By John P. Cordero, Senior Vice President, Production

Most people go to SXSW for the interactive, film or music, but there is a group of us who are more interested in the design. In a crowded field, we are interested in all of the creative ways that brands are working to differentiate themselves. From innovative displays to simple materials in unique mediums, SXSW kicked off with a few standouts (and a few duds). But let’s focus on the positives and highlight the best of the best (at least according to this production-focused marketer).

National Geographic Further Base Camp

Nat Geo really pulled out all the stops with their activation. Taking over a venue on the famous Sixth Street, they completely transformed the space into an interactive experience with multiple touchpoints, from a stage for talks with famous Nat Geo photographers, film makers, etc. to a virtual reality booth. More impressive was their attention to detail and the finishing touches they made to the entire space. Instead of painting the exterior, Nat Geo did a full graphic wrap on the brick façade and trim. The interior was completely covered with black vinyl and/or fabric. On the rooftop, they took the iconic yellow logo and created an oversized version, perfect for an organic photo moment.


IBM also used full exterior-building vinyl wraps to execute a complete venue takeover. The exterior pattern was present throughout the space, creating a unified visual theme. The standout, however, was the interior use of projections. From freestanding screens to hanging milk plexiglass cutouts, the use of different mediums on which to project was both visually interesting and engaging.


Other Standouts  

YouTube showed some of the original content found on their channel through traditional mediums, but really engaged consumers with their globe projections. The display was so cool that the onus was taken off of the (still engaging) content to fully capture guests’ attentions.


Pinterest’s activation invited guests to put on their artistic hats. The venue’s entryway featured a wall that encouraged people to add their own artwork by smearing paint on the walls. Holes within the wall contained different colors of paint for consumers to dip their fingers into. The activation earned a big plus for the crowdsourced décor, and minus three points for not having any moderators to monitor the content.


Final Thoughts

SXSW activations often demonstrate some of the best that the industry has to offer, and this year’s group did not disappoint. While brands are still wrapping their collective heads around using more technology in live events, it’s clear that new innovations are being incorporated into the overall aesthetic of activations, rather than being tacked on after the fact. These events combined a keen eye for design and a forward thinking approach, while still prioritizing a rewarding user experience.