How to Apply HBO’s Bloody SXSW Activation to Events

Author: David McMillin       


A donor gives blood at HBO’s Bleed for the Throne activation for “Game of Thrones” at SxSW. (HBO)

As tens of thousands of tech enthusiasts, music fans, TV and film buffs geared up for SXSW 2019, brands vied for their attention with invitations to parties, events, and showcases. Over the past month, my inbox has been littered with messages that offer tips on “How to Party Without a Badge” and reminders that I can “Win Stuff at the Fest!” I’m not even going to Austin this year, so I can only imagine the deluge of promotional emails piling up in registrants’ inboxes.

Many sponsors at SXSW struggle to break through all that noise once people arrive in Austin, Texas, but HBO managed to stand out from the crowd with its “Game of Thrones” activation from March 7–9. Check out photos from the experience (below) — which includes characters decked out in medieval garb, a choir performing a 27-minute composition, horses, an AR experience, and much more

All those immersive details are noteworthy, but the most non-tech piece of the activation checked off a completely different box — making a social impact. HBO teamed up with the American Red Cross to inspire all those Westeros fans to donate blood at the experience, too. The partnership asked them to bleed #forthethrone, an invitation well suited to the violent series.

Beyond Austin

The appointments to donate blood at SXSW filled up fast, but the activation was bigger than Texas. The partnership included blood drives in 43 states from March 7–12, and blood drives at nine U.S. colleges and universities from March 12 to April 11. The campaign provided an extra incentive to give blood — anyone who donated between Feb. 19 and March 17 was automatically signed up for the chance to win one of five trips to the world premiere of the final season of the show — but the bulk of those who “bled for the throne” receive the simple satisfaction of knowing they helped the Red Cross.

A Sponsorship Activation That Stands for Something

Sponsorship used to involve hanging signage at an event and giving away items that helped attendees remember the brand. However, many attendees are looking for more meaningful ways to engage with brands. In 2018, research from Accenture revealed that 63 percent of consumers prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs, and it’s easy to connect that search for purpose to in-person brand activations. That’s a lesson that event organizers can share with sponsors. As companies look for opportunities to capture attention from attendees, it’s important to remind them that sponsorship doesn’t need to be all about selling. It should also be about doing something good.

Another Activation Draws Blood

The “Game of Thrones” experience isn’t the only activation that required attendees to roll up their sleeves. Learn why Walmart’s sponsorship sent people home from the inaugural edition of the MANOVA Global Health Care Summit wearing Band-Aids.

Photos From HBO’s SxSW Activation


Fans line up for HBO's Bleed for the Throne activation for "Game of Thrones" at SxSW. The network and the American Red Cross teamed up to accept donations of blood during the event. (HBO)


"The Unsullied" make their presence known at HBO's "Game of Thrones" activation at SxSW. (HBO)


Guards make their way to the "cathedral" area of the activation through a hall adorned with banners from all the houses made famous in HBO's "Game of Thrones." (HBO)


A donor, Erika, "bleeds for the throne," giving blood at HBO's at SxSW activation . (HBO)


A choir performs an original composition as volunteer blood donations take place — all in sight of the Iron Throne. (HBO)


An imperial guard watches over part of the activation. (HBO)

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