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Live from SXSW: The Buzziest of Brand Experience (So Far)

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Jessica Fritsche

Jessica Fritsche

Content Marketing Manager

Freeman

What you need to know from Austin

Rain or shine, it’s time for SXSW to take over Austin for 10 days of great sessions, films, meetups, music, and more. People from all over the globe have descended on downtown to take it all in, and our team on the ground is here to do the same. The gloomy weather might have dampened some umbrellas, but it certainly hasn’t dampened the frenzied, fun pace of the event and all it offers attendees. Here’s what stands out for us so far.

The show continues to spread

This year’s SXSW is seeing an even bigger boom of the "house" and "lounge" installation — brands are curating their own officially sanctioned offshoots throughout the city, featuring speakers, entertainment…and sometimes lines around the block. Popular locations so far include the Fast Company Grill, Capital One House, Spredfast Social Suite, Capital Factory’s VR Megalounge, and Nerdist's Backyard Bash.

You’ll see attendees heading in to catch special celebrity guests, sit down for super-targeted speaking sessions, chow down on free food (lots of Texas barbecue, Tex-Mex, and good old-fashioned southern comfort food), and network their badges off with people from all over the world. And every brand experience brings something special to the table, like libations from a Beacon-enabled bar menu at the Walmart-sponsored Spark VIP Lounge, crazy milkshakes and a 360-degree photo booth at Spredfast, and the geeky games and trivia happening at the Nerdist Bash.

But there is also a ton of great stuff happening at the convention center itself. Hot items have included the world premiere of American Gods, the Starz TV series adaptation of the novel by Neil Gaiman, which drew a line that snaked all the way around the Austin Convention Center on Saturday. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s Sunday session on his new cancer initiative required wristbands for entrance and no doubt boasted some hefty security, as he discussed "the only bipartisan thing left in America" — the fight against cancer.  

Attendees are looking for an escape

There are always a few popular types of interactivity at SXSW. As it was last year, virtual reality is everywhere — but the stakes have been elevated. Now, you can take an 8K VR flyover of Tokyo, sans headset! — or be in the middle of a zero-gravity VR experience from Universal Pictures and IMAX, transporting participants to the set of upcoming film, The Mummy, to perform a stunt four miles above sea level. VR is a heavy hitter in this year’s film festival as well, with multiple entries utilizing the new technology to enhance their storytelling.

But the standout seems to be the concept of the escape room. This engaging, exciting type of interaction has gained a lot of steam over the past few years as a fun bonding exercise for friends or a great team-building activity for coworkers. But now brands are picking up on the trend as well, and 2017 is definitely the year of the escape. Escape rooms have cropped up all over the city center, from HBO’s multi-show themed venture to a Prison Break event that promotes a new season of the previously canceled show. 

One prime example is Lucasfilm's “Rogue One: Escape from Scarif” experience, which turns the escape room idea on its nose a bit. It is short — only 10 minutes — and has attendees solving puzzles in order to move from room to room on the rebel base and steal the Death Star plans. Simple steals the day here as just a bit of pipe and drape creates pathways between rooms, with “rebels” in each area to help in case someone gets lost. The enjoyable immersion into a well-known fictional universe and the clever puzzles create a fun, hands-on way to put a smile on fans' faces, deepen their connection to the brand, and get them talking online.

We’re wading back into the fray (and trying to schedule our way out of last year’s FOMO), so be sure to look for a full recap of the show later this week!

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