Archive for the 'Parties' Category

FXFU: Do Not Advertise Here

img_0059.jpg

There aren’t too many places left at SXSW that are genuinely marketing free. Most events are pretty blatant promotional vehicles. Others work hard to seem authentic and non-corporate and mostly fail. Some, though attached to a brand, really aren’t trying to sell you anything except a good time. But for the last decade there is one party in Austin, still going strong, that is guaranteed to be an oasis of marketing-free, old-fashioned punk rock ethos: F*ck by F*ck You. And how can I tell? Because its the only SXSW party in town that has a goat.

img_0061.jpg

Once upon a time, though it’s getting harder and harder to remember, all you needed to throw a show here was a P.A. You didn’t need Fader and Red Bull to build massive complexes full of flat screen TVs and Guitar Hero. You didn’t need to give away your email address and phone number to get a laminate. FXFU is a SXSW tradition of throwing shows the old fashioned way. The venue is basically a sandpit with a rickety porch and a homebuilt stage. It’s also the home of Bryan Nelson’s Australian Cattle God record label, a fiercely independent local imprint that promotes bands and sells albums the grassroots way. It’s also home to an adorable pygmy goat. And on Saturday, it was home to 300+ old punks, babies, hipsters, drunks, stoners, record excs, moms, dads, out-of-towners and anyone else who heard about it having the time of their lives.

So here is the problem. The organizers of FXFU (and many of the attendees) are the genuine freaks, weirdos and lunatics. People who are not ruled by fashion or trends. The artists. The risk-takers. The true tastemakers. These are the people SXSW advertisers dream about selling to. And people like this exist in every scene and in every city. Obviously this doesn’t mean advertisers should bring their promotional koozies and bottle openers and candleholders to FXFU. The only way for an advertiser to reach this profoundly influential group is to stop thinking about advertising and start thinking about what makes events like this work: a sense of community. Large corporations are not necessarily the problem, but as someone smart at Google once said: “Don’t be evil.” Think about local markets. Think about communities. Think about being green. Don’t do it just to move product, but do it because it makes sense, for both your business and your customers. These are the tenets that have always been vital to the “DIY scene,” be it the punks or the hippies or the hackers or whoever. And the DIY scene has been steadily gaining momentum and is not going away. When businesses as a whole reflect these values, advertising becomes less of a one way street and more of a dialouge. And successful, quality products and sucessful quality marketing build sound companies and loyal customers.

FXFU started as a response to the increasingly corporate feel of SXSW, but it survives as perhaps the most relevant SXSW event there could ever be. It’s the one party that’s not about brands or dollars or the record industry. It’s just a bunch of people who love rock music and who love bringing people together and actually care enough to make it happen. It’s refreshing, as it is every year, to see something so genuine at this festival.

Ray-Ban, Rachel Ray and Fader Forting

So I finally made it in, and the Fader/Levi’s Fort was as cool as everyone made it out to be. The Fort itself had a bunch of different rooms to check out, and that was smart because it encouraged lounging around with some of the Fader magazines laying about. Ray-Ban did a confession booth that also took your picture and printed them out with an access code to see your confession online—that was an excellent way to get people to access the Ray-Ban website.

rrline.jpg

Before the Fader Fort, we went to the Rachael Ray Party at Beauty Bar, officially called the Feedback Party Hosted by Rachael Ray. They posted flyers everywhere for that party, but enforced their RSVP list, which made for a long, attention-getting line. Inside they were extremely well-organized and served amazing food while heavily promoting (and pouring) the new Rose’s Mojito mix.My camera was out of batteries, so I couldn’t take a picture, but one of the funniest things I’ve seen at SXSW was a sign outside of a bar advertising “free food, gift bags, and beer,” written in marker on a white paper plate, taped to a parking meter. What?! At least take the time to make a poster at home!Again, not as much schwag today. But here’s a look at the final tally of all the free stuff I received at SXSW:

swag.jpg

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.

tshirts.jpg

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.

batanga.jpg

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.

After-Hours Marketing

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.

Partying in a Parking Garage

Myopenbar.com hosted a party at the Texas Garage, the parking garage at the AMLI building. Naturally, it had an open bar—Dewar’s and ginger beer, Keystone beer—and music. Saucony was there playing shuffleboard and giving out “winner”and “loser” headbands, which is really cool because it’s funny, and because people like labels.

winner.jpg

Stella McCartney for LeSportsac was also apparently a sponsor, but there was nothing they were giving out that made any sense, or that was branded at all. They just put out signs that said “LeSportsac” on the tables. Weird.

But the secret to the party was heading upstairs to the very top to the “NYLON/Guess Lounge.” I don’t know why they were sponsoring this, but they had huge floating letters in two pools, which was awesome because they were so huge.

guess.jpg

There appeared to be an indoor lounge too, but I couldn’t figure out how to get in there. There was also a photo booth where you could take a picture and have it print out immediately. On the photo, Guess, Nylon, and http://politeinpublic.com/’s logos were all printed as well. Pretty smart, because I love the photo and will keep it for a long time!

Also, here’s a shot of the Guess pool logo later in the night.

img_0056.jpg


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

RSS Subscribe

Share this Blog

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Got a scoop?

Send Bryan an email.

Join Our List

Want to receive fun, informative content throughout the year that make you a better-informed and more likable person? Email us and we'll put you on our list.

Live SXSW Flickr Feed

DSC_3627

DSC_3594

DSC_3611

More Photos