Surekha Ragavan
Mar 22, 2019

3 out-of-the-box brand activations at SXSW

From an immersive Game of Thrones world to a 'tree' that serves beer from its branches.

HBO recreated the Game of Thrones world complete with the Iron Throne.
HBO recreated the Game of Thrones world complete with the Iron Throne.

Every year, South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas is a flurry of brands going above and beyond with parties, showcases, and experiences to engage tens of thousands of fans. We spotlight some of our favourite activations at the festival this year. 

HBO’s Bleed for the Throne

It’s hard to break through the noise at a mega event like SXSW but this much talked-about HBO activation managed to thanks to a clear, smart idea and a highly engaged fanbase of Game of Thrones. Bleed for the Throne – in partnership with the American Red Cross – is designed in part to look like a war camp in preparation for battle.

Attendees are invited to not only enter an immersive experience inspired by the sacrifices of their favourite GoT characters, but also encouraged to actually ‘bleed for the throne’ themselves by donating blood to the Red Cross. All attendees, donors or not, were treated to an immersive activation recounting some of their favourite characters who have bled for the throne. They are led through the storylines of Arya Stark, Cersei Lannister, Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister through an audio, visual and physical installation.

On top of that, a giant stained-glass red cross loomed over the ‘Iron Throne’ which was shipped in for the activation. Some 80 actors in costume were hired to read out of a 100-page script, and many worked with a dialect coach to keep the experience ‘authentic’. According to HBO’s director of program marketing, the experience took six months to bring to life. Attendees who donated were gifted a blood-stained brand T-shirt and a chance to win tickets to the show’s premiere.

Amazon’s Garden of Earthly Delights

To promote its freshman show, Good Omens, subscription service Amazon encouraged festival-goers to escape the ‘apocalypse’ of the main show and enter the Good Omens Garden of Earthly Delights. Before attendees entered the activation space, they were teased with a group of motorcyclists who rode downtown in branded leather jackets; among the riders were the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ from the show.

Upon entering, attendees were greeted by ‘angels’ and ‘demons’ through a winged hourglass installation. In the ‘demon’ side of the show, highlights included beer and wine served from a 20-foot tree (from which attendees could also pluck ‘apples’ that hold a prophecy), a Hellhound Puppy Pen, fire breathers, sword swallowers and live music. In the ‘angel’ side, there was a recreation of A.Z. Fell & Co. (a bookshop from the show), a sushi station, a Snapchat photo op station with angel wings, and a nail salon.

The exciting bit came every hour when ‘thunder’ would roll over the space, stopping everything in its tracks. Characters would pop out and shout "the end is nigh!", some with signs and others with newspapers. A stage of classical musicians playing pop hits on stringed instruments also stopped playing when the ‘thunder’ would hit.

Comedy Central’s ‘Presidential Library’

Because The Daily Show by Trevor Noah is cloaked in satire and wit, it made sense that its SXSW activation followed in the same vein. For this, the network created an art installation with framed Tweets by Donald Trump. Seeing the Tweets plastered on the wall offered attendees a confrontational view of the state of the nation, to put it mildly. Other elements included a ‘sad retrospective’ which paid ‘tribute’ to victims of Trump’s online harassment, and a ‘deleted but not forgotten’ section with Tweets that have been deleted.

The idea of this presidential library is not new; it’s been recreated six times in the past and often the Tweets are ‘localised’ to the location and timing of the shows. The SVP of brand and marketing events for the network said that the show was built in a way that was modular, which allowed them to break it down, put it in storage, add new pieces, and expand its layout across different cities.


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