SXSW has come and gone from Austin, TX once again, where hundreds of thousands of people flocked from around the world to attend the music, film, professional conferences, and interactive festival. What began as a showcase event for artists, brands and companies to network and present their work, has evolved into a headlining event that features up-and-coming band performances, film presentations, new technology and a panel for industry experts to speak about changing trends.
One trend that emerged at SXSW this year was immersive experiences. Entertainment companies, such as HBO, took advantage of this marketing tactic by putting together one-of-a-kind storytelling experience for fans to participate in. This year, HBO partnered with the American Red Cross to create a simulation for Game of Thrones fans that combines experiential marketing with contributing towards a noble cause.
Appropriately named, Bleed for the Throne, was an organized blood drive that offered a unique way to implement a creative strategy that built anticipation and hype for the upcoming release of the show’s final season in April. It also gave people a reason to donate something more valuable than money and time -- their blood. In exchange for participation, people received an array of gifts, ranging from customized t-shirts, top secret information about character storylines and the chance to win exclusive grand prizes.
Experiential marketing has paved a way for brands to bring unique storytelling events to life for people to experience. If companies like HBO are having so much success, then why are other companies not investing more money towards this type of marketing? Over the past decade, many marketers have argued that experiential marketing is too costly and has uncertain return on investments. However, the market has changed and consumers want more experiences. According to EventTrack, a marketing news group, their forecast estimates “91% of consumers had positive feelings about brands after attending events events and experiences….and 85% of consumers indicated they would be more likely to purchase after participating in events and experiences.” Their statistics highlight a 36% increase in demand from 2017. The Association of National Advertisers recently released their annual forecast that indicates the experiential marketing industry is expected to grow to $1 trillion by the end of 2019. Their data suggests that there is a significant shift in marketing trends towards experiential events.
SXSW is a perfect place to implement such activations for a brand, which HBO was quick to capitalize on. Will more brands follow suit and tap into an unsaturated market, or will they play it safe and stick to what they know works? It may be too soon to answer, but if done correctly, there is an emerging market for brands to engage with consumers in a more effective and creative way.