Picking Apart the SXSW Interactive Swag Bag

(Looking at the first of 3 SXSW Gift Bags – One for each festival.)



Ah, the humble schwag bag. As a consumer, I always look at a trade show gift bag with a certain amount of reservation, mainly in terms of weighing the cost of time to go through it vs. the rewards for doing so. There’s usually not a huge return on the time investment. The tote bags themselves are usually pretty cool, this one with a huge Adobe logo branded on the reverse side. Being a major-level sponsor means your brand gets to be on the bag.

The first thing I noticed right away was that it felt a touch lighter than last year’s. I doubt interest in advertising at the festival is waning, and might have more to do with SXSW’s positioning as an environmentally friendly entity and wanting to cut down on paper clutter.

But it still has its share of clutter, of flyers and things I didn’t even really want to look at. A few magazines as well, one about Linux and also Popular Mechanics, which I might peruse at some point. But I pulled a handful of items from the bag (see photo) because I feel they provide some good talking points.

I suppose Opera, a strategic partner with SXSW, drew the short straw and had to be on the coozie this year. Fuze, a platinum sponsor, branded a lanyard and a guitar pick, both of which you’ll find in abundance during the festival.

But I was impressed with the offering from O’reilly, which publishes a series of books on technology that feature iconic images of animals on their covers. This cover series is so loved by geeks everywhere there’s even a fan-created website where you can generate your own O’reilly cover, complete with obscure and inside-joke tech references. The schwag bag contains a mini-O’reilly book of Games and Puzzles, many of which play up – you guessed it – their famous animal covers. It’s a smart move on O’reilly’s part because they know their audience. The puzzles make no sense to me at all, but they contain all the inside jokes and obscure animal references the hard core O’reilly geeks dig.

Microsoft stuffed in a limited version of Expression, a line of software to design interactive interfaces and such. Adobe included a little Chinese takeout box with some fortune cookies inside, and a call to action to play a game on a subsite. Good luck with that. At SXSW, or any trade show for that matter, attendants are looking more to get out and about to explore things, not follow even (admittedly) simple rules to enter a prize drawing.

Maker Faire branded a pair of 3-D glasses. As far as I know there’s no special website I need to go to and wear the glasses, or some party in town where a secret message is displayed if I put the glasses on my face. It’s just, simply, branded 3-D glasses. It’s not groundbreaking, but I guess if one has to decide on an item to brand, 3-D glasses are inherently more cool than, say, a coozie.

What I liked the best was the offering from impossibly-pronounced Frrvrr.com a new venture in social media. They’re throwing a party downtown on Monday and they included a “VIP” wristband. Even though there will be no trouble getting into the party, even though to one degree or another everyone will have access to free beverages, who really doesn’t want to feel like a VIP? It’s ego massaging, for sure, but there are big egos here at this festival anyway. Why not play (or prey?) on the attendants’ personalities?


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SXSW is an Austin event. And Door Number 3 is an Austin advertising agency. We're interested in how new ideas in advertising, media and branding will be presented during these 9 quick days. From inside the lecture halls where top specialists present their thoughts, to out on the streets where advertising is put to the test on tens of thousands of festival-goers. We'll be there with the complete coverage, reports, photos, editorials, and perhaps some tricks on how to sneak into a few sweet afterparties.

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