How 7 Brands Stood Out in a More Subdued Sundance 2020

The Sundance Film Festival is a buzzy opportunity for brands to interact with film fans, actors and directors and industry execs in between screenings. The 36th annual festival, which kicked off Jan. 23 and runs through Feb. 2, is screening 118 feature films with premieres including Taylor Swift‘s Netflix documentary Miss Americana and Zola, which brings the viral 2015 tweet-storm of a Florida stripper to the big screen.

This year’s event, however, has seen a more subdued brand presence on Main Street in Park City, Utah compared to previous editions. Festival sponsors like Stella Artois opted to activate around the Super Bowl in Miami, while tech sponsor Dell supported the festival by powering the event and presenting the New Frontier exhibit, which showcases storytelling work with AR, VR and mixed reality. But the festival still had mainstay hubs from presenting sponsors like Chase, while sponsor WarnerMedia had its first combined festival presence with experiences from HBO and CNN Films, and its own lodge with AT&T. New festival sponsors like Audible, and non-sponsors like Pizza Hut, also offered creative pop-up experiences for attendees.

Here’s a look at some of the experiential highlights from the festival’s 36th edition.

Audible

The Amazon-owned company, which sells audiobooks and spoken-word entertainment, made its Sundance sponsor debut with a speakeasy-themed experience. The Audible Speakeasy held three days of panels and fireside chats curated by the Los Angeles Times, with speakers including Tessa Thompson, Colman Domingo and Belinda Carlisle. The space also hosted daily 30-minute sound baths—sound meditation experiences—led by author and sound therapist Sara Auster. The pop-up included a literal speakeasy bar with themed cocktails. Audible’s marketing team worked with agency Civic Entertainment Group to produce and design the experience.

AT&T

Vivian Killilea, Getty Images for WarnerMedia and AT&T

A returning festival sponsor, AT&T once again offered an entertainment and culinary hotspot for attendees, but with a new name: WarnerMedia Lodge: Elevate Storytelling with AT&T. Formerly the DirecTV Lodge, the space offered four days of events that included celebrity lunches, and premiere parties and industry panels for screened films and series including Zola, Snowpiercer and Miracle Workers: Dark Ages. The lodge also hosted the Variety Studio presented by AT&T, which held interviews and portrait shoots with filmmakers and actors. The activation included a pop-up restaurant from Los Angeles-based Italian restaurant Jon & Vinny’s. AT&T’s creative services team developed the activation concept, while Best Events handled production and PMK-BNC led PR.

HBO

HBO

The cable network had a major presence at this year’s festival, particularly with the Our Stories To Tell hub, a three-day experience as part of HBO’s initiative to support multicultural storytelling and creators, which the brand launched 2017. “The creativity and powerful discussions this space has inspired since its inception is truly impactful and we look forward to continuing to champion the diversity of our culture and community in all aspects of our programming both on and off screen,” said Jackie Gagne, HBO’s vp of multicultural marketing, about the experience

HBO worked with agency Team Epiphany to create the space, which had invite-only programming that included HerStory, a dinner celebrating black women in Hollywood, an apres-ski happy hour celebrating queer talent including drag queen Shangela Laquifa Wadley, a conversation focused on up-and-coming Latinx storytellers and dinners and panels with the cast and creators of Insecure including Issa Rae.

HBO

HBO also turned to experiential to celebrate the world premiere of the documentary series McMillions, which tells the story of how a group of people stole $24 million from the McDonald’s Monopoly game in the 1990s. HBO worked with agency MKTG to create a three-day interactive pop-up, which included a massive McDonald’s Monopoly wall, where attendees could peel back layers to win ’90s-themed prizes.

Chase

Jack Dempsey/Invision for Chase Sapphire/AP Images

Chase returned as a presenting festival sponsor for the 10th consecutive year, hosting the weeklong Chase Sapphire on Main hub. The space tied into the financial services company’s new Sapphire campaign, which announced Mark Ronson as the brand’s music supervisor for 2020. Ronson performed at the first Chase Sound Check—concerts exclusive to cardmembers—and introduced up-and-coming singer Yebba at a festival kickoff party. Additionally, the brand is celebrating its new Lyft partnership at the festival with a fleet of wrapped cars; attendees who book rides in the branded cars receive free movie candy boxes. Chase worked with agency Intersport and event management company Brilliant Consulting Group to produce the activation.

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut was the most high-profile brand to activate at Sundance without sponsoring the event. The brand worked with brand marketing agency RQ to take over Main Street venue for the Red Hut Lodge, a ski lodge-themed pop-up that offered pizza, cocktails and branded lounge areas. The brand also partnered with Getty Images to create a photo studio and lounge for talent at the space, which included Taylor Swift, Will Ferrell and Hillary Clinton.

Vulture with Amazon Fire TV

Phillip Faraone / Getty Images for Vulture

New York Media’s entertainment site Vulture brought the Vulture Spot, its roving media studio and hospitality suite, back to the festival for a fourth year. Vox Media, which acquired New York Media in 2019, worked with agency Civic to produce this year’s space,  sponsored by Amazon Fire TV for the first time. The media player company commissioned artist Deerdana to create branded art for the hub, which included exterior popcorn graphics and interior wallpaper with filmmaker illustrations. The space also had a fan art gallery wall showcasing artists from 15 countries.

“Celebrating the best of entertainment and finding new ways to connect our customers to that experience is at the core of what we do at Fire TV,” said Mary Sagripanti, head of marketing, Amazon Fire TV.

Vox Media’s experiential team also produced an event for The Cut’s “How I Get It Done” column, which featured women including director Dee Rees, actress Zazie Beetz and HBO Max’s head of original programming Sarah Aubrey discussing topics like work-life balance and creativity.

CNN Films

John Nowak/CNN

CNN Films returned for the festival’s first weekend, taking over Main Street restaurant Fletcher’s. The three-level space offered private workspaces and a branded restaurant and lounge space which, naturally, broadcast the news. The venue also hosted special events including a filmmakers’ brunch and the Brown Girls Doc Mafia networking reception.

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