Archive Page 2

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!

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 Potterwar.org (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.

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.

Friday

Picking Apart the SXSW Film Schwag Bag

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

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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 Jaman.com 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.

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.


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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