South By South Lawn: Brand Activations At The White House's SXSW


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How The White House's Own Response To SXSW Was A Big Win For Brands

Regardless if you like him or not, President Obama's term has been a new era for the White House - and not just policy-wise. From inviting digital influencers to the White House to being the first President on Twitter, Obama has taken the Presidency into the Social Media Age.

Last week, the President invited innovators, scientists, musicians and many more to the White House lawn for the very first "South by South Lawn" modeled after the famous music, arts and technology festival South by Southwest in Austin, TX.  In this blog, Hollywood Branded looks these successful and creative brand activations at South by South Lawn and how they benefited participating brand's social media image.


What Is South By South Lawn?

We've all heard of South by Southwest. More commonly shortened to "SXSW", this annual festival features the best of the best in terms of technology, music, art, film and more gathering in Austin to share and compare art and ideas. And it's a haven for brands looking to market to millennials. If you missed last South by Southwest check out our article on Top SXSW Brand Activations. 

In a new twist, and in coordination with the American Film Institute (AFI), National Parks Foundation and President's Committee on Arts & Humanities, SXSW was brought to the White House on October 3rd. 


The festival was very technology and music heavy, giving bands a chance to perform inside of the White House and on the lawn as well as showing off exhibits that represent the future of technology.

Targeted at millennials, the festival was live on Snapchat with various artists and media members posting to the "South By South Lawn" Snapchat story including Nick Cannon, and members of the Lumineers as well as visitors checking out the brand exhibits.

Let's check out the top brand activations...

Lego And Nathan Sawaya's Lawn Art

Nathan Sawaya is a New York City based artist known for his use of Legos in his art installments. For SXSL, he built "Park People" out of Legos and installed them around the lawn at the festival.

What was so brilliant about this activation is that is was interactive and attention grabbing albeit simple. It drew tons and we mean tons of social media attention as well after celebrities like President Obama, rapper Common and Mythbusters star Adam Savage all posted social media pictures with the statues. Check it out:




This activation was so beneficial to Lego as it painted its brand image as not just a toy for children, but a building block for structures and a medium for art, appealing to a different - and more sophisticated - crowd than usual for the brand.

The Guardian and The Mill Team Up For A Virtual Experience

VFX & Creative Content Studio "The Mill" and The Guardian joined forces for one of the most unforgettable and most talked-about brand activations at the festival. 

With help from sponsors like Google News Lab, Tribeca Film Institute, and Frontline, the two brands built the "6 x 9: A Virtual Experience Of Solitary Confinement" exhibit using art, design and virtual reality to mimic the feeling of being in solitary confinement.

tech-crunch-sxsl-6x9.pngPhotograph: Tech Crunch

Festival-goers and media members had the chance to enter the exhibit and experience what approximately 100,000 prisoners in the United States go through in solitary confinement. The exhibit sought to raise awareness and encouraged visitors to think about the US prison system.

With an excellently designed and rendered experience, the exhibit was much talked about at the festival, making it on the official Snapstory as well as celebrity social media like Common's Instagram which got 18.8k views.


NASA's Cancer Moonshot Exhibit Looks To End Cancer

In his 2016 State Of The Union address, President Obama introduced an initiative to propel cancer research forward at an accelerated pace. Since then, Vice President Joe Biden has led the initiative with help from the new National Cancer Advisory Board.

Cancer Moonshot had its own exhibit at SXSL with a little help from NASA. In the exhibit, users could record their own experiences with cancer in a video diary format and check out wearable technology that looks to improve cancer treatment delivery.

You could also pose in a real NASA space suit and have your picture taken. Among those to pose were Mythbusters star Adam Savage and real-life astronaut Anne McClain.


What was cool about this exhibit for NASA was that it showed the brand's versatility - researching solutions at home as well as in space... and social media noticed!



How Can You Get Involved In Brand Activations At Big Events?

SXSL was full of exciting brand activations and was incredibly star-studded. Among attendees were The Lumineers, Leonardo DiCaprio, the cast of Stranger Things, and many many more. 

Before you spend another dollar on traditional advertising, start thinking about ways to make your marketing more engaging to consumers.  Watch our video to learn how to combat common advertising challenges marketers face daily!

Learn how entertainment marketing engages consumers