Marketing at SXSW – Part 2: What It Means for Your Company

How can you stand out in a loud crowd?
How can you stand out in a loud crowd?

Last month we dipped our toes into a conversation about the unique challenges of advertising at a huge venue like the South by Southwest. This May, McDonald’s took on the task of trying to fit into an overcrowded landscape of companies competing to grab the attention of about 72,000 attendees at the massive music festival. This week we want to talk about how you can apply those talking points to your own (less sweaty, more sober) marketing initiatives.

So, let’s start with the important question:

How would you run a campaign at SXSW?

You need to be able to catch people’s attention, sure, but there’s a lot of flashiness happening at this festival. Then, how do you hold it? One of the most undervalued qualities of any advertising campaign is simplicity. Because of so much surrounding stimulus, you want to be able to quickly relay your message and get to the point. This can be anything from a clever site-specific tag line to a display that make a serious visual impact (or offers an unmissable photo op). Investigate the culture to find out what everyone else is doing, or usually does, and what no one’s doing yet that people really need (hint: it’s not a branded T-shirt).

Having something to take away other than an experience might help. Let’s think about McDonald’s, a new advertiser at SXSW that we talked about last week. At the end of the day, the food is digested, the wrapper is thrown away and that charging station wasn’t exactly an exciting backdrop for selfies that you’ll be looking back on fondly for years to come. Once the party winds down, how are these McDonald’s-affiliated experiences going to linger in the memories of young people who are literally cramming every minute of their trip with an intense effort to make memories? Does McDonald’s make you think of the interactive, film and music elements of the festival? (Probably not – so how do you bridge that divide?)

The opportunities are myriad at the real SXSW: advertisements in published materials (such as maps and guides), sponsored lounges, vendor stands, souvenirs, social media incentives, etc. You can also dream up customized opportunities. So which would you choose, and why?

You can translate this same approach to local festivals and gatherings where you might not otherwise think to do something like, say, hosting a sponsored after-party for your neighborhood’s annual gardening expo. Gardeners like parties, too, you know? But whether it’s a fun photo or a souvenir, make sure you give them something better than a flyer to walk away with so that they’ll remember you longer than the lifespan of your average bouquet.

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