Ah, the mall: apex of material experience, promenade of desires. This past July, when Meow Wolf unveiled its fourth permanent exhibition, The Real Unreal in Grapevine, Texas, our primary objective was to get people to the mall. We wanted to attract individuals who might not typically visit the mall, but are familiar with Meow Wolf's transformative immersive art experiences. We also wanted to entice your average mall-goer who might be seeking a giant pretzel or airbrushed name visor to step into the sensory smorgasbord art experience that is The Real Unreal. We had to merge. We had to expand minds. The challenge was to seamlessly court these diverse audiences, creating local brand awareness and satisfying existing international brand loyalists. It was crucial to strike a balance between maintaining our idiosyncrasy and remaining…findable. Our mission was to establish our presence as an inclusive enclave where everyone is welcome to "Come Find Yourselfs" with community events, town hall listening sessions, and a giant rainbow mural on the mall's exterior, visible even to planes landing at DFW. Achieving the delicate equilibrium between building brand awareness and generating excitement for a nebulous, immersive, transformative, irreverent, ironic, personal psychedelic art and storytelling experience—while also selling tickets for entry into the mall's upcoming physical space—became a multi-channel art form in itself.
In a word: Mallwalkers.
We turned a potential challenge—a new suburban Texas mall location—into a strength by embracing it with humor and strategy.
Mallwalkers embody a nostalgic era when malls were bustling. Retro and endearing to diverse generations, wholesome, active, and mobile, these characters are capable of high-stepping off the screen into the real world.
Market research revealed that to achieve our goal of inclusivity, a number of niche markets would have to be reached, requiring an integrated and creative approach. Thus, we developed parallel campaigns with Austin-based agency Preacher and our in-house team. The fantastical, fictional campaign featured mallwalkers as hero characters bridging the art-mall gap, showcased in a musical launch film distributed across YouTube, TikTok, local TV, and regional cinema movie theaters. This campaign centerpiece – recognized by AdWeek as #17 in Top 20 Ads of the year – spotlighted Meow Wolf's offbeat, welcoming identity and encouraged viewers to "Come Find Yourselfs At The Mall."
The immersive campaign expanded into the real world and greater DFW metroplex as a crew of actual mallwalkers strolled with swagger at on-site activations and off-site events in Grapevine’s Main Street Fest, local landmarks like Dallas’ Deep Ellum, and the Fort Worth Stockyards. Their vibrant neon tracksuits, when on sale to the public, became a sought-after merch item, amplifying the hype to join this inclusively nostalgic club.
Simultaneously, a nonfiction campaign utilized earned media, brand stories, and behind-the-scenes content, addressing brand followers who love art but might be skeptical of a mall location. A key nonfiction thread was an earned media story: the LA Times launch story that positioned Meow Wolf as a cutting-edge force in Texas, simultaneously solidifying the brand's identity as an inclusive and pro-LGBTQIA space and creatively one-upping ourselves as an industry leader. Other regional earned media coverage targeted the local brand base; The Dallas Observer noted “Meow Wolf walked so the Insta-museum could run.” (We prefer to think that we mall-walked.)
An interactive kiosk, LAERNU, mysteriously appeared in the mall, offering faux wellness experiences to passersby. Our niche focus on locals included active community engagement, activations, town hall sessions, outreach, and hiring fairs, earning us our most powerful brand stewards. Behind-the-scenes content, artist mini-docs, and the “Tiny Mic Series with Han” engaged our audiences in the creation process, introducing our curator alongside our diverse list of local collaborating artists.
Playing on ideas of both the real and unreal, The Real Unreal hosted Influencer Day, a pre-opening event where influencers took over the exhibit in an exclusive content-making frenzy. On the guest list were Gen Z favorites including travel mainstays, Cheer star tumblers, and a famous duck. Yes, a duckfluencer. This event spawned influencer collabs inside and outside of the exhibition, engagement begetting engagement.
The integrated campaign spanned platforms, print, billboards, social media, local broadcast TV, guerilla marketing, and experiential events, capturing the essence of self-discovery and community involvement. The result was an immersive campaign that enriched our narrative, engaging diverse audiences while mallwalking from screen to real world.
The campaign's impressive metrics underscore its effectiveness. The Real Unreal achieved widespread brand recognition, generated substantial ticket sales, and engaged audiences across various platforms with our specific brand of humor, wonder, and weirdness. The integrated approach resonated with diverse audiences, creating anticipation and sales for the opening.
In 2023, Meow Wolf was named #1 Immersive Experience in the US by Time Out.
Various notable metrics:
The results achieved by The Real Unreal's Influencer Day were substantial, igniting a wave of engagement and buzz.
Social Media Posts: