HBO Defies Imagination with Immersive Fan Experiences at SXSW—-4004146fc92c—4

It’s not often that fans will wait in line almost a full day for a brand marketing experience, but HBO defied expectations and imaginations at the 2018 SXSW festival.

The network created custom experiences for two of its most popular series: Westworld and Silicon Valley, both with new seasons about to premiere. However, rather than aiming for mass appeal and high foot traffic, HBO kept access for both selective, sending a clear message: it’s about the core fans.

WestworldA wall of unnerving facial molds greets visitors at HBO’s SXSW Westworld experience.

HBO’s Westworld activation might have been the most exclusive (and most buzzed about) of the entire festival, with room for less than 3,000 visitors over a three-day span. Not that it deterred attendees: some fans reported waiting in line for over seven hours, only to be turned away (and subsequently return the next day for another shot).

However, it’s easy to see why HBO had to limit attendance: they painstakingly re-created the entire town of Sweetwater, from the train ride to the townfolk to the horses. Fans who were lucky enough to score a ticket to the exclusive experience were treated to authentic white or black Stetson cowboy hats before boarding a 20-minute bus ride to Sweetwater (normally known as Lorraine, TX). From there, visitors step off the Black Ridge Limited into another world, where smart phones and cameras are met with confused stares and gun fights abound. The cast members, who had to memorize 400+ page scripts, never break character — and they’ll eagerly fight, flirt, or frown right back at you.

A robotic hostess is the first person visitors encounter once they enter the park.

While HBO could have let it stop there, they took the activation to another level, scattering easter eggs and creating moments and characters only true fans could understand. Each visitor had a letter waiting for him or her at the post office, each with a different message and signed by a different, mysterious writer. Some letters pointed toward the graveyard, where a steady stream of visitors eagerly dug up dirt for clues. Others suggested you look twice at the Barbershop or other innocuous places, as you never quite knew what you might overhear. And, it was impossible to miss ominous warning signs for season two, such as blood-stained piano music marring the otherwise perfect Mariposa Saloon, or an ominous Samurai who stalked around glaring at visitors, intensely out of place in the otherwise quaint western town.

A mysterious samurai haunted the park and rattled visitors.

It would have been easy to spend all day in Sweetwater, but it became clear it was time to leave when mysterious figures in white jumpsuits rushed in to break up a gunfight and demanded the actors to “cease all motor functions.” From there, it all began again.

Silicon Valley

While the Silicon Valley activation was on a smaller scale than Westworld, it was equally as immersive. Nestled a good 13-minute walk away from the bustling convention center, HBO re-created the Pied Piper headquarters down to every detail, from Jin-Yang’s hacked smart fridge to mismatched patio furniture. Nearly every room was made for Instagram, from a “three comma club” boomerang opportunity to a mirrored room with “not hot dog” scrawled in neon in between dangling hot dogs.

Visitors relax in patio reminiscent of the Pied Piper house.

Visitors could also experience life at Pied Piper through an exclusive VR experience, cracking a beer or playing a game of foosball with a few flicks of their wrist. Plus, they might have had the most on-brand free swag of any activation: branded fidget spinners and stickers to put over your computer camera (to keep out any FBI agents trying to watch you, of course).

The back garage held an impressive VR experience where fans could virtually tour Pied Piper HQ.

Fans can watch the new season of Silicon Valley on March 25 and a new season of Westworld on April 22 with an HBO subscription through Amazon Channels. Once you’re signed up, it’s easy to tune in with Alexa on your Fire TV. Just say:


Happy streaming!

HBO Defies Imagination with Immersive Fan Experiences at SXSW was originally published in Amazon Fire TV on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.