Adweek Announces the Winners of Our First Annual Experiential Awards

Presenting the brands, agencies and creatives taking activations to a whole new level

From The Iconic Laundromat to Adidas 747 Warehouse St. to the Insect Concerto, these are Adweek’s Experiential Award winners. Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall

There was a time when experiential marketing was a niche category, a simple add-on in a brand’s overall strategy. That time is over. Experiential activations have become more ambitious than ever—extraordinarily creative, inventive and engaging. With our inaugural Adweek Experiential Awards, we celebrate the talent behind the past year’s most impressive initiatives, and we can’t wait to see what next year brings.
X Award, Most Creatively Effective Activation/
xG Award, Best Experiential Activation by a Media Brand/
Best Pop-Up Experiential Activation
The Daily Show Presents: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library
Brand: Comedy Central
Agency: In-house

It’s unusual for experiential activations to pop up multiple times, let alone six times in three years. But then again, there’s nothing usual about The Daily Show Presents: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, which Comedy Central has brought to life in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco and, most recently, Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest festival this past March. The network has been able to not only build out this experience time and again but also bring in crowds so big that the line to get into the library lasts hours and hours each time.
The brainchild of The Daily Show writing staff, the activation is the show’s “unique editorial spin” on President Donald Trump’s tweets, explains Shawn Silverman, svp, brand marketing for Comedy Central, Paramount Network and TV Land, noting that the activation is much more than just printed out tweets on a wall. There’s also a nickname generator, for example, that features “multiple caricatures of multiple politicians that President Trump has given nicknames to.”
“The Daily Show came to us and said, ‘One day President Trump’s going to have a presidential library, but it’s probably going to be filled with all his tweets. Wouldn’t it be funny if we created that now and made it an experience?’ And I just loved the idea,” says Silverman.
The library has garnered tons of attention from press, fans (Silverman notes that it has scored hundreds of thousands of mentions on social and tens of millions of views of the content created for the library) and various awards, including Cannes Lions.
“The library is so unique because nothing like this has ever existed before,” says Silverman. “Nothing’s ever been done like this before. And you couldn’t just slap any brand logo on it and call it, you know, an official experience. This is something that is in The Daily Show’s DNA. That’s why when we do pop it up in different cities, we see this tremendous outpouring of people coming in wanting to wait in line because they know it’s not something that they’re going to see anywhere else or from anyone else.”
(Read about Experiential Brand of the Year Comedy Central and Experiential Rising Star of the Year Emily Albertson here.)
The Brave Heart Award
Experiential Activation by an Entertainment Brand
Brand: HBO
Agency: Giant Spoon

HBO’s SXSWestworld, created by Giant Spoon, set a new bar for experiential. The massive, immersive activation at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, transported festival attendees into the heart of Sweetwater, the town inside the hit show Westworld. People waited five to six hours just to witness the experience, which was staged on two vacant acres of land outside Austin and included taverns, live music, 444 pages of scripts for 60 actors and much more to promote the second season of the series. Even Elon Musk flew into Texas for the experience. “We built a world on a scale that I don’t know that anyone has done before outside of building theme parks,” says Giant Spoon co-founder Jon Haber.

Haber says going into it, the biggest fear the agency had was that people wouldn’t come. “We had to get people on buses, and they had to be on those buses for nearly an hour, in the hot sun on occasion, to leave the festival,” he explains. The weather posed another concern. There was a “massive” rainstorm during the final build of the activation a week before SXSW kicked off, “which was causing large construction issues,” Haber says. Luckily, the team was able to lay out special dirt that doesn’t turn to mud on the grounds to finish the build, and the sun was shining for the actual event. “Stay steady, calm and figure out a solution,” Haber advises of managing activations, “because it’s going to be unpredictable.”
(Read about Experiential Agency of the Year Giant Spoon and Experiential Executive of the Year Marc Simons here.) 
Experiential Activation $5 Million Plus
Brand: Complex Networks
Agency: In-house

Started in 2016, Complex Networks’ ComplexCon—the youth-focused media platform’s annual two-day event in Long Beach, Calif.—has grown into a cultural phenomenon. In 2018, the conference expanded its grounds, allowing space for music performances to be held all day from the likes of Migos, Future and Vince Staples, and an additional 10,000 guests (to a total of 60,000) to attend. Two-hundred brands, including Nike and Adidas, debuted new products—Jaden Smith even unveiled his G-Star denim line. Celebrities like Pusha T also participated in the event’s “complex conversations”—which actually make up the heart of the conference—covering topics such as prison reform.
In fact, according to a Complex-conducted survey, most attendees responded that they don’t come to the event primarily to see their favorite celebrities or new products, but for the critical discussions taking place there. “As important as it is that they see Migos and Pharrell and all of these great music performances, complex conversations come at the top of our feedback,” says Isis Arias Clermont, executive producer of ComplexCon. “It’s a great testament to what Complex has been building in the type of content that we’re doing.”
Because of the investments Complex has made, Clermont says the conference, and the conversations it fosters, will continue to grow and reach more people, “creating the best experience for our attendees.” In 2019, ComplexCon will expand to Chicago, and Clermont’s team is looking at additional cities to target in the future.
Experiential Activation by a Spirits Brand
Amparo: An Immersive Theatrical Experience
Brand: Havana Club
Agency: Team Enterprises

The year is 1957, and the Cuban government has just seized the Havana Club rum factory away from the Arechabala family. What will they do? Where will they go? This is the drama unfolding around bar patrons in the present day who have become part of Amparo, an immersive theater experience. The Bacardi-owned Havana Club rum created the show to explain to bartenders and consumers the harrowing tale of the brand, which is sold only in the U.S.
“We wanted to tell the story in a way the story hadn’t been told before, especially for the Cuban community,” says Chris Ha, North American brand manager, Bacardi. “Its greatest asset, but also its greatest challenge, is its story.” Paul Ramirez, vp, ecd, Team Enterprises, the agency behind the activation, calls it a “dream brief” that encouraged the team to be “bold.” After pitching the Amparo concept to Havana Club, the agency hired playwright Vanessa Garcia and theater director Victoria Collado to bring the story to life.
Ninety percent of bartender guests who experienced Amparo said they were “likely/extremely likely” to purchase Havana Club, and there was a 40% increase year over year in sales volume in Florida. Following the success of the pilot, which ran in New York and Miami, Havana Club launched a two-month residency of the show in Miami.

This story first appeared in the April 29, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.