A cacophony of 400 drones. A colossal, scannable QR code in the sky. No, these aren’t signs of the apocalypse but rather an example of how brands are leveraging tech to bridge their marketing across the digital and physical worlds.

Paramount+ pulled out all the stops during South by Southwest (SXSW) to promote Halo, its upcoming sci-fi series based on the cult-favorite Xbox franchise, which has sold more than 82 million copies worldwide and grossed over $6 billion in lifetime total sales revenue.

Downtown Austin, Texas was aglow with Paramount’s hovering display, which measured 300 feet tall and 600 feet wide. In addition to a scannable QR code, the swarm of drones spelled out in neon purple “#HaloTheSeries Streams Mar 24” as well as the Paramount+ logo, as seen in photos captured by Dennis Hegstad.

To gauge the reaction of locals and online spectators alike, one need only skim through the Austin subreddit. One user likened the Halo ad to “some creepy black mirror shit” while another said it was a “smart idea” to spread the message to anyone who normally wouldn’t be interested in attending SXSW.

Another Redditor expressed their privacy concerns: “For now I’m not too worried (yearly event with new trendy ad tech in place), but there will need to be new laws put in place in 15-20 years to prevent a bombardment of floating ads when they become the norm.”

While thrilling, a marketing stunt of this kind isn’t entirely new, as one Twitter user pointed out. In April last year, China’s largest anime streaming site Bilibili launched 1,500 drones at night over The Bund in Shanghai. They formed a scannable QR code enabling players to download the Japanese role-playing game Princess Connect! Re: Dive.

Once viewed as gimmicky by US consumers, QR codes took on new meaning during the pandemic as they streamlined shopping experiences and helped people learn more about products, services and activations.

According to a study from The Drum/YouGov conducted in June 2021, 75 percent of US respondents said they plan on using QR codes moving forward. And when asked if they had used a QR code related to a marketing or promotional offer, 45 percent said they had and 46 percent said they hadn’t.

The QR code-enabled Halo ad will appear several times again at SXSW Monday night starting around 8 p.m., according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Halo will debut exclusively on Paramount+ – which had 32.8 million subscribers worldwide at the end of its most recent quarter – on March 24. The series has already been renewed for a second season, the company announced.