This last March I went to SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin Texas, fulfilling a dream I’ve had for around 6 years. I first heard of the music festival in 2005, hearing that bands such as Bloc Party were going to grace it’s hallowed turf. Ever since this news my best friend and me longed to go, and 2011 was the year it was all going to happen.
Without going into too much detail, it was amazing, but a very different experience to what I expected. On first hearing of SXSW I thought it to be just another, although cool as heck, music festival. After getting my tickets though and becoming immersed in the website, it showed itself to be a great deal more. It may be a music festival, but it’s built on a networking event that not only offers so much to journalists and music execs, but to marketers, geeks, tech guys, and just about anybody else you can conjure up. All of sudden my love for SXSW grew and grew, because not only did it become my one stop for all music related awesomeness, but a great insight into the world of marketing and how brands can reinvent themselves.
For those of you who don’t know, SXSW is a bit of a hipster paradise, a somewhat pretentious world of alternative fashion, creative heads and music that not everyone ‘gets’. Therefore it’s a tough place to crack commercially, and brands getting involved need to tread very very carefully. They’re entering their world, not the other way around, so how do you go about it?
I think I was most impressed with AOL, mostly because I’d forgotten they even existed. I had vague memories of using them when I first got the Internet, but it’s a brand that fell away and became part of yesterday. However, I was re-awoken to it in Austin, and overall it was a great experience.
As you can see from their Sub Site HERE, they got heavily involved and made it a place bands and fans would like to go to. Once in the brand invades your soul with messages and corporate images, but this is ok because it’s interlinked with content you care about. The site was just the beginning though, because the events they threw were spot on.
I watched the Vaccines play in front of a church at 1pm on an overcast day, the back drop a giant AOL banner reminding us all who brought one of the festivals most talked about bands. Cameras were everywhere filming the show, and AOL staff was on hand to provide water and food and leaflets for anyone who cared to interact. It wasn’t a sell; in fact, there was nothing to sell whatsoever. It was AOL’s way of saying ‘Hey, we’re still around, just so you know.’
To finish it all off we were given a t-shirt (a one of a kind may I add) featuring a very cool Vaccines design, and a very subtle piece of AOL Branding. Do I wear this shirt often? Yes I do, and I wear it with pride. As for AOL, well i’m not saying I’m all of a sudden their biggest customer, but i once again know of their existence and their brand recognition has come to join the many other brands currently residing in my brain.
This is how you market your brand at SXSW, you don’t go there to sell, you go there to interact with some of the trendiest up to date consumers going, all in a bid to create some street cred. If done properly the whole experience can be very very luxurious, and well worth the investment, which in comparison to more traditional media, is a drop in the ocean. Yes, we’re talking thousands instead of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, and the exposure has the potential to be huge.
People at SXSW are engaged, not only with the bands playing, but also with the festival as a whole. And yes, that includes the brands that are absolutely everywhere. Does the feeling of selling out come across? Sure, in a way it does, but it’s all done in a fairly satisfying manner because the brands are conforming to the consumers, not the other way around.
In a couple of months time I’m going to return and this time I intend to get further involved with the marketing efforts. So expect plenty of pictures and the do’s and don’ts of SXSW marketing.