'Westworld' and 'Ready Player One' won SXSW this year - here's the ad agency that made it happen
- HBO's experiential recreation of the sci-fi town of "Sweetwater" in Westworld and Warner Bros.' rendition of the world from Ready Player One have more in common than just sci-fi.
- Both experiences were created by ad agency Giant Spoon, which spent months conceptualizing, building and orchestrating them.
- The five year-old agency started off on the media side, but has become well-known for its live events and experiences.
What do HBO's 'Westworld' and Steven Spielberg's 'Ready Player One' have in common? More than just their sci-fi themes.
HBO's reality-meets-fantasy physical recreation of the sci-fi town of "Sweetwater" in Westworld and Warner Bros.' two-story rendition of the virtual world of "Oasis" from "Ready Player One"are not only the biggest breakout hits at the South by Southwest Interactive conference this year, but they were both created by the same company.That company is the ad agency Giant Spoon. The full-service shop has been around for nearly five years and counts clients like HP & GE in its roster, but it didn't particularly stand out from the crowd - until its splashy "Blade Runner" live experience at Comic-Con last year. And then, everybody came knocking.
"It changed the way that brands showed up at these festivals," Marc Simmons, one of the agency's three cofounders told Business Insider. "From day one we've been fortunate to work with creative, accessible brands that really understand what makes people stop and pay attention."
Conceptualizing, building and orchestrating the live experiences was no easy feat, taking months to plan and execute. Both setups are visibly massive undertakings, replete with dozens of highly detailed set pieces designed to make you feel like you are in a different world, VR experiences as well as actors that bring the respective time periods alive.
The work on Westworld, for instance, began all the way back in August 2017, when Giant Spoon sent drones to scout the location - a 2-acre piece of land in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Production started in November 2017, taking a 40-person crew five weeks to build the park.
That was not all. 58 different vendors came together in the production process. And Giant Spoon, HBO's in-house marketing team and "Westworld" co-creators Jonathan Nelson and Lisa Joy enlisted a cast of 60 actors, six stunt people, five bands and six horses to bring the dystopian world to life, with the final script adding up to a whopping 444 pages.
Similarly, Oasis was painstakingly constructed across an Austin city block, replete with trailers to mimic "Stacks,"or vertical trailer parks where people live in the book and movie's fictional 2045. The space also had arcade games, VR experiences and tons of '80s memorabilia, and took a 90-person crew to build over the span of a week.The efforts have clearly paid off. The Westworld recreation was not only the talk of South by Southwest, but was also trending on social media.
The hashtag #westworld was trending and the experience-specific #sxswestworld was used nearly 6,000 times on the three days that it was on for, according to data crunched by the analytic firm Crimson Hexagon.
The Ready Player One exhibit too attracted considerable buzz, buoyed by the fact that the book's author Ernest Cline and the movie's actor Bryan Greenberg were in attendance at SXSW.
Moreover, the sentiment in the conversations around both exhibits was overwhelmingly positive. According to Brandwatch, Westworld's mentions were 91.8% positive and Ready Player One's were 90.3% positive.
While Giant Spoon has more recently been thrust into the limelight due to its executions in the experiential realm, it initially started with a focus on media and strategy. Trevor Guthrie, another one of the agency's cofounders, also credits its rise to this background.
"Our media background has made a unique difference, because knowing who watches CNN, which segments of podcasts are growing fastest, or what hasn't been seen at SXSW - and contrasting those with a brand's needs sets the stage for effective work." said Guthrie. "Creative ideas come pouring out like a firehose."
As it has attracted bigger clients and bigger budgets, it is no surprise that Giant Spoon itself has grown. At the end of 2017, for instance, the agency had increased its revenue by nearly a 100% and expanded its headcount from 34 to nearly 100, said Simmons.
And now that it's on a roll, it has no plans of stopping."We truly believe we can be a different solution for clients," said Simmons. "We can be a different kind of agency that doesn't just build ads, but creates experiences for consumers that allow brands to naturally interact with them."