The Ultimate Roundup of This Year’s SXSW Experiential Marketing Activations

HBO, Casper, Gatorade and more

These are the 10 best activations at SXSW. Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Source: Adweek

SXSW Interactive, the first half of the Austin, TX conference dedicated to emerging tech and everything digital, brings out a ton of festival-goers and a ton of brands trying to reach them. From VR experiences and AI robots, to an actual hotel you can book a room at, brands at South by Southwest spared no expense with stunts old and new designed to get passersby tweeting, Instagramming and Snapping about their experiential activations.

Over the past five days, the Adweek staff on the ground in Austin has checked out just about everything brands had to offer at SXSW. These 10 experiences, ranging from simple street teams to an entire fast-food restaurant built from the ground up, are the ones that impressed us the most.

AMC’s Los Pollos Hermanos Restaurant

A pop-up version of the infamous chicken chain, known for the super-shady dealings made within its walls on AMC’s Breaking Bad, heralds the upcoming appearance of the chain’s owner, Gus Fring (played by Giancarlo Esposito), in Season 3 of the prequel series, Better Call Saul. The restaurant was built from scratch in three days and borrows props from the show like gumball machines, the clock and Jimmy’s car. Read the full story here. Alfred Maskeroni

HBO: The Escape

This year’s HBO SXSW activation turned the famous sets of Veep, Silicon Valley and Game of Thrones into intricately detailed escape rooms. The Oval Office from Veep has everything from the president’s desk to perfectly rendered paintings on the wall. The Silicon Valley hacker den is a remarkably chaotic scene filled with take-out containers (many with real food in them), computers, circuit boards and whiteboards. And the Game of Thrones room is a dingy, cold, snowy space inside Castle Black that’s eerily similar to being stuck in a dungeon in Westeros. Read the full story here. —A.M.

Gatorade Combine

Although maybe not as flashy as other brands, Gatorade brought a detailed and popular (there was always a hefty line) experience to SXSW. Gatorade’s Combine showed off the “future of athlete evaluation” by partnering with three leading sports tech companies currently being used by collegiate and professional sports teams to evaluate player potential, increase efficiency and identify and minimize athletes’ exposure to injury.

Gatorade brought interactive exhibits from three sports tech brands to its downtown Austin corner. Kitman Labs uses a Microsoft Kinect to “analyze movement function and biomechanics for potential injury risk.” STRIVR showed off what is essentially a very detailed virtual reality game used for situational training in football. The simulation puts you in the shoes of a quarterback and asks you to decide how to run a certain play based on what the defense is doing. As an avid football fan, I failed miserably in all three of my attempts—being a quarterback is hard.

Lastly, Sparta Science uses “patented force plate data to identify key thresholds for resilience” that can be used to create custom workouts to increase efficiency and reduce risk of injury. Sparta is being used by many college and pro teams and because of its clear and concise data, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of its terms and metrics enter the broader sports audience vernacular when it comes to discussing player ability, like how we do now with 40-yard dash times and vertical jump height.

Gatorade says they don’t currently have any plans to pivot into a full-on sports tech company, similar to Under Armour, but it’s a good look to be involved with brands leading the way in sports science. —Charles Goetz

One Night and Casper Hotel

Casper, the Standard Hotel and Tesla teamed up to create an oasis for frazzled festival-goers. Using the Standard’s One Night app, which lets you book same-night hotel rooms after 3 p.m., SXSW attendees could book a last-minute room at the Austin Motel, a retro chic property, for $99 a night. Attendees could also reserve a 45-minute “refresh room,” a place for napping and recharging your devices. All rooms are equipped with Casper mattresses and milk and cookies. And, if you request it, an on-site “mom” will come and tuck you in and read you a bedtime story. Read the full story here. Christine Birkner