SMU graduate students Lesley Warren & Allison Farris explored brand activations at SXSW Interactive.
– A brand activation is a campaign, event, or experience to engage with consumers. They are generally interactive and at SXSW are almost uniformly over the top.
- Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One places you in the world of the the OASIS
- Google provides phone booths to promote Google Assistant
- Prove It introduces new trivia app
- Social Imprint is branded swag company with a pop-up shop on the trade floor
- YouTube took over a building with “The Greatest Stories Retold,” in 6, 15, or 30 seconds
Ready Player One
Warner Bros is really going all in for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One this year. In addition to a sort of creepy flash mob that’s been walking around downtown telling us they’re looking for Wade Watts (code name Parzival), they have a large activation on 4th Street that never seems to have fewer than 50 people waiting to go in.
I waited in line for about an hour. The activation featured gamer/sci-fi memorabilia from the 80s and 90s, including a ceiling-height bust of The Iron Giant and a DeLorean for photo ops. The main attraction was a seemingly very cool VR experience that puts you in the virtual reality world of the film, the OASIS, but I did not do this because, yikes, lines. The tech they’re using to capture data is particularly impressive for a pop-up experience, including lightweight wristbands containing your avatar name that you scan for each experience you participate in. To be honest, I don’t know anything about this film, and it isn’t my typical genre, but I do feel like I have to see this movie now. I’m too involved!
Google’s pop up activation in the Fairmont had four different “phone booths” immersive set up to demonstrate the Google Phone’s virtual assistant. SXSW participants were guided through scenarios like “Make Google Book It” which demonstrated how you can book a trip completely through voice commands and “Make Google Order It” which demonstrated how you could order mittens for your grandma. The AI was shockingly sophisticated and responsive in real time, and there is great potential for brands to utilize voice search in their digital marketing strategies through paid search for #HeyGoogle. Most people were delighted by their interaction with the AI, but I did see one man who was frustrated by the experience. Not everyone is ready for a world run by smart computers.
HQ Competitor Prove It showed up in full force with multiple touchpoints in the downtown Austin area. Tampa-based PROVEIT is a new trivia app in direct competition with HQ. Founder Prem was handing out “Trivia Cash Cards” redeemable for $1-$1,000 cash in PROVEIT and offering smart phone users a place to charge their phones. This week they will be giving $25,000 to one player in Austin only to promote the 3-month old app. Also seen around town, a branded armor truck promoting the $25,000 prize. Users are encouraged to create and share a public selfie with the truck with the #ThisIsMoney and the funniest post of the week will receive $500 account credit.
Social Imprint, a branded swag company that hires adults who need a second chance in San Francisco, set up a pop-up shop on the trade show floor complete with an onsite screen printing press to demonstrate their process. The company was raising money for a local non-profit called The Front Porch by requesting a suggested a $5 donation for a free SXSW T-shirt. Trade show attendees could also see the full range of branded products that marketers could use for swag.
Another interesting activation was from YouTube. The company recreated fairy tales for the modern age with help from top creative agencies and celebrities like Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch. With “The Greatest Stories Retold,” YouTube proves impactful stories can be told by a 6, 15, or 30 second clip. This pop-up was another impressive display of tech, with different video scenarios that are activated by motion and touch. My particular favorite was a shoe display that was activated when a person placed their foot in the large plastic heel. While not quite as grandiose as Ready Player One, “The Greatest Stories Retold” was entertaining and impressive.