A Look Back at How Brands Have Used Experiential Marketing at SXSW

Anheuser Busch

In 2016, Anheuser Busch transformed Ironwood Hall into the Budweiser Beer Garage. Inside, guests were able to bounce back and forth between six different stations. One of the crowd’s favorites was the DraftServ, a new self-service machine that Anheuser Busch was testing out to gauge customer feedback. Customers were able to tap a pre-loaded card against a sensor on the machine to pay for a beer, and then pour their own beer into a glass. The company is considering using this machine in stadiums across the country, so introducing it at a fun experiential marketing event was the perfect way to get feedback from real customers.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Budweiser Beer Garage was the 4-D Budweiser Brewery Tour. Using a virtual reality headset, guests were transported to the Anheuser Busch flagship brewery in St. Louis, Missouri, where they could see the brewing process and even say a quick hello to the Clydesdales. The brand managed to incorporate sounds and scents to make it a fully immersive experience for the guests. In fact, guests were even able to feel a slight breeze from the wind when they walked outside the virtual brewery.

Warner Bros.

Anheuser Busch wasn’t the only one to launch an experiential marketing event at the 2016 SXSW festival—Warner Bros. also got in on the action to promote the movie Suicide Squad. The entertainment company took over a local tattoo parlor and created Harley Quinn’s Tattoo Parlor, named after one of the main characters of the movie. Guests lined up around the block for a chance to get a free tattoo, and they could choose whether they wanted a real or fake one. Many diehard comic book fans left with a permanent tattoo of their favorite Suicide Squad character, while others chose to get a temporary tattoo that would wash off at the end of the day. The goal of every experiential marketing event is to create a memorable experience for guests, and because many guests chose to get permanently tattooed, there’s no doubt that this event succeeded in doing so.


In 2014, Mondelez partnered with Twitter and decided to take an ordinary shipping container and transform it into an experiential marketing event known as Oreo’s Trending Vending. Guests were invited to step up to a giant touch screen, where they could browse through topics that were trending on Twitter at the moment. Twitter used an algorithm to assign a unique Oreo flavor to each trending topic. Once customers chose a topic, they could further customize the Oreo cookie by changing the color, pattern, and flavor of the cream and type of wafer. For example, guests could create a cookie with one vanilla wafer, one chocolate wafer, and then three different colors of cream on the inside, placed on the wafer in a spiral pattern. When the choices were finalized, guests got to stand back and watch as a 3D printer created the one-of-a-kind cookie right in front of their eyes. The 3D printer then acted as vending machine, delivering the final product to each guest so they could taste their creation.

At the end of the experiential marketing event, guests had created over 16,000 different combinations of Oreo cookies. Many of them shared their unique creations on social media using the hashtag #EatTheTweet, which generated even more buzz around this popular event.


Guests had the exciting opportunity to enter the McDonald’s Loft at the 2016 SXSW event. Only one guest was allowed in the loft at a time, where they would spend five minutes wearing a virtual reality headset and exploring the space, which was designed to look like the inside of a Happy Meal box. What could guests do inside the box? First, guests were handed plastic tools that they could use to virtually paint the inside of the Happy Meal box. Using a paintball gun, paint brush, and laser paint ray, guests could splash bright colors and fun designs all over the box, and then walk around to admire their work. As if the experience of being in the loft wasn’t magical enough, guests were also given a printout of the artwork they created, along with a GIF of what they looked like while painting inside the box. The GIFs were quickly shared on social media as guests laughed about how they looked fumbling with plastic tools and wearing the virtual reality headset.


In 2014, Paypal set out to increase brand awareness and usage of its app by taking over a popular downtown music venue in Austin during SXSW. The venue was decorated with a combination of pieces inspired by Austin and PayPal’s signature bright blue color. MS MR, a popular musical duo, took the stage to kick off the event. PayPal promoted its easy-to-use app throughout the event, and even managed to integrate local merchants into the mix to make it more relevant to the crowd of Austin residents. The result of this event? Over 20,000 people RSVP’d, and engagement on the PayPal app increased during the event as well. PayPal was also able to generate 3,200 interactions with local merchants as a result of their branded experiences during SXSW.

Are you feeling inspired? If you want to bring your brand to life with an experiential marketing event, contact the team of experts at Factory 360 to get started. Call us today to schedule a free consultation!