Top 5 activations at SXSW 2018

The events that caught our eyes in Austin

The iconic SXSW conference wrapped a few days ago, and we’ve collected some of our favorite creative activations. From an increased presence of VR and AR experiences, to extreme personalization, and a live concert while testing a new mattress, brands at SXSW leaned into existing trends in consumer experiences while showing off their products.


1. Bravo’s series Imposters

PC: Alex McLevy, AVClub

Bravo’s SVP of marketing, Maria Deluca, mentions that when deciding on an SXSW activation for this series, which follows the life of a con-artist, the research showed that what appealed to viewers most about the show was the thrill of the con. They leaned into the concept of selfies, and acknowledged the topic that social media can at times con viewers. They did this through allowing passersby to take photos in various settings. One of the options was a yacht; passersby were allotted one close up photo intended to be posted on social media, and the second photo showed the full picture, highlighting that the yacht was just a set.

2. Beautyrest and Max Richter’s “Sleep” concert

PC: Adweek

The mattress company Beautyrest partnered with musician Max Richter, known for his sleep opus from Universal Music Group, to create a sleeping room where viewers could lie down and sleep, listening to the soft, yet epic music in the background. “Together with Max Richter, Beautyrest is celebrating sleep as an active state, when we restore and repair our bodies overnight in order to reach our full potential tomorrow,” the company’s CMO, Warren Kornblum commented. This immersive experience truly allowed attendees to interact with the brand in a way never done before.

3. Pandora’s personal audio clips

This activation allowed attendees to create their own personal sound using technology which pulls information from attendees based on their personal song selections, in addition to using facial recognition to attribute various moods and feelings to the songs played. Finally, the technology pulls together the personalized audio clip, allowing each participant to walk away with their own personal sound.

Personalization is key today for brands to gain their consumer’s attention, and Pandora played into this personalization for a unique SXSW activation.

4. Ready Player One

One of the most heavily anticipated activations was that of the premiere for Ready Player One. There was no shortage of excitement and buzz surrounding the SXSW activation, which attendees enter through Wade Watt’s car, prior to entering a brightly lit tunnel which echoes the way characters in Ready Player One enter into the Oasis. The set was littered with 80’s pop-culture, from old-school arcade games, to the time-traveling Delorean complete with hoverboard.

The highlight was probably the WaveVR experience, which let users enter a virtual reality club with musical guest DJ and star of the upcoming film, Tye Sheridan. The club features images from the film and the ability for users to fly in zero-gravity. As we see the expansion of VR capabilities, it is likely that more movies and music experiences will tap into the technology to provide consumers with new experiences.

5. Westworld’s Sweetwater experience

Another unique activation was the immersive experience that Westworld created. The activation featured a simulation of the setting of the show, including all the western trappings! Those who walked through were offered beans and brisket, and truly felt a part of the scene.

If you’ve never seen Westworld, the show is basically one big VR experiment. “Guests” are transported into Sweetwater, the old-western town in Westworld, and can live out their biggest fantasies while interacting with pre-programmed robot hosts. The activation was stocked with actors who were scripted to act like the programmed hosts in the show. Each actor had 3 acts of dialogue that they cycled through every 90 minutes, the same way that in Westworld the characters repeat their storylines (until they don’t…). Today, brands are focused on giving their audience an experience any chance they can, and HBO did not disappoint.


While we have definitely noticed the trend that brands have started to put less emphasis on SXSW activations over the years, we have seen clearly this year that those who work hard stand out. As many brands are toning down their involvement with SXSW, those that defy this trend and do put in the resources to ensure a successful activation can expect to receive a strong buzz and media coverage more than ever before, enabling SXSW to remain a great platform for a brand to create buzz, or bring people along on their product storytelling.