These brands were the best at experiential marketing for SXSW 2016

Experiential Marketing is the twin sister of Event Production, which is my life’s work. SXSW is an interactive festival held annually in Austin, TX which continues to act as the first big opportunity of the year for brands/marketers to show the world what “Experiential Marketing” is all about.
Everything is, in fact, bigger in Texas and for the hundreds of brands that take to SXSW every year – this is especially true of their dollars. Not wanting to miss out on this unique moment to reach consumers and influencers in the music, film, tech and media industries, many brands got it really right and some missed the mark. Check out our awards for best branding at SXSW 2016.

The “Can This House Be My Home?”

Award Goes To: The We DC House Activation

WeDCHouse SteveWinter,

The five-day long event was created as a collaboration between Brands Build Culture, Mi Agency, Events DC and The Washington DC Economic Partnership office. With 2016 being the activation’s second consecutive appearance at SXSW, they came back stronger than ever. Making a point to highlight DC’s booming startup scene with it’s DC Startup Showcase as well as acting as a platform for progress through government policy panels. When you weren’t being educated, you were getting lit. The activation saw sponsorship from several major spirit brands and performances from Wale, Questlove and many emerging DC artists. If you were contemplating a move to our nation’s capital, We DC House probably had you on Craigslist looking for apartments with a view of the monument. Oh wait, what that just me?

Honorable Mentions: Spotify House, Pandora House

The “Make Consumers Forget About The Company But Love The Brand”

Award Goes To: McDonalds


A friend of mine once told me that McDonalds, more than some other companies, really watches consumer trends and utilizes social media tracking to figure out how to keep people on their side. It’s no coincidence that just when I was ready to say goodbye to the golden arches, we were blessed with 24/7 hashbrowns and McMuffins after what felt like a lifetime of begging for it. Well, Ronald and the crew were listening once again as their M Loft and McDonalds lounge experiences had everything one could ask for at SXSW including Virtual Reality (but more on that later). McDonald’s Fireside Chats featured thought leaders offering industry insights as powerful as anything on the panels. A daily happy hour in the M Loft where you could get two hours of open bar, performances from awesome artists. Never letting you forget why you came in, guests were served endless cheeseburgers with fries, cuties or apple slices because you know, health. If you closed your eyes and reveled in it all long enough, you could almost forget that everything you were eating would probably be in your body until SXSW 2018. Almost. Well done, McDonalds. All of the pun intended.

Honorable Mention: Gatorade

The “Sure, this is an experience!”

Award Goes To: American Greetings

American Greetings,cnbc

I get it, we live in a world where emojis have replaced conversation and you’re more likely to get important news from a loved one via Instagram than in-person. However, can I be sad that our generation is so lost in the sauce that American Greetings was able to turn WRITING A LETTER into an activation this year? The theme of their “Analog” space was highlighting how traditional modes of communication could have significance in our digitally driven times. Guests could have their faces stitched into garments by artists, write and mail letters to loved ones and the brand did more with typewriters than I ever thought possible. If that wasn’t enough to keep you around, there was plenty of free food, swag and complementary cold brew coffee. Let me know if you got faded at DC House, listened to Drake at Pandora House and went to Analog to write a letter to your ex.

The “You Actually Bought Something Because Of This?”

Award Goes To: Samsung’s VR Activation

Samsung,sia, latimes

As an avid iPhone user, I’ve never longed for life on the other side but Samsung used SXSW to give Galaxy users experiences that more than made up for being teased about your sad green bubbles. Food and happy hours were the minimum, as Galaxy users were given automatic access to see Sia, Lil Wayne and more at Galaxy Life Fest. If you were in the market for a new device and had an extra $500 or so in your budget, you could purchase a new phone and test out their Entrium 4D VR headset. That’s right, Virtual Reality is here people and it ain’t going nowhere. It was actually EVERYWHERE at SXSW. From panels on VR porn to dissecting VR’s effects on the brain. Samsung took the mega-opportunity to do what many brands don’t dare to do at SXSW – actually sell their product.

The “I Probably Still Won’t Watch This Show But Will Stunt For The Gram On This Ferris Wheel”

Award Goes To: Mr. Robot & the USA Network

Mr. Robot, Bedford and

If you didn’t have a badge and I really recommend it if you want to do SXSW right, then you probably spent a lot of time here. The Mr. Robot activation which was open to the public, consisted of a ferris wheel and various other carnival games that I am told have something to do with the show. I don’t know because I still don’t care to watch the show, despite riding the ferris wheel no fewer than 3 times last weekend. That is the power of SXSW. If you spend enough money, you can have all of the temporary fans, hashtags and SEO you want….until the festival ends.

Did you attend SXSW this year? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter what you enjoyed. I’ll be reporting on Event Production and Experiential Marketing all spring/summer so stay tuned and don’t forget your wristband!

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Denayja Reese

Denayja Reese is an Event Services freelancer working to create experiences that enable people and brands to reach their target audiences. She is also an Executive Producer who makes web series, short films and music videos. Her life principles are inspiration, connection, productivity, innovation and evolution.