Three things brands need to consider before launching a SXSW mktg campaign

Back in 2004, I was the Pabst Blue Ribbon brand manager and we sponsored a bunch of events at SXSW.  We partnered with the likes of Vice Magazine, Urban Outfitters, Bloodshot records, the now defunct Arthur Magazine and supplied beer to their un-official SXSW parties.  This was before every brand under the sun was guerilla marketing the event and getting into the “side parties” was a big deal and only the real influencers were in the know.

Although I can’t say for sure, I don’t think we paid any money for the sponsorships.  If we did it was minimal.  Our biggest expenditure was simply product, which I believe was somewhere in the neighborhood of 400-500 cases.  At the time, a lot of people at the company thought I was crazy for giving so much beer away.

I remember talking to one of those partners at the end of the weekend and marveling at the number of people consumer connections we made.  PBR spent less than $10 and literally owned all of the insider parties.  I can look back at those sponsorships and say that connecting with the influencers who attended SXSW was worth the $8000 (ish) investment.

Although I’m not at SXSW this year, I have been back several times since that year and I’m amazed at how many brands have jumped on the bandwagon looking for ways to create buzz at the annual event.  It’s become so ubiquitous that every time someone wants to create buzz with hipsters or social media geeks, the first question is “what can we do at SXSW?” as if no one has thought of that.

Here’s the problem with the SXSW buzz plan: everyone is doing it.  There is so much marketing clutter in Austin for the two weeks of SXSW that no one knows who is sponsoring what.  They just know there is a party and everything is free.

What may seem like a shortcut to reach all of the right people all at once is really a mirage.  If you really want to connect with “influencers” (and that word IS played out) you need to consider three things:

  • Can you get their full attention?  It is literally impossible to do this at SXSW because so many brands are talking.  Do you really think any one remembers what brand of Pino Noir they drank at Gary Vaynerchuk’s Secret Wine Part last night?  When PBR sponsored those parties back in 04, we were the exclusive beer of every event and the can became a badge that people carried around.  Even without obnoxious banners and swag to give away, it was hard to escape the branding.
  • Are you invited to the party? If you don’t have a legitimate reason and permission to be there, you’re probably trying too hard.  Too many brands just show up at SXSW because they want hipsters to like them.  That doesn’t work.  When PBR sponsored events at SXSW, we were already part of the culture and all of the event organizers picked us as their beer sponsor.  This resulted in consumers were both surprised and appreciative we were part of the events.
  • Will they remember and recommend you?  The whole point of generating some “buzz” at SXSW is to reach influencers, right?  Too many brands forget that the role an influencer is supposed to play is one of recommending brands and services to others.  Will they be in a position to do that after they fly out of Austin?  Do they know enough about you?  Did they get a memorable experience?

If you can’t check the box on these three things, you may want to look at other ways to get the word out on your brand.  If you can’t come up with any other ideas, get in touch with me.  I’ll help you out.


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