If ever there were an event that lets brands flex some strategic muscle, it’s SXSW. The annual Austin-based conference and festivals, this year March 8-17, attracts influential and savvy audiences that hail from the film, emerging tech and music industries. Engaging this crowd is a tall order for brands, some of whom forgot traditional activations and sprint toward immersive, off-site experiences, like 2018’s SXSWestworld, HBO’s experiential takeover of a real-life ghost town 20 minutes outside Austin.
It makes good sense to court this demographic: 68 percent are ages 25-44, and 37 percent earn more than $150,000 per household, according to 2018 stats. The nearly 500,000 professionals that attend SXSW are there to explore new business opportunities above all else, but they’re also eager to explore how brands fit into their business and personal lives, alike.
Opening weekend proved to be rockin’, with immersive theater, artificial intelligence and wellness infused into brand experiences. Here, we offer part one of our on-the-ground coverage from the city that likes to keep things “weird.”
More SXSW Coverage:
- HBO and the Red Cross ask ‘Game of Thrones’ Fans to Bleed for the Throne at SXSW
- SXSW 2018: Brand Experiences From Austin’s Flagship Event
Like its competitor HBO, which created a Westeros-themed experience with a cause marketing angle for “Game Of Thrones” fans ahead of its final season, Netflix leaned into the immersive theater trend at SXSW this year. To promote its new original film “The Highwaymen,” which premiered at the festival and launches on the streaming platform March 29, the brand designed an interactive evening for attendees at Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden on Rainey St. The basement-level bar transformed into a 1934-era speakeasy for three nights and featured gambling, themed cocktails, a “wanted” poster photo op, musical acts and a mad search for film-related clues aided by actors in character and in full 1930s garb.
As the film’s narrative follows the Texas Rangers who caught notorious crime duo Bonnie and Clyde, each element of the program connected to their tale, starting with an online invitation on a microsite that asked attendees to “Join the Hunt” and “become part of the story.” Once we arrived on-site, staffers asked us to enter our information into an iPad, which then generated a 1930s-era name that would be ours for the duration of the evening. Staffers also doled out RFID wristbands used to unlock activities down below.
A few minutes after descending into the speakeasy, a character who appeared to be an outlaw with a bandana covering his face burst onto the scene, disrupting a performance from scantily-clad burlesque dancers, while hollering something about being owed money. The stage was set for a crime scene to unfold that attendees would later be called on to help solve. But first, drinks.
We headed to the bar to choose from a pair of themed cocktails, “The Ambush” and “Clyde’s Demise,” where we learned from the bartender that completing each activity in the speakeasy would earn us …read more