Now in its 28th year, SXSW has evolved from a small, eclectic conference for the indie music scene to one where Fortune 500 companies like AT&T, Samsung, Nordstrom, Sprint and Miller use the massive event as a springboard to build their brands and attract the holy grail of consumers – those between the ages of 20 and 40 years old who span two lucrative demographics, Gen X and Millennials.
Living up to both its official and unofficial slogans – the “Live Music Capital of the World” and “Keep Austin Weird,” the idiosyncratic city welcomed over 2,200 regional, national and international bands on more than 100 stages over the course of the five-day music portion of the festival, attracting an estimated crowd of 325,000. Jake Krolick, ASI’s creative director and writer for the online music site JamBase, covered the event, attending education sessions on topics like “#NewRules for Reaching Millennials Through Music,” “Marketing & Branding in Music Today,” “Badass Concert Marketing: How to Pack the F***ing Room” and “Creativity in Music Marketing,” and interviewed musicians, marketers and promoters on what it takes in a digital, fast-paced, online world to build a brand and attract, keep and excite an audience full of purchasers.
“Promotional products are used heavily and are really well-received at an event like SXSW, both with on-the-street promotional giveaways and more select items given to fans to attend exclusive events,” Krolick said. He pointed to promo items like stickers, T-shirts and bags as being ubiquitous at SXSW, but also stress relievers in the shape of a microphone being handed out to promote the DVD release of Anchorman 2, earbuds, USB drive wristbands and business cards given out en masse containing info on downloadable apps.
Particularly ingenious promotions came from HBO, which rented the electric cab fleet in Austin and overhauled them to look like Game of Thrones chariots, a Samsung promo where you could get a new, fully charged battery for your phone, and Nordstrom-sponsored Pedicab rides. And then there was Hotels.com, which – if you Tweeted about them – offered the service of having someone decked out in branded T-shirts and hats wait in line at music venues for 30 minutes on your behalf – a very valuable commodity given the long waits at most places.
“The use of promotional products has shifted,” says Brad White, vice president of sales for Austin-based Top 40 distributor Boundless Network (asi/143717), who helped cover the event with Krolick. “In the past, products were used to ‘talk’ to your audience; then they evolved as a way to ‘engage’ your audience to participate. Now, the coveted action is to encourage your audience to ‘share’ your message, to openly and publicly endorse your brand to their audience. Nowhere is that more evident than at SXSW, which is filled with modern companies with innovative promotional approaches, speaking to the coveted 20-40 demographic. It struck me during the event that promotional companies should find ways to position their products as vehicles for brands to inspire their audience to do the talking for them.”