Archive for the 'Advertising' Category

No Sidewalk Chalk?

When it comes to SXSW 2008, I’ve seen a lot of the typical brand promotion strategies. We’ve seen the posters. We’ve seen the bottle replicas serving as posters. Every type of beverage has a wrapped vehicle (the Monster energy truck I thought was a little different and appropriate for the brand), and if brands don’t have any of the aforementioned, they have street teams to hand out the product. Other than the interactive lounges, I’m a little bored.

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So where’s the sidewalk chalk? This is what I really wanted to know when I walked down 6th St. at noon today. Knowing that downtown largely becomes barricaded and patrons are able to walk in the street, I would think that sidewalk chalk would be an absolute hit! 6th is probably wide enough to fit three Weiner Mobiles at least, and that could be a lot of room for chalking your brand onto the ground. I can’t be positive of the cost differences between synthetic posters and an artist with great chalk skills, but I imagine they might not be too far off, making sidewalk works of art quite possible. And who knows, maybe chalk isn’t the only option. I actually saw one solitary piece of sidewalk advertising and that was a poster somehow attached to the ground. There’s nothing to say that posters can’t be put on the ground too, and maybe you could put a great creative spin on it. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a lot of cool potential. So all I can say is, when other brands are looking high, maybe next year other brands should look low.

Where are the Schwag Bags?

We might have hit a few less parties today, but there also seemed to be less schwag—I saw fewer people on the streets weighed down with bags, and I only came away with two free shirts. One of those free shirts was even designed by me! Alternative Apparel set up a Do-It-Yourself booth where they had plain white t-shirts, fabric markers, and stencils at Orchid.

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We sipped on some free drinks and ate some free tacos and spent a solid hour on our shirts—which is brilliant marketing for the t-shirt company. Not only did we spend an hour with their product, but then we took them home and are going to wear them purely because we made them!Other stops included the Batanga Party at Habana, which was a lot of fun, but I still don’t know what Batanga is. They did, however, follow what I call the Drink Theory of Branding, which means they branded everything that had to with the free drinks they were passing out.

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Other notable sights included: an Izze bike, which made no sense but was painted lime green. I wonder if it stemmed from the Hill Country Ride for Aids and their red bikes all around town, or if that’s just a coincidence?izze.jpg

At the Dell Lounge, which presents a very unified front with the same logo on everything from badges to t-shirts to bags, they featured Blogging Stations where anyone could step up to use the computer. Coupled with good music, free Southern Comfort drinks, and the rare schwag bag, it’s done a nice job of branding itself as a place to be. Paste Magazine was a cosponsor, and they were attempting the Radiohead pay-what-you-will experiment. Which is fine, except that our particular salesperson made sure to outline how much it costs the magazine to print and mail, which was a total guilt trip. If you’re going to offer the deal, take what you get, Paste!

Solar Saucer

So I thought it was a giant sombrero and some visitor thought it’d be an easy way to get gullible Texans over to see whatever it was they were selling, but it turns out that this:saucer1.jpgis actually a Solar Saucer. Obviously I needed to know what http://www.solarsaucer.com is as soon as I got home, so at 2 am I was up exploring the Solar Saucer. Lesson: giant light-up sombrero-saucers are excellent at attracting attention. The real lesson you can take from that? If you can, build a product that sells itself. The whole point of the Solar Saucer is that it’s powered entirely by the sun, so if you have a giant object sitting in a parking lot at night showing how it is displaying light that’s been stored throughout the day, the product really sells itself.We also went to Moby’s CD release party at Vice, which is sponsored by MetroMix LA. Like Amoeba, I can’t help but wonder why a Los Angeles newspaper wants to advertise so heavily in Austin, but it must be indicative of two things: 1) that they have to promote at the big music events not because of the city, but because of the people that will be there who actually do live or visit LA; and 2) that Austin is a really happening place to be if LA has to advertise here!

Vice Branding at SXSW

The Vice brand is interesting because they don’t really sell anything. Born from a small independent ‘zine based in New York City, Vice got famous through their fashion “Do’s and Dont’s,” an ultra snarky man-on-the-street critique of style. They also have a record label. They have a sporadically-published magazine they give away for free. They recently expanded to producing movies and documentaries.

Interestingly, they don’t seem to move enough actual product to be springing for the $30k parties throughout SXSW. Their true livelihood is a stranglehold on the zeitgeist and a powerful love-hate relationship with the hipsterati. Many complain about them and their very harsh voice (which is valid), but every year at SXSW people fight tooth and nail for a pass to their after-hours parties. None of this is especially unique enough to distinguish themselves from SXSW background noise except for one glaring problem: Vice is the one legitimate underground brand that could be declared a sellout.

Vice seems to promote just about any product they can get their hands on, most notably their long term co-branding with Toyota’s youth oriented Scion imprint (National music chain Guitar Center is another major advertiser). Why do people tolerate a legitmate voice of the underground flaunting their relationship with a giant corporations?

Rock fans tend to be hypersensitive to corporate sponsorship. Most people can spot a big company trying to buy “cool” a mile away. SXSW attendees obviously understand this and are willing to tolerate it in exchange for the free beer and free music, though it almost leads to some resentment. For example, Filter, Fader and Nylon magazine each have a huge SXSW presence which, though effective in its own right, in many ways undermines their underground credibility. Their events inevitably feel corporate. Vice, in contrast, emerges with their authenticity intact despite their massive marketing effort.

This year at their signature day event Scion branding was everywhere. This included a Scion with a custom paint job of the headlining band, Motorhead. This band was not even a part of SXSW in any official capacity. And the band was Motorhead, a pioneering British heavy metal band that started in the 70’s. These guys obviously do not drive Scions. The entry wristbands also proclaimed “THIS IS A SCION EVENT” in block letters. But despite the advertising, the energy was adamantly non-corporate. The party was wild, dirty and had the feel of being slightly out of control. The seemingly unlimited alcohol didn’t hurt. This year’s banner moment was a tattooed guy with a huge beard literally asleep on the hood of one of the many Scions parked inside the party’s grounds. Vice deliberately took away the polish and glamour from a very well-funded and branded corporate event to make the event feel spontaneous and a little dangerous.

The other card in Vice’s hand is the fact they have never claimed to have any kind of integrity. Their entire voice is based around being an extreme of the New York City rock insider, a hard-partying socialite who pulls no punches. It’s an identity that has no problem taking Toyota’s money if it means they can party a little longer. This attitude, which was once probably genuine, is now a savvy marketing twist. It’s subtle, but they have cached their “selling out” as a part of their persona, enabling them to accept aggressively corporate mainstream marketing while maintaining their legitimacy.

The capstone was Vice’s now traditional Saturday late night party, an event entirely free of advertising. There were no banners, no promoters and no schwag. The only branding was the alcohol available from companies like Sparks, Miller High Life and Hornitos who likely paid dearly to give away alcohol in order to be associated with Vice.

Boats & Smokin’

We went on the March Mashup boat cruise, a free-food-and-drink affair Wednesday night. Trying my darndest, I could not find a single reason for it to exist, until one of the founders told me, “we just thought it would be awesome to have a party on a boat, during SXSW.” Well okay.

The sponsors of the event, Red Stripe beer, Hey Cupcake!, and the Daily Juice, were very well-promoted and their products were the only things served, so they certainly benefitted from the event. Daily Juice made crazy – and delicious – cocktails in coconuts, something that was so memorable it makes me want to stop into the Daily Juice to try something in the store. Last night we also went and saw a couple bands at the Smokin’ “place”. I say that because I don’t know what the actual name of it is, but “Smokin’ ______” is written on the side of the building, colored smokebillows out from the roof, you can smoke inside since it’s not technically an indoor venue (which means port-o-potties… ugh), and it’s all sponsored by Natural American Spirit.

You can evenstop by the cigarette “bar” for a fix. If an advertiser can carry out a theme to that extent, it’s pretty impressive. And the smoke is visible for blocks!

On The Streets of the Music Fest

We started the day thinking we’d get to Fader/Levi’s Fort first and move from there, but we arrived at the place to a line stretching down the entire block and a little around the corner.faderline.jpg

That’s some clout. There was also a huge Levi’s sign on the side of the building, but everyone there seemed to know that they were on the list, so word about this event must have spread quickly. The Dentyne Ice girls passed out full packs of gum with music cards on the inside, which was convenient.We headed over to Emo’s for the Force Field PR & Terrorbird Media party, where I saw some brilliant branding: the Emo’s over-21 stamp was the Terrorbird logo!

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Also pretty smart was Amoeba Music’s plastic bags:bag.jpg

They were empty, but people who had been carrying around all the random swag stuffed those other companies’ stuff into their Amoeba Bag and advertised for Amoeba all day.After a walk down 6th Street—with a stop into the Pirate Elvis party with a make-your-own-peanut-butter-sandwich station and free pirate eye patches—we ultimately were lured into Buffalo Billiards Bar by two giant blow-up bottles of Sauza tequila.buffbill.jpg

Inside, we found Austin radio station 101X and some other sponsors had turned this little area of Buffalo Billiards into a sort of lounge, where we scored free shot glasses on a string (handy!) and played Austin Sound’s setup of Rock Band. We ended up staying there, playing Rock Band for 45 minutes before we had to go home.

What Does it Take to be Sticky?

paperstuff.jpgWhat does it take to be sticky? Today I had to ask myself what really stuck out in terms of non-traditional advertising in the SXSW convention hall, and I aimed my focus on one particular area.Tucked into a corner at the hall are groups of tables, covered, no, SMOTHERED by promotional materials for a variety of brands and products for the taking–stuff like postcards, newspapers, magazines, etc, etc, etc. One glance and you want to ask who dumped the paper trash in the middle of the place. While snapping photos, I heard numerous people gasp as they walked by, mumbling to themselves in amazement at the piles of paperstuff. It’s true, there are at least 20 layers of different promotional materials and everything will seem the same if you don’t sift through them. There were a few noble attempts to raise the bar on the typical promotional sign or postcard. But for 90% of those who left something on the table, your materials will be recycled at the end of the week, missing whoever your target market is.adobebox.jpgWhat I liked to see were those things that defied two dimension, like this little box Adobe made. The text said, “Find good fortune at SXSW,” hence the fortune cookies inside. Kind of weird, but I thought the packaging was eye catching. It’s more memorable and stickier than almost any business card or postcard. Some advertisers opt for useful items, like highlighters or lanyards. Thanks for giving me something I can use, but from a creative standpoint, you get no congratulations from me. A few colorful glasses peaked through the mass, as well as some stickers, but if the stickers only display your logo and some wacky headline, then I’m passing it by.Am I too picky or closeminded? Maybe. But the interactive, 3D materials really caught my attention, and that is definitely one of the better strategies to use when trying to filter through the other 90% of promotional waste.


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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