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The Full SXSW 2024 Recap: 11 Experiential Marketing Trends Spotted in Austin

As Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ’Em” blasted over the airwaves of various events and activations at SXSW 2024, we were on the ground to see which brands played their cards right. And along our quest to discover the most compelling brand experiences during the 38th annual conference and festivals, which ran March 8-16, some clear experiential marketing trends surfaced. Whether executed by underdogs or Blue Chip brands, official sponsors or tagalongs, the top tactics we spotted were laced with creativity and high-touch engagement.

This year may not have marked the event industry’s SXSW “comeback,” as many had hoped, but it certainly wasn’t boring. (Seriously, when else are you going to ride a Ferris wheel in downtown Austin?) And with the event historically serving as a barometer for the year ahead, we kept our notebook handy. Here’s the lowdown, y’all.

pourri-sxsw-2024-getty-images-disco-people teaserMore SXSW 2024 Coverage:


Brands have a history of producing extravagant, budget-busting activations designed to cut through the clutter, but sometimes it’s the nimbler campaigns that make the biggest splash. Such was the case at SXSW 2024 for brands like Shipt and Max, which deployed guerrilla marketing strategies that literally stopped festivalgoers in their tracks, and inspired both UGC and earned media.

Odor elimination brand ~Pourri made its South by debut with three cheeky events hosted in partnership with Rolling Stone that invited badgeholders and the public alike to “Get Funky. Stay Fresh.” But it was the NFC-enabled “pocket sprayers” (Poo~Pourri samples) the brand distributed that caught our attention. With a quick tap, the devices unlocked a series of fully decked-out, clean mobile bathrooms (a premium at any major event) around Austin—all disco-themed and delightfully absurd. To boot, the pocket sprayers unlocked a gamified experience throughout the week. Read the full case study here. (Agency: Trailblaze, p.r.)

Max (formerly HBO Max) was another brand that bypassed a brick-and-mortar location in favor of guerrilla tactics. The streaming service swapped its typical budget-breaking SXSW spectacles as seen in years past for a nimbler approach to celebrate the season three premiere of “Hacks” with a Vegas-themed campaign. In a nod to the series setting and its lead character, Deborah Vance, Max unleashed street teams that each featured a headline entertainer and two assistants, who carried old-fashioned cigarette trays that served as mobile swag tables.

Entertainers included Austin-based drag queens who performed pop-up comedy sessions in the form of (consensual) roasts of attendees, and branded magicians performing card tricks and sleight-of-hand illusions, all of whom hit up high-traffic areas around Austin to engage festivalgoers as they waited in line for events. Attendees tested their luck by pulling a winning poker chip and taking home “Hacks” swag, like custom playing card decks featuring illustrations of series characters and “supremely stylish” Deborah Vance hats. (Agency: Lupine Creative)

Shipt made its SXSW debut this year, and you couldn’t miss its street teams, who infiltrated downtown Austin and dished out useful freebies designed to provide “relief” while spotlighting the convenience of same-day deliveries. The stars of the campaign were the brand’s motorized “Cruizin’ Coolers” and “Shopper Choppers” (oversized grocery carts). Four pairs of the vehicles roamed around the city, operated by green-clad brand ambassadors who distributed festival essentials like cold Celsius energy drinks, sunglasses, sunscreen and hand fans. Read the full case study here. (Agency: Factory360)

Photo: Max Photography

“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” carved out a chilling stunt to celebrate the franchise’s 50th anniversary at SXSW—literally. On March 9, Dark Sky Films partnered with an Austin-based ice sculptor to create a larger-than-life sculpture of lead character Leatherface, along with the film logo, on bustling Rainey Street. The sculptor himself even dressed as Leatherface, disrupting the area around the Stay Put Brewery as he used a real chainsaw to bring his “self-portrait” to life while passersby witnessed the carving in real time and snapped photos of the spectacle. (Agency: Lupine Creative)



The majority of the brand ambassadors we engaged with in Austin were nothing short of lovely. But there’s something to be said for the brands who brought their own employees to South by to represent the company, rather than hiring outside talent.

Delta famously enlists its flight attendants to interact with attendees at its various events and activations, and SXSW 2024 was no exception. The brand generated a groundswell of buzz around Austin (and beyond) with its elegant cardmember lounge, which was operated by Delta flight attendants from all over the U.S., who welcomed and interacted with attendees throughout. (Agencies: RED VELVET; Team Epiphany)

skymiles_Lounge_delta sxsw 2024_attendant

Photo: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

A laundry brand? At South by? Oh yes, Tide rolled into Austin with “the biggest laundry innovation of the 21st century” and a three-day launch event for Tide evo, its new eco-friendly, 100-percent concentrated detergent that comes in a tile form. The activation had plenty to offer attendees, but its biggest attractions were two interactive scientific stations that were operated by the very scientists who invented evo. (Agencies: MKG, activation; MMC, p.r.)

And on March 8, Verizon invited select media to take a network tour of downtown Austin with its official Test Force engineers. Participants not only explored hot spots, but learned from the pros how Verizon has optimized network connectivity to keep up with the city’s recent population boom. (Agency: Golin, p.r.)



If you’re going to flex your brand’s innovation chops, SXSW is certainly the place to do it. The event attracts more than 300,000 creatives and techies to Austin every year, including 2024.

For us, the vibrant Sharpie x Paper Mate Studio on Rainey Street promptly became one of our favorite activations at the show, based purely on how collaborative and interactive the whole experience was. A “Let’s Get Creative” mantra guided the activation, which was aimed at helping attendees unleash their creativity using the brands’ latest products, including Sharpie Creative Markers and Paper Mate Ink Joy Gel Pens.

All across the indoor-outdoor venue and its crowdsourced murals, small tables were equipped with various activities meant to spark imagination. Among them: DIY coasters, a chance to design custom tote bags using markers, and “Joy Libs,” the brands’ take on Mad Libs. The studio additionally featured a Creative Academy with classes led by industry pros.


Then there was the two-day Create With Kendra Scott consumer activation that attracted more than 1,100 attendees to the brand’s complimentary Color Bar experience at Hotel Magdalena, where they could create a customized piece of jewelry. Participants could also shop a full Kendra Scott design studio and a custom Hat Bar from Yellow Rose by Kendra Scott, as well as a Demi-Fine charm bar and mobile Color Bar. (Agency: Sunset)

Photo credit: Keelyn Costello Media

And let’s not forget Tide’s activation, which included two interactive scientific stations operated by the scientists who created the brand’s new tile-form laundry detergent, evo. At one of the stations, we were invited to “spill” chili oil on a piece of fabric then dissolve it using Tide evo.



When executed well, the strategic application of color has the power to set the tone for an entire activation or event. We saw it firsthand in Austin as brands leaned into playful, vibrant aesthetics that made their spaces feel both lively and welcoming (look no further than the Sharpie x Paper Mate Studio activation above).

We’re sad to have missed what appears to have been one of the bubbliest, buzziest activations at SXSW 2024: LaCroix House. But the pictures and videos we’ve seen of the experience sure do tell a compelling story. With an invitation for attendees to come on down and “sparkle,” the brand matched its footprint to its messaging. The space featured explosions of pastel colors from top to bottom, right down to the oversized Jenga blocks on the outdoor patio. (Agency: Goldin Solutions)

One of our favorite activations this year was the Porsche Full Service experience, which was centered on a brand “road trip.” Layers of engagement, sensory moments, vintage cars and partnerships were all on tap, as was the intentional use of color. The activation began in a Meow Wolf-inspired, branded bodega drenched in light blue. From there, attendees were led into the main event area, which was awash in Pantone colors that Porsche vehicles are available in. (Agencies: Public School; Czarnowski Collective)

Even if Tide’s logo wasn’t splashed across its activation, you’d be hard-pressed to forget which brand you were interacting with based on the experience’s vivid orange and blue color scheme (Tide’s brand colors). The bright hues made the exterior of the venue easy to spot from far away, and on the interior, the design made for great social media content.

SXSW 2024_Tide evo activation_exterior_Wanderlust

“What we really wanted people to do at SXSW is be able to experience each of the really unique parts of Tide evo. So when you come into the experience, you’re going to see the whole place covered in orange and blue—for Tide equity.”

–Ammie Walter, Senior Director-Tide evo at Procter & Gamble


Multisensory marketing is nothing new to the industry, but leveraging multiple senses the right way continues to be a mainstay of activating at South by.

We’re filing 20th Century Studios’ eerie “The First Omen” activation under “we should have brought a friend.” The Disney-owned brand’s setup included a mini pop-up chapel in the middle of downtown Austin that was equipped with three confessional booths. Once inside a booth, we sat down on a bench, and a “priest” opened up a screened door from the other side of the wall, speaking passionately of unholy and evil doings.

Next, red lights flashed, an evil-looking hand popped out of the wall and we were surrounded by frightening audio clips. Before we could blink, a back window opened behind us, where we found a screeching nun. And in two minutes, it was all over, but certainly not forgotten. Shiver.


One of the most intriguing touchpoints of Porsche’s Full Service activation was a series of five closed doors, that, when opened, catered to a different sense while tying back to the brand. Think: the roar of a Porsche engine and the scent of Porsche-shaped car air fresheners.

And Paramount+ brought its massive The Lodge activation back to Austin for a second year to take fans on an experiential journey across its three-floor venue. Among experiences, attendees could snap photos with costumes and props from the set of “Halo,” surrounded by a thin layer of fog, and get airbrush tattoos at the “Ink Masters” vignette. (Agency: 15|40 Productions)



pourri sxsw 2024 render - Pocket SprayerTech is a huge aspect of SXSW, but it’s often geared around the next big thing. What we liked in 2024 were the brands that leveraged approachable (read: unintimidating) technology to enhance their experiences.

As we mentioned, ~Pourri’s NFC-enabled “pocket sprayers” were easy to sign up for on the brand’s app, and more importantly, easy to use, whether to unlock a clean mobile bathroom or to gain entry to a ~Pourri x Rolling Stone event. Consumers who picked up the pocket sprayers were also notified via text of “Daily Drops” through a gamified reward system offering them a chance to score exclusive prizes with digital tokens that could be earned by completing tasks within the app and around SXSW throughout the week.

Ultimately, ~Pourri’s post-event survey found that more than 1.8 million tokens were earned and spent to enter giveaways (the average “token task” value was 150), while 92 percent of users said they would “love” to use NFC-enabled products in the future.

A small tech haven and lounge could be found in a room at the Hilton Downtown at IBM’s AI Sports Club activation, which showcased its work to enhance the US Open, Wimbledon and Master’s golf tournaments through its technology. The experience was fueled by AI solutions (like watsonx) and centered on games of ping-pong that served as “shot-tracking” experiences. The setup included a physical table and custom paddles embedded with motion-tracking sensors, which broadcast real-time gameplay data (like ball speed and total number of backhands) that could be viewed on an adjacent screen. (Agency: George P. Johnson)

And Dell Technologies transformed the two-story Riley Building in downtown Austin into a branded space featuring multiple stages, presentations, hands-on engagements and live performances. Festivalgoers had a chance to experience the Alienware renewal pod, which changes colors based on gaming moods, attend an opening nigh party, catch daytime panels and, for creators, sit down for the VIP influencer dinner on Sunday night.

The opening event began with a creative showcase dubbed “Inspiration + Tech: A Fusion Redefining the Creative Realm” and included presentations and performances by people like musician and machine learning pioneer Holly Herndon, and fashion designer Danit Peleg, who demonstrated how Dell Technologies and genAI have elevated their creative processes in tangible ways. During Herndon’s performance, for instance, the musician collaborated with another performer to provide a voice-activated demo of voice augmentations. And Peleg showcased her 3D-printed fashion line through an interactive presentation. (Agency: Lacy Maxwell Experiential)

Photo credit: Chris Lemmert


SXSW tends to have a less rigid vibe than similar event tentpoles, and that gives brands “permission” to lean into playful themes, like classic carnivals.

Ever ridden a Ferris wheel in downtown Austin? At the carnival-themed Audible Sound Experience, the brand’s giant ride, and its audio-enabled gondolas, was the talk of the town. Indeed, the storytelling-forward Sound Experience activation served as an over-the-(big)-top affair offering carnival staples, including cotton candy and corn dogs, Audible entertainment-themed games like “Hi-Fi Toss” and “Pitch Perfect” that yielded branded prizes, and larger-than-life costumed characters walking the footprint and engaging attendees (we had a quick chat with the Queen of Hearts).

Audible also provided airbrush tattoos, photo moments, festive balloon installations, listening stations, and a bar and patio area where attendees could cash in two drink tickets and chill. (Agency: Civic Entertainment Group)

Photos: Courtesy of Audible

Then for Marshall’s carnival-themed Funhouse activation, open March 12-15, the headphones brand took over the Parish music venue and a block on Bushy St. for three days to deliver live music and “solid hangs” in its homage to the “weird and wonderful carnival world.” At the center of the activation was a real-deal big top that anchored the theme, supported by funhouse mirrors, carnival fare and costumed guitar and amp characters roaming around. There were also local vendors, a vinyl shop, djs and old-school games designed to bring together musicians and fans, plus an artist lineup that included acts like The Black Angels, Dry Cleaning, and Shannon and The Clams.


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There was no equivalent of HBO’s 90,000-square-foot SXSWestworld experience at SXSW 2024, but brands like Paramount+ and Prime Video, and their immersive in-world activations and over-the-top characters, helped maintain the entertainment industry’s high bar when it comes to activating in Austin.

Paramount+’s The Lodge activation took fans on a journey into their favorite Paramount+ content and characters across a three-floor venue decked out with classic ski lodge décor. There, fans could pose for a legitimately cool “Star Trek: Discovery” photo on the “bridge”; explore “Mean Girls” lockers, bright pink cocktails and neon-lit messaging; and in a “Lawmen: Bass Reeves” saloon, take an old-timey Western-style photo with faux “Wanted” posters as a backdrop, among touchpoints. There were also myriad other vignettes and photo ops surrounding titles like “Survivor” and “The Chi.”

Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for Paramount+

To draw fans of the video game Fallout to its forthcoming post-apocalyptic original series of the same name, Prime Video invited festivalgoers to see if they had what it took to survive as they assumed the role of vault dwellers traveling into a “harsh wasteland society” for the first time, just like lead character Lucy.

Prime took over the Hotel San José parking lot to build the massive fan universe, which spanned aggressive locals selling their wares and the local cuisine; a trading post where the friendly shopkeeper taught attendees about collecting bottle caps; a Vault 33 Resident Portal offering scavenger quests; a chance to lasso taxidermized wasteland creatures; and snacks like Fancy Lad Snack Cakes and cuts of “ass jerky” (yes, we’re still giggling at this one).

Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz/ Getty Images for Prime Video

Netflix additionally made a brief appearance this year with a one-day spectacle promoting its new sci-fi series “3 Body Problem,” which debuted at South by. During the premiere, never-before-seen clips from the show were 3D-projected 50 feet over the city skyline via glittering holographic projections. Mimicking what characters experience in the series, Netflix even unleashed the mysterious Sophon, an avatar that appears in the show, who addressed the audience from the sky. (Partner: Kaleida, hologram technology)

@weallscreen Netflix promoting their new show 3 Body Problem with this crazy light show/activation at SXSW #3bodyproblem #3bodyproblemnetflix #3bodyproblemseries #sxsw #sxsw2024 #netflix #tv #tvtok #festival #movies #movietok #filmfestival #fyp #foryou #southbysouthwest ♬ original sound – We All Screen

Meanwhile, Max’s squad of drag queens and costumed magicians, Audible’s drag-inspired carnival entertainers and CitizenM Hotels’ costumed actors (more on this one in a minute, and photos below) also immersed attendees in their respective brands and fan universes.



South by can be a chaotic event that leaves attendees in need of some pampering. And that’s where the brands that made hospitality plays at the 2024 show come in.

Reddit is no stranger to tentpole events like CES and Cannes Lions, so it only makes sense that SXSW was also on the social media network’s agenda. The difference at South by, however, was that this year’s event marked the first time the brand launched a product, Reddit Pro, as part of its activation. Reddit Pro is a suite of free tools that help businesses establish and grow connections with the right Reddit communities—a service that companies could apply for right on-site.

When touring the space (Austin’s Two Hands restaurant) with Reddit’s head of event marketing and industry marketing programs, Caroline Absher, we learned that the activation was geared more toward hospitality than direct business transactions, and the layout supported that vibe. Through a series of vignettes, emphasis was placed on the context of Reddit’s content, and how that can be leveraged to help marketers connect with their targets. Think: a mock movie theater scene with an oversized poster showing real Redditor comments from the thread “What are your top five (current) Netflix shows.” And let’s not forget the all-important caffeine boost—a small takeout window was serving up complimentary Red(dit) Velvet Coffees. (Agency: Giant Spoon)

CitizenM leveraged SXSW 2024 as a platform for the debut of its Austin Downtown hotel property, and that meant hospitality was top of mind for the brand. To celebrate the new location on March 7, CitizenM hosted a flamboyant, Austin-themed launch event featuring a Secret Theatre experience, a rooftop pool, cocktails and bites, a colorful living room stocked with premium artwork, and a cast of intriguing costumed characters who floated around the space. Attendees could also check out an intimate karaoke haven, and discover the city’s tiniest comedy club. (Agency: Design Scene)

Delta_SXSW24_delta sync booth and drinksDelta’s hospitality lounge for SXSW badgeholders and SkyMiles members had just about everyone in town talking. The chic takeover of Estelle’s was centered around Delta Sync, a service available to SkyMiles members that includes Wi-Fi and Delta Sync Seatback, a new in-flight experience that allows members to customize their trip with tailored information, entertainment options and other personalized perks.

Upon entry, we received two drink tickets and a voucher for a free swag item on the second floor at the Gifting Salon (and later snagged a crewneck sweatshirt). The lounge offered plenty of floral décor, as well as walls filled with pieces of brand memorabilia from the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta. There were also passed bites and the option to sit at a booth and order other fare.

The fan favorite, though, was a high-touch Delta Sync Seatback experience in a separate area at the back of the space that included a faux plane cabin with multiple “seats” (booths) equipped with tablets that mimicked the service, including the opportunity to view exclusive content.



Experiential hubs produced by big-name publishers continue to be a SXSW marketing trend, and at the 2024 event, it was apparent that the movement isn’t slowing down. Publishers this year went heavy on both their supporting sponsorships and editorial content, offered in the form of panels and fireside chats.

The Wear House activation this year was put on by WWD, Beauty Inc., FN and rivet, and their host of sponsors. The activation was built around the “art of storytelling in fashion and beauty,” with a clear focus on engaging Gen Z. The space played host to a number of talks with fashion and beauty pros on a small stage within the footprint.

Sponsor activations included a RelieFF and Recovery Lounge presented by FitFlop with ample seating and infused water. There was also a Lowe’s Style Studio vignette where participants could sit on a couch, slap on a pair of the Apple Vision Pro goggles and virtually step into a 3D kitchen. And an eye-catching activation by Mielle Organics included hair styling, scalp education, an infinity mirror and a hot-pink throne for photo ops. Bonus: Everyone who stopped by got a goodie bag with three full-sized Mielle products. (Agencies: Fairchild Live, creative/production; LDJ, a/v)

Photo credit: Brynn Osborn/Fairchild Media Group

The Fast Company Grill returned to SXSW with a slate of programming and sponsor experiences. On the outdoor patio was a stage where a diverse roster of speakers discussed innovation. There, attendees could snag a specialty hot or cold tea from the Civili-tea Bar, sponsored by SHRM, which promotes civility in the workplace. Inside, attendees could listen to music; enjoy cocktails, snacks and bottled drinks; and check out activations from brands like Tetra Pak and Canva. The latter invited festivalgoers to take a three-question quiz on a tablet to find out their approach to business. Those who participated got a complimentary baseball hat that matched their persona. (Agency: 14B Marketing)

Right next door to Fast Company was the Inc. Founders House (both publications are owned by Mansueto Ventures), which encompassed a two-floor activation at Foxy’s Proper Pub. The space served as a hub for people starting, running and growing businesses and offered daily programming on a side patio, as well as meet-and-greets with Inc. editors. Inside the venue, the bars were packed, snacks were offered in Capital One Business’s sponsor footprint, TriNet gave out coffee drinks with selfie foam art and the second story played host to Texas-inspired breakfasts and lunches each day. (Agency: 14B Marketing)

We were sad to miss Robb Report’s House of Robb this year, but word on the street was that the elegant activation was a standout. The pop-up “luxury oasis” returned for a second year to engage festivalgoers with passed hors d’oeuvres crafted by acclaimed chefs, an open bar, a chance to interact with world-class luxury brands and their curated activations, panel discussions moderated by Robb Report editors and swanky dinners.


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Haleon Happy Hour-26 (1)

Photo credit: Collin Ross Findlay

The health and wellness movement continues to boom, and at a taxing event like SXSW, brands that provided rejuvenating, retreat-like experiences scored with attendees.

Take Snap, which activated the Snap Sanctuary from March 8-10 at The Pershing. The event tagline: “Less distraction, more mindful. Less chaos, more intention. More well.” The experience, themed around both wellness and community, offered everything from morning yoga classes to sunset dj sessions to mushroom education. Sponsored activities were also on tap, like massages from Equinox, IV drips from iVitamin, Acupressure Ear Seeds from The Easter Philosophy and an SPF Tent from Vacation Sunscreen. Snap additionally offered a slate of daily programming around topics like mental health and self-expression.

Meanwhile, Haleon (parent of Advil, TUMS, Emergen-C and other well-known health brands), hosted a “Hang with Haleon” happy hour event at Fareground Food Hall on March 9. Attendees were treated to custom mocktails infused with Emergen-C, hot sauce taste tests (TUMS samples were on hand to diffuse any indigestion) and baked treats while they mingled with industry partners, media and influential voices in health, beauty and wellness. (Agency: Edelman)

And at Violife’s Dairy Free Rest & Recharge Lounge at the JW Marriott, attendees tasted complimentary dishes made with the brand’s dairy-free products. They could also catch a demo and sampling experience from celebrity private chef Brooke Baevsky, aka Chef Bae, and taste her viral dairy-free carrot cake. (Agency: Mona Creative)

And that wraps another SXSW adventure for EM. We laughed, we lounged, we screamed.

Keep it weird, Austin.

Kait Shea
Posted by Kait Shea

Kait joined EM in 2015 and today enjoys her role as senior editor, digital content. When she’s not in reporter mode, rocking mermaid pants at Comic-Con or running laps at MWC Barcelona, you can find her at home listening to music.
View all articles by Kait Shea →

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