The Six Best Branded Experiences at SXSW 2015

Ignition Factory picks the winners.

If Super Bowl Sunday is the big leagues for commercial breaks, then Interactive week at SXSW is the majors for experiential activations. With so many brands hitting it out of the park this year, here are a few that stood out from the rest.

1. The GE BBQ Research Center

People come to Austin for BBQ and SX for panels, so GE combined those things in a way only GE could: research and science. GE's custom-built, 12-foot tall connected smoker monitored temperature, the food's reaction to the heat, and even allowed participants to see their varying brainwave reactions to different kinds of barbecue.

2. Visa Everywhere Lounge

The lights to the Visa Everywhere Lounge stayed on all week at SXSW, with an exceptional lineup of programming for those who stopped by to enjoy a craft coffee or microbrew and farmer's market fare. Weekend sessions included a connected fitness panel and demos of the latest in eCommerce and mobile payments, an appearance by BuzzFeed and HuffPo founder Jonah Peretti, and an entrepreneurial competition for marketers. Topping it all off was an intimate Saturday night performance by John Legend.

3. Ex Machina Tinder Bot

Tinder users in Austin were humbled this SXSW by the beautiful Ava, a 25 year old on the dating platform who wasn't quite what she seemed. Unsuspecting right-swipers were redirected to her Instagram profile, which turned out to be a promotion for the upcoming film Ex Machina, a thriller about conscious machines that consequently had its premiere at the Austin Festival.

4. The Mophie Rescue Dogs

It's pretty ruff when your cell runs low on battery in the midst of a jam-packed day at SX. Luckily, portable charging company Mophie was on hand with its adorable fleet of Saint Bernard rescue dogs. Those who tweeted #mophierescue along with their location and a screenshot of their low battery were met by heroic hounds carrying mophie power packs. Festival-goers not only got the recharge needed to get through the rest of the day, but the activation helped raise awareness about some sweet animals in search of a loving home.

5. The Bates Motel

To launch the third season of the popular A&E Thriller Bates Motel, show set designers brought a pop-up replica of the motel to the heart of Austin, allowing visitors to step into the eerie world of Norman Bates. The property was open daily throughout interactive week for tours, and a few brave souls were lucky (?) enough to win an overnight stay. Rooms featured blood stains in the shower, Norma's robe on the bed, and fan-crafted art on the walls. Those who stayed at the motel also received gift baskets with goods from local vendors, complimentary alcohol delivery from Drizly, and free housekeeping from Handy.

6. McDonald’s General Assembly Announcement

Matthew Brimer of General Assembly with Atif Rafiq of McDonald’s.
Matthew Brimer of General Assembly with Atif Rafiq of McDonald's.

Though not a live activation in the traditional sense, the McDonald's and General Assembly partnership that was announced this year at SXSW is still a game changer. The fast food giant revealed they will be launching a pilot program offering its restaurant employees the  opportunity to participate in an employee training program through GA. Employees who test into the program, will receive time off and a monthly stipend while enrolled in the course, options for which include 10-12 week immersive courses in Web Development and User Experience. While it is launching as a pilot, both companies anticipate that the program will expand over time.