The Latest Trend in Marketing TV & Film: Experiential Activations

The best part of most Super Bowls is rarely the game; it’s the ads. This year will feature, among the beer ads and car commercials, plenty of movie and TV show promotions. Yet, not many as you may think.

Some film studios, including Sony and Warner Bros., are avoiding airing ads during the Super Bowl altogether (and, at an average of $5.24 million a pop, who can blame them?). According to Deadline, Disney will not run a spot for the still untitled “Star Wars IX,” which is arguably the biggest film of the year (although Disney is expected to drop a promo for “Avengers: Endgame” – the argument against “Star Wars” being the biggest picture of the year).

Then there’s the interesting case of “Alita: Battle Angel.” Premiering in February, “Alita” is facing the uphill battle of being a relatively unknown property and a high-concept film, elements that have sunk similar films, like “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” and recently “Mortal Engines.” The studio releasing “Alita,” 20th Century Fox, is acutely aware of the challenges facing the film. In fact, for two weeks in January 2019, the spending on ads for “Alita” topped all other campaigns.

Yet, 20th Century Fox is not expected to air an ad for “Alita” during the Super Bowl. What the studio is doing is launching activations known as the “Passport to Iron City” in three cities: Los Angeles, New York, and Austin.

Visitors to the experience are able to walk through a recreation of Iron City, the film’s primary location, which was faithfully recreated by the movie’s production designers. They will be able to interact with actors portraying the city’s beleaguered citizens, play around with futuristic technology, complete puzzles and challenges to earn “credits,” and search for clues to reveal their ultimate fate within the experience. The activation even includes a recreation of the bar featured in the movie and a craft beer brewed specifically for the location will be on tap in each city.

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Photo Credit: Ain’t It Cool News

20th Century Fox is jumping on the latest trend in TV and film promotion: experiential activations.

Why are experiential activations so effective? The distribution landscape has changed drastically over the last 12 years. Netflix launched its streaming service in 2007 followed less than a year later by Hulu. Since then the video rental store has died, physical media and cable providers are dying, movie theaters have had to turn into living rooms or restaurants to survive, and every content owner is launching its own specialized streaming channel (with its own unique content). Viewers have more choices than ever before, but how do you make people aware in this increasingly fragmented landscape?

Enter experiential activations. Live activations for TV and movies are geared to stimulate one of two emotions: nostalgia for an older property or anticipation for a new one. These engagements work because, even though only a few thousand people can visit during the limited run, they are not meant exclusively for the attendees. Every person who attends these events shares thoughts, pics, and lives streams on social media. So, their followers get to share in the experience as well.

Here are a few examples of some recent, successful experiential TV and film activations.

Game of Thrones

Despite “Game of Thrones” being its most popular show, HBO has still been incredibly active when it comes to activations based around the property. game

In 2015, HBO created an experience at South by Southwest (SXSW) called “SXSWesteros” that put attendees in the shoes of young protagonist Arya Stark. The journey started by allowing of-age visitors to sample a Game of Thrones-inspired beer. Visitors were then given a chance to have their picture taken while sitting on The Iron Throne. The tour finished as attendees grabbed a sword to fight off a horde of enemies.

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Photo Credit: BizBash

In 2017, HBO staged an activation at San Diego Comic-Con,  where visitors were given an RFID wristband that tracked their progress and sent all photos and videos to their assigned email. The first stop was for beverages, and this time it included Game of Thrones-branded wine as well as beer. Next, visitors headed to the North where one attendee was crowned “King of the North” in a ceremony that was integrated with footage from the show’s sixth season. Next, attendees were presented with a series of photo ops with props from the show (such as a weir wood tree, an elaborate table carved into the shape of Westeros, the throne at Dragonstone, and [of course] The Iron Throne). The experience also included the opportunity for a 360-degree video of an attendee surrounded by Wights while holding the weapon of his or her choice (either dragonglass daggers or a Valyrian steel longsword). The event concluded with the player being given a video game controller in the shape of a dragonglass dagger to fight off an overwhelming mass of White Walkers.

The Good Place

At the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con, NBC transformed an area known as Gaslamp Square into The Good Place’s neighborhood to promote this exceptional show’s third season (for the uninitiated, The Good Place is a version of the afterlife that’s overseen by Michael, played by Ted Danson).

Photo Credit: AdWeek

Visitors to the activation were greeted by a video of Michael cheerfully welcoming them to the neighborhood. Attendees were then allowed to wander through the idyllic neighborhood and visit shops, including “The Suggestion of Yogurt,” which handed out vouchers for frozen yogurt, and “Good Plates,” a façade placed over an actual Tin Fish restaurant. (The show features a variety of pun-named restaurants, and honestly, by The Good Place standards, these are pretty weak. Some favs from the show include “Lasagna Come Out Tomorrow,” “Beignet and the Jets,” and “Sushi and the Banshees.”)

However, just when everything seemed to be going smoothly, denizens from The Bad Place infiltrate the neighborhood and send everything askew. With the visitors’ cover blown, they were forced out through an “Infinite Light” tunnel and back to real life.

Westworld

To promote Westworld’s second season, HBO went big at the 2018 SXSW. Working with Lyft to shuttle people from SXSW to outside of Austin, attendees found a recreation of the western world set on two acres of land.

Known as “Westworld: Life Without Limits,” the replica was stocked with 60 actors playing parts from the show (444 pages of scripts were written for these actors), six stunt people, five bands, and six horses. Guests could interact with the characters (including getting a shave with a straight razor), go to the post office and pick up a letter personalized for them, and collect numbers spread throughout the park that opened up a hidden room with a surprise from the upcoming season.

Jurassic Park

This activation proves that not everything has to be giant replicas of neighborhoods stocked with actors to be successful. To promote the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park, Britain’s Now TV created a massive statue of Jeff Goldblum and set it in Potters Field Park, which is near London’s City Hall and Tower Bridge.

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Photo Credit: AdAge

Now, this was no ordinary massive statue of Jeff Goldblum. This was a massive statue of an open-shirted, sexy, 1993-era Jeff Goldblum.

The statue was a big hit, generating traffic to Now TV for its Jurassic Park airings.

A great aspect about creating an experiential activation for a TV or movie property is that the plot is already there. Marketers just have to discover the best way to translate what works for the show or film into an event that crowds of people can enjoy – and share on social media.

If you would like some help creating a mind-blowing activation, our Event Architecture experts are ready with ideas. Give us a call at 972-323-9433.

sofia krsmanovic