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.

Best Use of Commerce in an Experiential Activation
Adidas 747 Warehouse St.
Brand: Adidas
Agency: Kamp Grizzly

“Adidas wanted to win [NBA] All-Star Weekend,” explains Daniel Portrait, ecd, Kamp Grizzly, which meant the agency had to think beyond just another shoe drop. Instead, it delivered 747 Warehouse St., an immersive experience for sneakerheads. Using RFID bracelets, 18,000 attendees could earn points by visiting every inch of the activation, which featured pro athletes like James Harden, Damian Lillard and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Instead of waiting for hours in line, attendees used the points to enter a lottery for a chance to buy the latest sneakers. As for All-Star Weekend, Adidas topped Nike by sixfold in social mentions during the two-day period.
Experiential Activation by a Travel Brand
The Colorblind Viewer
Brand: Tennessee Department of Tourist Development
Agency: VMLY&R

A team of seven creatives at VMLY&R needed to answer a question for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development: All the states where it spends its advertising dollars have fall colors, so how do we get people to see Tennessee’s autumn hues differently? The answer to that brief left people in tears and speechless.
VMLY&R developed a viewfinder for people with red-green colorblindness, allowing them to experience the vibrant hues of changing leaves for the first time. The tourism bureau placed 12 colorblind viewfinders throughout the state. To promote its innovation, VMLY&R brought about 15 people to Gatlinburg, Tenn., to experience the viewfinders. Then the agency captured their emotional reactions to create a film to roll out on social. “The third man that went up, you could feel his emotion,” says Allison Pierce, ecd, VMLY&R. “I was bawling just listening.”
The campaign totaled 9 million video views and garnered 662 million impressions and $2.5 million in earned media value, which is a nearly 15-to-1 return on investment. Hotel revenue increased 9.5 percent year over year. VMLY&R and the tourism bureau plan on rolling out the viewfinders in more states this fall.
Experiential Activation by Auto Brand
Porsche Presents: The E-JOLT
Brand: Porsche
Agency: Cramer-Krasselt

Occasionally, a ride-share passenger will hit the jackpot and a luxury car will unexpectedly pull up, much to the passenger’s delight. Porsche wanted to re-create that feeling of amazing good fortune with its Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid in an activation. But to show off its 680 horsepower, the brand couldn’t exactly unleash it on public roads. “For a lot of people, it’s just a fascinating moment to get in the car,” says Marshall Ross, CCO, Porsche.
So the high-end car brand created E-JOLT, an item on a café menu, that when ordered lets unsuspecting people go on a joy ride in the Panamera on a test track. Porsche looked at how hybrid cars are traditionally framed—“They’re very good for the environment, but not very fun for drivers,” says Ross—and aimed to change that perception.
Porsche also wanted to reach the next generation of drivers, so that when someone is ready to purchase a luxury car, Porsche is there to “get them out of something boring and into something thrilling,” says Ross.
The E-JOLT film was viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube, and searches for the car increased 57% on YouTube and Google. Porsche added the E-JOLT as a permanent item on café menus at the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta and Los Angeles. Globally, its dealerships now use the film in marketing materials.
Experiential Activation Less than $1 Million/
Best Use of Influencers in an Experiential Activation/
Experiential Activation by Retail Brand
Brand: Payless ShoeSource
Agency: DCX Growth Accelerator

This activation was part advertising, part massive prank. Payless opened Palessi, a “shoe store” that proclaimed to sell luxury footwear, when in actuality, the offerings were $20 pairs from Payless. After guests and influencers who attended the store’s “launch event” lauded the shoes as sophisticated and elegant, the truth was dropped—creating a viral moment that ended up earning millions of impressions.

The idea for Palessi, explains Doug Cameron, chief creative and strategy officer for DCX, originated over tacos with his partner Tommy Noonan, DCX’s ecd, after the pair reflected on conversations with Payless customers, who lambasted the Kardashians and society’s growing materialism. “Payless customers ideologically identify against superficiality and identify with this no-B.S. pragmatism,” says Cameron. Palessi was a way to poke fun at influencers in a way that would resonate with Payless customers.
Palessi took over a former Armani store in Santa Monica, Calif., for the stunt, and once it made its way to the greater public, it took off quickly. The folks at DCX weren’t shocked that it got attention—”When we do work that leans into a big cultural tension, it does go viral,” says Cameron—but were still pleasantly surprised to see Questlove tweet it out. Within a few days, Payless’s CEO gave them a call to tell them that board members in China and Taiwan had seen the campaign covered on the news.
How did the influencers take being the butt of the joke? “They all found it funny,” says Cameron. “If you use humor in the right way, the people that you’re making fun of are often the people who identify with it most.” And if that fails, Cameron suggests another option: “When we gave them the free shoes, it was fine.”
Experiential Activation $1 Million to $2 Million, Best Use of Celebrity in an Experiential Activation and Best Use of Video in an Experiential Activation
Elton John Farewell Tour
Brand: Elton John
Agency: Spinifex Group

When Elton John announced that he’d be hitting the road for his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour—which John has said will be his final global tour—Project WorldWide made what was effectively “a cold call to Elton’s people” to discuss creating an activation around the musician’s legacy, says Ben Casey, CEO of Spinifex Group.
“He saw this launch moment as an opportunity to not only get his loyal fans interested in buying the tickets, but also to get a generation of fans who don’t really know him for anything but The Lion King and his more recent achievements to be able to go to his concerts and connect with his music,” says Casey.
The resulting activation was a 360 virtual-reality time machine that took fans on a journey through John’s career. Concert attendees could experience a VR version of those shows from an onstage vantage point, experiencing seminal moments—such as John’s American debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles—that few people had actually seen in person, as well as the most iconic ones, like his 1975 concerts at Dodger Stadium. A visual slideshow in the clouds took viewers through other important milestones, set to the soundtrack of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
But re-creating those moments virtually wasn’t always easy—particularly for the show at the Troubadour, of which there were few photographs and little video available. Casey says they were able to pull it off through computer-generated re-creation, capturing zone data of John himself and “de-aging” the image. “We really wanted to bring the fidelity of that moment back to life,” he says.

Best Use of Music/Audio in an Experiential Activation
The Insect Concerto
Brands: Berlin Philharmonic and WWF
Agency: Scholz & Friends

Ever wonder what a performance featuring insects alongside a famous orchestra might sound like? To raise awareness about rapidly decreasing bug populations, this activation shared nature’s music with audiences. “From a production and recording perspective, the question was how can we trigger the insects to … chirp?” says Oliver Handlos, ecd of Scholz & Friends. “The other challenge was to actually teach the world-class musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic to … mimic the sounds of locusts [and] grasshoppers.”

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