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SXSW: Brands vs. Bands


Why aren’t brands a bigger part of the conversation? Selena Ching, Planning Director, Figliulo&Partners, discusses

SXSW: Brands vs. Bands

Plenty of brands enjoy quality time in the saddle with SXSW.

They continue to hop on the SXSW bandwagon, but why aren’t they part of the conversation? There's little to no press on any of the big-brand sponsors. Mazda just committed to be a super sponsor for the next three years. Other than a few PR pickups, it's been pretty silent. We analyzed 3,503 news articles published in the U.S. since Aug 2013 that mention SXSW and key words like band(s) show up four times more often than brand(s). The big brand winners are Apple and Spotify, for obvious reasons. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Snapchat are also getting in on the action, but more as call outs for ways to keep up on all the festival action.

SXSW Interactive prides itself in bringing together a firestorm of ideas and inspiration, with ‘an unbeatable lineup of special programs showcasing the best new websites, video games and startup ideas the community has to offer’. So far, any brand hype seems to have fallen on deaf ears. It’s the same old set list of programs. Brands come and go, but the vibe does not change. 

Has SXSW become more about showing up than being different and disruptive? A few brands are taking center stage while more seem to be chilling in the wings. Granting audience access to pitch ideas to leadership teams has scored some brands chatter points. Miller Lite, Pepsi and Esurance are offering winners of various social sweepstakes and contests wristbands and badges. IFC and Monster Energy are adding to the festival fun with showcases, tournaments and keeping people fueled. Philips is giving its HealthSuite Hackathon winners a stage to demo their app at their booth. McDonald’s is showing tech startups some love with ‘pitch sessions’, but did not have enough love to go around to pay bands to perform.

Capital One and AT&T are creating network opportunities and places to rest and recharge. Failed meet-up excuses because your phone died are no longer acceptable, sorry. But if SXSW is about progressive thinking and putting your best foot forward, then why are all these activations so conventional? 

Or maybe more progressive brands are just bringing their best elsewhere. BMW’s ‘Art Journey’ initiative with Art Basel will spotlight the intimate process of creative inspiration of emerging artists. Airbnb invites an interesting dynamic between strangers at the Airbnb Haus at Sundance. As art and film shows continue to expand their repertoire of events to music and tech, it’s giving brands a chance to show off their artistic side.

While Mazda is hooking people up with free rides, they’re keeping mum on launch plans for the new CX-3, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for some fresh, fire-starting ideas and a fleet of cars with some big artist, singing in the backseat. If not, all that is left is a festival promising inspiration that brands have under delivered on.

Selena Ching is Planning Director at Figliulo&Partners

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