Brand: JFK Presidential Library and Museum
Agency: Digitas

Tasked with commemorating one of the most significant historical experiences in mankind, the JFK Library and Digitas asked a simple question: How would we experience the Apollo 11 flight today? On our smartphones, of course, with all the tweets, Instagram posts and commentary that go with it. So with the help of augmented reality (AR), Digitas put Saturn 5 rockets in American backyards, virtually blasting off across the country and enabling viewers to live every moment of the lunar landing. “History is best remembered when it’s experienced,” says Mark Philip, creative director at Digitas. The campaign granted access to the JFK’s Library’s treasure trove, including photos, film and written correspondence between President Kennedy and the mission’s astronauts. JFK Moonshot launched 110,000 Saturn 5 rockets, gained 220 million global impressions and inspired a 5% increase in library visitors. —R.B.

Finalist for Activation Less Than $1 Million
Koalas of NYC
Agency: Cummins&Partners NYC

Finalist for Best Use of Mobile
Big in Japan
Brand: SingleCut Beersmiths
Agency: Zulu Alpha Kilo

Activation by an Auto Brand
The Remarkable Journey of the All-New BMW X5
Brand: BMW of North America
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners

A caked-in-mud look might sell a lot of trucks, but it isn’t what comes to mind when you think of BMW. Yet that’s how the X5 arrived last fall at the LA Auto Show, the conclusion of a 10-day voyage across the United Sates that started at its South Carolina factory and included a roller derby along the way. Taking the road less traveled, the X5 was driven 3,000 miles and crossed 11 states (including the Mississippi River, with the help of a ferry), as a documentary film crew captured it all for social media. “We have a beautiful country, so let’s show them,” says Ricardo Matos, the art director on the Americana-tinged campaign. BMW reports that the stunt earned over eight times more views than its usual ads and got 165% engagements on Facebook—all while helping align the German auto brand with its American audience. —R.B.

Finalist for Activation by an Auto Brand
Hidden In Plain Sight
Brand: Ford
Agency: BBDO New York

Best Use of Celebrity
Adidas Originals Presents Donald Glover and the Nizza
Brand: Adidas
Agency: Kamp Grizzly

While Kanye West may get the lion’s share of the buzz with his Adidas products, Donald Glover’s contributions to the brand (the creative partnership started in 2018) are equally impactful. Last April, Adidas launched Donald Glover Presents, three reimagined iconic Adidas footwear styles. One hundred and fifty guests attended an immersive, multisensory event at a Los Angeles mansion, and a series of short films featured elegant placement of the Nizza shoe—all culminating in a backyard BBQ and group conversation with Glover and his team. Each attendee had the chance to be the first to share the films on their social channels, helping the product to sell out within hours of release. —Doug Zanger

Best Activation to Launch a Brand/Product
Hidden in Plain Sight
Brand: Adidas
Agency: Firstborn

One of the problems with the release of a popular new shoe (aka a “drop”) is the chaos that can ensue. The lines are long, and collectors and resellers snap up inventory, freezing out fans who then get stuck paying hugely inflated prices. Enter Adidas, Champs Sports and Firstborn, which banded together to create a WebAR-enabled experience where fans of the popular NMD collection could scan physical posters and be taken right to the point of purchase. Eighty-seven percent of people who activated the influencer-led experience clicked through to the ecommerce site, and the campaign resulted in a 168% lift in sales for the NMD line. —D.Z.

Finalists for Best Activation to Launch a Brand/Product
Adidas Originals Presents Donald Glover and the Nizza
Brand: Adidas
Agency: Kamp Grizzly

Koalas of NYC
Agency: Cummins&Partners NYC

Kinder Bueno Sweeteasy
Brand: Ferrero
Agency: Alcone

xG Award, Long-Running Activation
The Chattering Order of St. Beryl
Brand: Good Omens, Amazon Prime Video
Agency: Tool North America

To promote its original series Good Omens, adapted from a 30-year-old cultishly adored book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Amazon Prime Video wanted to use the power of experiential to transform the show’s existing fans into Prime “evangelists.” New followers were seduced “with a plague of original content” that brought to life The Chattering Order of St. Beryl, a group of unholy nuns from the series. Amazon sent the sisters on a five-month tour (on a vehicle called Beelzebus, no less) to perform five original songs—they hit the stage on America’s Got Talent, at SXSW, in Los Angeles, in New York and in London, and even made a hit music video titled “Brand New Baby Smell.” The satanic and hilarious push reached 25 million people and generated over 1 billion impressions to become Amazon Prime Video’s best-performing social campaign ever. —Sara Spary

Activation to Launch a Brand/Product
Amazon Prime Video Experience at SDCC
Brand: Prime Video (The Boys, The Expanse, Carnival Row)
Agency: Tool North America

At San Diego Comic-Con, Amazon created a 60,000-square-foot theme park packed with elaborate set design and immersive, interactive performances to bring to life three original series. For Carnival Row, Amazon invited guests into a bustling old-world marketplace inhabited by mythological creatures styled in special-effects makeup and custom prosthetics. For The Boys, it staged a smoldering car crash through the wall of an electronics shop. And for The Expanse, the team designed a 40 x 70-foot plot of extraterrestrial terrain populated by 16-foot-tall ancient ruins and simulated sandstorms. In all, it took 112 actors, stunt performers and brand ambassadors to bring the massive activation to life. “Every detail matters, and fans demand authenticity,” a rep for Amazon Prime Video says. “Fans and press loved it.” —S.S.

Activation $2 Million to $5 Million, Activation by a Media Brand
Adult Swim Festival
Brand: Adult Swim
Agency: NCompass International

How do you connect with Adult Swim fans who are, in the network’s own words, “deeply skeptical of traditional advertising and irrelevant sponsorships?” Ahead of the new Season 4 premiere of Rick and Morty, the network transformed Adult Swim Festival 2019 into a celebration of the cartoon in the form of two packed days of music, comedy, panels, games, prizes, cosplay and talent appearances. The Rick and Morty-themed festival featured a 50-foot-high branded slide, a bucking bronco hot dog ride, an inflatable cat joust and an exclusive first look at new episodes. The activation secured 11 partnerships, revenue surged 65% and Adult Swim garnered 350 press hits and 24 million press impressions—a 450% increase versus 2018. —S.S.

Use of Social Media (tie)
Game of Thrones: The Final Season/Quest for the Throne
Brand: HBO
Agency: Droga5

Keeping Fortnite Fresh
Brand: Wendy’s
Agency: VMLY&R

HBO and Wendy’s both used social media in clever ways that elevated them above the fray. HBO, for example, dropped six full-size Iron Thrones at remote locations (including among sand dunes in Brazil, within a 12th-century Spanish castle and on Canadian tundra) and then hid cryptic clues to their whereabouts in a series of videos to encourage fans to go on a quest to find them. 30,000 people took part, and the campaign generated 38,000 social mentions from 93 countries, garnering $14.8 million in equivalent advertising value from news coverage.

And Wendy’s saw social mentions increase 125% when it dropped into a game of Fortnite to take part in its Team Pizza vs. Team Burger food fight. The brand (which boasts that it “doesn’t do freezers”–only fresh beef) got on Twitch and chose a character with red hair. “Instead of killing other players, we started destroying burger freezers—again and again and again, for nine hours,” a rep for the fast-food chain says. Other players organically joined in on the anti-freezer assault, helping boost Wendy’s brand messaging. —S.S.

Finalist for Best Use of Social Media
@GoodnessBot Monica Lewinsky PSA
Agency: BBDO New York

Activation by a Technology Brand
Living Jiagu
Brand: Google
Agency: MediaMonks

For a 2019 Google Developer Day event in Shanghai, the technology giant tapped MediaMonks to figure out how to communicate the potential applications of its machine-learning platform TensorFlow via a single medium to an audience that spans generations. The pair’s quest led to the creation of Living Jiagu, an activation that utilizes oracle bone script, or jiǎgǔwén characters, the earliest form of Chinese writing.

Google asked visitors to use drawing tablets to sketch an ancient oracle bone script character based on a visual reference. The brand then analyzed the drawing with TensorFlow. If the drawing was close enough to the original charter, the character they drew dissolved on the tablet screen and reappeared in animated form on the main screen. “Most characters focused on either animals or nature elements, giving us the opportunity to create additional surprises, such as a tiger chasing deer, a person fishing from a boat and monkeys shaking fruit from a tree,” the agency says.

The activation attracted more than 3,500 participants and 12,000 views on Google’s WeChat account, as well as generated 2.5 million views on BiliBili livestream. —R.C.

Finalist for Activation by a Technology Brand
The Shadow
Brand: Intel
Agency: Uproxx

Activation $2 Million to $5 Million
Fortnite E3 Experience
Brand: Epic Games
Agency: FG|PG

Fortnite set out to top its inaugural E3 extravaganza in 2018 with an even more spectacular showing the following year, bringing the game to life in the physical world on a mind-boggling scale. The sprawling Fortnite E3 Experience featured a full-size Battle Bus performance stage, three gameplay islands and 100 new hands-on game stations. “The resulting assortment of neon-clad activations felt like being placed inside a futuristic pinball machine and provided unique engagements for each specific demographic,” says a spokesperson for FG|PG. The activation was also something of a logistical feat: Throughout the 15,000-square-foot space, organizers managed to run the operation smoothly enough to keep all lines under a 15-minute wait. —Patrick Kulp

Use of Video (tie)
Beat Machine
Brand: Bacardi
Agency: BBDO

Dalí Lives
Brand: The Dalí Museum
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Two campaigns pushed the outer limits of what’s possible with video in clever ways this year. For Bacardi, BBDO discovered a YouTube feature—of which even some Google engineers were unaware—that allows users to jump to different segments of a video via their numerical keyboards. Seizing on this ability, the brand essentially allowed anyone to turn the YouTube interface into a DJ set with a clip from Major Lazer and Anitta that changes beats in accordance with the intervals of the keys.

Meanwhile, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners worked with The Salvador Dalí Museum of St. Petersburg, Fla., to put deepfake artificial intelligence to good use. The agency trained an algorithm to mimic the expressions and speech of the famed surrealist artist, then had the computer-generated likeness recite his real words to museum visitors. “We used the controversial deepfake technique in service of art for the first time,” an agency rep says, “to bring the artist back to give visitors a personal tour of the museum.” —P.K.

Finalist for Best Use of Video
The Daily Show DC Impeachment Stunt
Brand: Comedy Central
Agency: In-house

Activation by a Spirits Brand
Painted by Everyone
Brand: Bacardi
Agency: BBDO

Through state-of-the-art robotic technology, Bacardi’s Bombay Sapphire was able to invite anyone in the United States to contribute to a giant public art installation in downtown Los Angeles. More than 7,000 people opted to choose a color for their piece of the painting online, then watched over livestream as an automated mechanical arm produced the abstract dots and streaks on a giant canvas. “Throughout the years, Bombay Sapphire has been a champion of creativity and inspiration, developing various campaigns to support up-and-coming artists,” a BBDO spokesperson says. “This year, the brand wanted to facilitate creativity for those outside the art world.” —P.K.

Finalist for Activation by a Spirits Brand
The Elderflower Meadow
Brand: St-Germain
Agency: The Gathery

Use of Data Insights
Mutts4Trucks
Brand: Mars Petcare, Pedigree/Mobil Delvac
Agency: BBDO

BBDO showed how data can bring people together for everyone’s gain with Mutts4Trucks, in which truck drivers seeking companionship were connected to dogs in need of a home through an unlikely partnership between an engine oil and dog food brand: Mobil Delvac and Pedigree, respectively. The agency used channels tailored to the lifestyles of truckers—radio, out of home, digital and truck-stop point of sale—to promote adoption events. After two weeks, the shop was able to gauge a measurable increase in driver happiness and time spent being active. “That’s good for dogs, good for truckers and better for everyone on the road,” an agency spokesperson says. —P.K.

Finalist for Use of Data Insights
Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Laugh Tracker
Brand: Tennessee Tourism
Agency: VMLY&R

Ecologically Responsible Activation
The Future Doesn’t Suck
Brand: Bacardi
Agency: BBDO

With The Future Doesn’t Suck, Bacardi sought to turn something that sucks (plastic straws, and, more specifically, the harm they cause marine life) into something that slaps: limited-edition vinyl records of a new song from Major Lazer and Diplo. The brand and BBDO New York spent a year collecting tens of thousands of used straws from bars and music venues across the country, which were then pressed into the one-of-a-kind recycled records. The company claims that each song purchase prevented 600 straws from winding up in the ocean, with proceeds from the sales going to nonprofit partner Lonely Whale. “When we pair science with art, with music, and sprinkle a little bit of fun on top,” Lonely Whale executive director Dune Ives says, “that is where the magic can happen.” —P.K.

Finalist for Ecologically Responsible Activation
Know The Cost
Brand: IBM
Agency: The Mill


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