HBO is marking the second season of the series Westworld with an experiential marketing activation at SXSW with over two acres of custom-built land that somewhat doubles as a theme park, maze and immersive theater.
Brands that venture to SXSW usually opt to take over popular venues in downtown Austin to market the masses, but HBO took it one step further this year with its installation by taking a two-step into the outskirts of Texas and building an entire town from the ground up about 20 minutes outside of the city. The experience is filled with Easter eggs designed to promote the show’s second-season, scheduled to premiere on April 22.
For the unaware, Westworld is a dark-odyssey show where rich vacationers are invited to a futuristic park to live in sin and without limits.
For SXSW, HBO conveyed an immersive experience about a show that itself is an immersive experience by recreating sets like The Coronado hotel and Mariposa Saloon and brought interactive actors to engage attendees as they explored the elements and hunted for clues for what might play out on TV next month.
HBO recruited 60 actors, six stunt people and five bands from the Austin area to bring Westworld to life.
Steven Cardwell, HBO’s director of program marketing and strategy, said SXSW served as a natural extension for the show’s marketing plan because the network had already served consumers with theatrical experiences and appetizers at San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con last year. There was even a hidden URL in the Westworld Super Bowl commercial that kick-started registration for the SXSW experience.
“There is a lot of fertile ground with Westworld,” Cardwell told AListDaily. “The universe of the show makes it a marketer’s dream to further build it out and engage fans. We’re going beyond the impression of a traditional advertisement at SXSW. It’s about creating a true experience that brings impact and buzz for us.”
HBO also partnered with eight co-branded Lyft cars and a special SXSW code that unlocks free rides that transport fans to the park each day the activation will be running till Sunday. There is also a Delta flight shuttle that brings guests to the park throughout the weekend. The network’s marketing plan included outdoor media and a 30-second TV spot that will be airing on local networks and invite people to visit Westworld.
Cardwell said “it was an investment well worth the price,” but couldn’t comment on how much HBO spent building the massive experience, which first started in November.
“There is a lot of noise at SXSW, but we know that demand is there for the show,” Cardwell said. “We sold out of tickets in two minutes. We’re in our tune-in window right now, so it’s great to see that.”
Brian Duggan, founder of Building Alliances and an event strategist who was one of the hundreds of attendees that made the trek to Westworld for the opening preview on Friday night, said that as a fan of the show, the activation really gave him a feel for what it might be like to actually go to the theme park—even without the explicit sex and violence.
“I especially like how many mysteries and storylines were going on at once through their large-scale interactive theater experience, and the opportunity that offered for fans to really engage with these characters,” Dugan said.