Archive for the 'Bryan Keplesky' Category

Picking Apart the SXSW Music Schwag Bag

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



The music bag is always the heaviest when it comes to schwag. This year’s was no different. And much of it was just clutter, plain and simple. For instance: tons of tons of CD samplers. I personally am not a fan of them, unless they’re mixed by friends. But I do love the annual Japan Nite CD sampler, which is a great sampling of the Japanese bands that showcase every Friday night of SXSW at the club Elysium.

There was some gum from ubiquitous advertiser Dentyne, who I think covered every possible medium and location during the festival to get their gum out. There was also a sample snack size of Zone Perfect nutrition bars. The pack of playing cards from DirectTV was a nice gesture, but anyone who plays cards religiously could tell right away that they were really cheap.Perhaps the strangest item was from some kind of plastic “Casper the Friendly Ghost”-like thing with a blood splatter on its “head.” None of my friends or I could figure out what this thing was. It looks like it has a “tail.” Or is it a cape? Is it supposed to clip on something? Oh well, too vague to maintain any interest. And since it’s an election year there was a Rock the Vote button, but no other call to action on it. No voter registration stations or even a website. Local Austin diner favorite Kerbey Lane included a surprisingly thin pad of Post-It notes, with their website address only. Kerbey is great: it’s one of the few places in town open 24 hours. I feel like this was an opportunity missed.

I liked the intention of‘s offering: a small guide to all the bands playing at SXSW. The reason I like the intention is because it’s obvious they wanted to make something kind of useful, but still branded. It’s not a bad strain of logic, but the follow-through really doesn’t hold up at all. A dozen websites do this better (and also link to calendars).

For straight up design aesthetic, no one is doing it better than British Music at SXSW. Under the banner name “British Music Embassy,” the printed guide to all music British was impeccably produced, even down to the details like rounded corners. They did an equally impressive brochure last year as well and once again they’ve done the seemingly impossible- they’ve made a brochure I actually want to read. Cheers to that.The final piece of schwag was the favorite of my group of friends. “Sgt. Solo” from Armed Forces Entertainment. I’m not exactly sure why, because it’s just a green army man figurine with an acoustic guitar instead of, say, a flame thrower. I suppose my friends just liked throwing it at each other or stacking it on top of dishes at restaurants. But a small, completely portable piece of schwag that can break up a few minutes of monotony is always a good idea.


Second Skin and We Are Wizards

Two of my favorite films this year from the Film festival are documentaries with many parallels. The first, We Are Wizards, takes a look at the subculture of hardcore fans of the enormously popular Harry Potter book series, mainly the ones who create their own new content in the form of themed bands or blogs. The other film, Second Skin, follows the stories of a group of people obsessed with Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft and Everquest.

I’m not as much interested in writing reviews of these films, although both were excellently made and produced. I do find it interesting that the people in We Are Wizards were shown to be highly creative, working within the world that author J.K. Rowling created. The people in Second Skin, on the other hand, were shown to have more of a true addiction, where isolation, weight gain and loss of family and friends were all symptoms.

But what intrigued me the most, and why I think these films have an interesting connection to corporate branding, is a little vignette from We Are Wizards. Heather Lawver, a 16-year-old, created a fan website called The Daily Prophet. She then received a letter from Warner Bros, who owns the rights to the Harry Potter franchise, making it quite clear that it was doing what it could to shut her site down because it infringed on its intellectual property. So Heather became part of (the site is now gone, but the manifesto still exists) calling on a ban of all things Harry Potter, save for the original books. Heather was one of many people, many of them children, who all had Harry Potter fan sites that were served legal papers. Potterwar garned enough signatures over time to force Warner to drop most of the challenges. But the fact still remains that Warner Bros is very, very protective of all aspects of the Harry Potter brand.

Contrast that with a company like Blizzard, makers of World of Warcraft. They arguably have just as rabid (if not more rabid) fans and all the similar fan extensions you find with Harry Potter – the blogs, the conventions, the forums. But you never hear a peep from Blizzard in any way, fighting to protect their intellectual property.

Obviously, part of it might have to do with money. Advertising Age estimates the Harry Potter brand to be worth about 15 billion dollars. Blizzard made 1.1 billion dollars last year, largely from sales of WOW. But I think the main fundamental difference is what Brian Oberkirch alluded to in our Advertising Anarchy interview about companies of the web as opposed to those merely on it. Warner Bros., despite their web presences, is still a traditional media company. Blizzard’s entire income almost comes exclusively from a made-for-web game. Blizzard’s intellectual property is more of the framework, rather than the meat– that’s because it’s the users of the game who create their characters, names and adventures.

There are plenty of arguments (some successful, some not) about the healthiness of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. But no one can argue that companies like Blizzard don’t understand, and respect, their most rabid fans.

Picking Apart the SXSW Film Schwag Bag

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



When it came to free schwag from the Film festival, it was an unequivocal bomb. I’ve mentioned already that all the bags seemed a little lighter than last year, and my guess is that it has something to do with SXSW positioning itself as green.But the film bag is just ridiculous- a handful of postcards, maybe one or two trade publications and a random CD. I don’t know if the film industry is just on hard times the last year or so (the writer’s strike?), but clearly their heart wasn’t just in it.What stuck out to me the most wasn’t something with a “wow” factor, but more of an oddity factor. A bright orange brochure about the boutique hotels in Miami. Also a postcard for Friendster, with my first thought being “they’re still around?” Another postcard, from stuck out from the rest of the stack mainly because of its extreme pandering. A photo of 4 people with nooses around their necks (one of them being in a mechanized wheel chair). I suppose that’s “extreme.”

Finally, just because I wanted to have at least four things to talk about, a CD sampler from A21m. What with the 3,000 bands at the festival, I don’t know if this is quite the time to want to be thinking about “independent music for licensing,” but you never know.

Everyone Loves Guitar Hero / Rock Band

rockband.jpgI don’t remember seeing one Guitar Hero or Rock Band setup at all last year, but this time around it seems you can’t throw a free swag bag without hitting somebody holding one of those plastic instruments. They’re all over the convention center, particularly the trade show areas. It’s smart thinking. These are fun, interactive games. People love playing them. Wrap around your branding and it’s a win-win situation.

Where Have all the Party Photographer’s Gone?

One of the big things I’ve noticed this year at the late night parties is not a presence, but an absence. The last few years all of the mega-hyped parties featured an official “party photographer.” Guys who label themselves under names like “The Cobra Snake” and “Last Night’s Party” are two good examples of this. (Just Google them. Warning- sometimes their stuff is NSFW). They’re pseudo-celebrities who can give a party just a little more weight in credibility by documenting the party with spontaneous portrait photography and then uploading the photos to their respective sites.

Except none of them are here this year. That’s not to say they’ve disappeared all together, but the trend seems like it’s waning a bit. What I have noticed at the parties is, tucked away in a corner, a makeshift “portrait center.” These usually involve a backdrop and, sometimes, even props / wigs. Simply grab a group of your friends, stand in front of the backdrop and get your portait taken. The photos of the night are then usually accessible by a website the following day. It’s kind of like a hipper Sears Portrait Studio, set up right in the middle of a really cool party. is a good example of this.

Why this subtle shift? I think part of the reason is that, with the potential for all photography posted on the web to be seen by anyone (bosses, friends, mothers), it’s actually smarter to exert a little more self-control now. You choose to get your photo taken or you choose not to. Those party photographer websites can sometime seem like the hipster version of Girls Gone Wild, which is a strange mix of youthful party exuberism contrasted with tinges of regret. Remember, if a photo is put up on the web, it will always stay on the web. The party portraits show a marked restraint.

But perhaps the biggest reason is that party photography has totally integrated into Web 2.0. On Flickr, Facebook and (now) MySpace, individuals can post their own party photos and then “tag” all the people within it. Plus, commenting on photos are always encouraged. So rather than having a party photo of you on a static “party photographer” site, you now have that similar-styled photo on your good friend’s Facebook page, tagged back to you and commented on by all the people you care about anyway – your good friends.

Basically the party photographers are now out of the equation. The new party photographers are now you and all your friends.

*Party portrait courtesy of Allison Narro.

Door Number 3 Endorses Moby

Say what you will about musician/DJ/composer Moby. He got a lot of flak for licensing just about every track off of his wildly popular Play album. His vegan lifestyle and his opinionated essays have had him labeled as a blowhard and a preachy leftist.

Moby gave an intimate interview at a joint Interactive/Film panel and he came across as extremely affable, humble individual (a luxury, maybe, having made tons of money). What I was most excited to hear about was his new website/venture, Basically it’s a resource for independent and student filmmakers where they can download original Moby music for free to use in their films. And if any of the films down the road make any kind of profit, a portion of the proceeds go to Moby’s favorite non-profit (and a local Door Number 3 client): The Humane Society.

Brands & Users Versus the Internet

Brands do have a legitimate fear of being slandered on the web. Without a doubt, the Internet empowers people and gives them a voice. Sometimes that voice can be used against brands. Oftentimes just as much for brands. And then there are situations when users find themselves on the same “side” as brands. That’s when someone finds out he or she has been trash-talked on the web as well.

A few years ago The Stranger, a weekly publication in Seattle, published a piece that I originally wrote for my own ‘zine, Misprint. It was a satirical call for bands to take art out of their equation and just sell out. In the context of Misprint it was obviously a joke, but in its republished form in Seattle maybe it did not. At least to one person. My article only got one online comment, and it was from someone who clearly didn’t get the joke and proceeded to take me to task. Admittedly, the repudiation wasn’t all that horrible. But for a while it was the first thing that popped up if someone Googled my name. Just the thought of my name being attached to an Internet-styled beat down gave me some pause.

So people and brands can sometimes be in the same proverbial boat. (Note: for the rest of this article I will refer to brands and people singularly – but only for this article.) The question then becomes, what to do next? There are several different methods that one can implement to soften the blow of getting written negatively about online. A trend lately is to “Google bomb” the web with automated puff pieces / spam that “bury” negative links to the back pages of the web. In fact, there are many new online companies popping up that do just that. My take is that although it works, it’s only temporary – and it can have adverse results long term. Remember, the web is about authenticity. Even though Google bombing can work, it has no intrinsic content value. It’s just fluff. People hate fluff.

One can always fight back and respond directly to the person / website generating the negative words. I could have easily replied to the fellow who hated my article, but I chose not to. The web is a wonderful 2-way pipeline and no one should be afraid to make a response.

I think the best method is to “Google bomb” with real content. I know it’s not easy, because it means taking something negative like bad comments and turning it into a spurt of prolific creativity. It means creating new, valuable content and putting it out onto the web. It means press releases. Blogs. Microsites. Interviews. Articles. The web is turning into a machine of perpetual motion and I think, if looked at positively, it’s a huge opportunity for anyone to self express on a very wide, multimedia scale. Sure it’s noble and definitely not cheap. Maybe it’s naive. But I think most would rather have a web full of value-rich content than broadband-eating static – all because some guy in Seattle said I was lame.

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.

Door Number 3

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