A staple of the SXSW experience are the late night after parties. These affairs are generally exclusive, corporate financed and excessively branded. Last night I finally cashed in enough credibility to get invited to the Red Bull/Facebook Lounge, which was an intense and drunken barrage of extremely aggressive marketing.
To be fair, waking up on a friend’s couch in one’s clothes with a hangover you could sell to science never leaves you with a good taste in your mouth. But this event was excessive, tacky and made me feel a little dirty. The opening shot was the admission pass: a temporary tattoo of distressed art and Red Bull logos. You had to apply the tattoo to enter, and there was a small branded Red Bull “tattoo studio” with a sink and sponges outside the gate. So anyone who wants to party needs to walk around with a logo on their forearm or neck the next few days. Dirty tricks? Maybe. But effective.
Once inside the scene was impressive, albeit sort of tasteless. It was a converted hanger/parking lot with a Red Bull logoed stage that looked like it was left over from the last U2 tour. Performing on it was some guy with a laptop. Across from the stage was an incredibly elaborate two story lounge packed with every ostensibly cool extra a marketer could dream up: white leather sofas, Guitar Hero 3, plasma TVs playing break dancing videos and ubiquitous Red Bull and free booze.
The co-sponsor of this party was Facebook, and near the VIP area was the “Facebook pavilion”, a converted bus packed with computers and Facebook schwag. Amazingly, there was a line of drunk revelers desperate to update their Facebook profiles, no doubt to let their friends know about this sweet party. It was pretty incongruous, and sort of interesting that people’s digital lives were so critical that people would take time out of a real live party to spend time on a computer.
Overall, if a sort of glossy, polished nightclub-like experience is your thing, you’ll love this party. But the fact remains is that as an advertiser, pouring people free alcohol only brings them to your event, it doesn’t sell the product or build brand loyalty. It’s all about how you market to them while they are there. Love it or hate it, Red Bull has very effectively matched a lifestyle to their brand. There is clearly a “Red Bull experience” and events like this definitely help to build it.