Archive for the 'WTF?' Category

FXFU: Do Not Advertise Here

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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.

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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.

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.

Geico Promotional Candle Holder?

Edging out those fingerless blogging gloves as the weirdest schwag so far is this lovely, vaguely Geico Caveman-branded promotional votive candle holder from the Geico party downtown. It holds five small candles in an array of neutral colors sure to complement your cave, your thatched hut or even your apartment (if you’ve evolved past the hunter/gatherer stage.) The package also thoughtfully included a box of tumbled pebbles, presumably to decorate your candle holder with a tasteful, mellow precambrian vibe. This is part of Gieco’s IHeartCavemen.com campaign, an ironic web-dating/ social networking site which allows you to turn your photo into a caveman, thus fulfilling all the promises of Web 2.0.

At the launch party, I declined to have my photo taken with the Geico Caveman, but he wasn’t shy about giving hugs and kisses to the ladies. Though I am convinced that social networking websites are here to stay, I’m not entirely convinced the world really needs one that caters to the cavemen set. There are a lot of lessons the advertising community can learn from the Geico Caveman campaign. But there is big lesson I can vouch for: no one wants to lug a candle holder and a box of rocks around SXSW. Next time stick with a coozie.

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Leis, Ice Cubes and Finger Puppets

leis.jpg Waiting in line for over an hour to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall at the Paramount, girls in hula skirts braved the chilly weather to go around and lei all those waiting in line. When the movie was over, I was completely surprised to see not one lei lay on the ground … and I even saw leis out much later last night. Maybe I’m an oddity and I just don’t like wearing the swag, but it appears everyone else loves leis.

We headed to PhizzPop where there was some serious branding going on! There were interactive kiosks where you could vote on the best design in an interactive design competition they were hosting, and the bar’s flat screens were all hosting demonstrations of the different projects. People were mesmerized when demos came on—they just sat wherever they were and watched. PhizzPop also had an open bar, a signature drink (red bull & pop rocks), light-up ice cubes, and branded cocktail napkins—if unoriginal, at least it’s smart marketing, since many people are at a party just for the free booze. And the light-up ice cubes made it into our drinks at the next party, where PhizzPop got some publicity from people asking us where we got the ice cubes. drinks.jpg

Next, we went to the Facebook party, which billed itself as “Facebook Friends.get party @ SXSW 2008.” Participants could only sign up via Facebook, and I met at least one guy who signed up for a Facebookaccount just to snag an invite to the party. An email sent to registrants said: “Priority admittance will be given to people on our attendee list. Folks with a SXSW conference badge will be admitted as well, as space allows.”That is absolutely genius. Because Facebook users are likely to be the younger crowd that can’t afford the badges, they are placed above the arguably more professional badgeholders. This makes the Facebook-only crowd want to come to the party—and makes them feel like they are truly valued as members of Facebook.facebook.jpg

The party also had a very subliminal-message type screen that kept repeating mantras like “Facebook is a part of our daily lives,” and “Facebook is our social utility.” Facebook is a part of my daily life and I do use it as a social utility … so there may be a correlation between the sentiments, but not causation.I found one interesting item when I randomly walked into the NXNW party – this little monster finger-puppet on the ground. I started to play with it, and it attracted tons of attention. Everyone wanted to know where I got it so they could get one too … so to whoever out there brought the monster finger-puppets: put your brand name on them! Or is the monster the brand?

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Social Media Tools & Manners

Throughout SXSW Interactive fest, every panel is hosted on Meebo or accepting questions with Twitter.  At an interactive festival where 50% of the discussion is social media, the presence of these social tools is a given. It’s been interesting to read the Meebo chat rooms from panel to panel and also great looking back at discussions on panels I couldn’t catch. The increased use of these tools during real life events does have it highs and lows.On the plus side it makes it a lot easier to communicate with anyone and everyone in an instant. Whether it’s sharing ideas, giving feedback, asking questions, or making snide comments about a panel (saw that a lot)…its all instant gratification for what one is looking for at that moment. People are able to establish connections with peers that share their same interests and professions, which also allows networking through your fingertips during industry events.  The downside I see is using these tools during public forums can be distracting and rude to the speakers—we aren’t giving the respect to these speakers that they deserve for sharing their time and knowledge. With all the social tools abounding, of course they will be used more and more in this way. However, I believe people will still crave human, in-person connections and discussions, in which the transparency that was established in the digital world will and can still be there.

Sponsored Panel – A Sneaky Brand Push

When you see “sponsored panels” listed you get the notion that the session is going to feature branding messages, company representatives and schwag. Not really what I was interested in. But in this case the topic was something I very much was interested in: “How to Scoop the Story on Your Blog.”The panel was sponsored by Utterz and when I entered the room I was strongly encouraged to sign up for their mobile blogging service because that was going to be the topic of the panel. Mobile blogging? Is that in the title of the panel I chose? Confusion set in.They were clever marketers- Utterz published a great topic to get bloggers there and then attempted to hook attendees into signing up for their service in order to get the most benefit out of the panel, whether or not they wanted the service or not. It annoyed a lot of conference goers there because if anyone wanted the service, all that needed to be done was to go upstairs to the Utterz tradeshow booth and get the full tutorial there. Needless to say I got up and left with my promotional cow keychain (“Utterz” – get it?) And to top it off Utterz promoted their panel at the trade show booth, too.

Scavenger Hunt!

The time is ‘nigh: South By Southwest 2008 is upon us. In a few short hours, downtown Austin will be transformed into the carnivalesque, beer-soaked marketing nexus everyone knows and loves. This year, give our Advertising Anarchy Scavenger Hunt a shot. Photograph an example of each of these 8 categories and when you’ve got them all email them to Bryan. We’ve got some great prizes (and free bragging rights) to the first and most creative submissions.

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Click the image to download a handy PDF version.


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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