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A World We Never Knew: Experiential Marketing at SXSW


Have you ever walked into a bar, enjoyed the activities and amenities, then come to find out that it was only a temporary pop up pub? Been looking for that perfect atmosphere for a cold one that you swore was on that corner next to your hotel? Companies are utilizing the flux of marketing, technology and media obsessed crowds during this upcoming week to promote their products by temporarily renting spaces in and around downtown and setting up shop.

SXSW has opened up a window of opportunity for several of society’s most widely known brands to uniquely advertise using direct engagement with their consumers. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen the growth of what industry professionals like to call ‘activations’; branded environments that take over existing bars, restaurants, and clubs. As an extension of ‘experiential marketing’, these activations serve to involve the public in what companies have to offer in creative and captivating ways. Oftentimes, virtual reality, augmented reality and even immersive simulations are used to transport visitors to the world of a specific brand. Some of our favorite recent SXSW examples include The Mashable House, Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser Beer Garden and USA Network’s Mr.Robot attraction.







Benefits for the venue renters can come in many shapes and forms. Often, companies will develop lasting relationships with owners of the properties they are renting from and come back to use the same space year after year. Not only does this give crowds a better sense of where to find their favorite brands, it creates a partnership between renters and corporations. This relationship will bring significant infrastructure improvements that last well beyond SXSW, paid for by renters. Even after festival-goers visit these activations, they remember each location and are drawn back to them because of their previous engaging experience.

For sponsors of these events, activations have provided many new opportunities to reach their target audiences. By creating a physical presence for their brand, there is a greater chance that loyal followers will share their experience with extended social networks by posting photo and video content. These tools can be much more powerful than a consumer’s words in today’s oversaturated digital sphere, so any way to give the consumer personal interaction with the brand is key. These activations also link companies to other compatible companies that align with their values and goals. Overall, this increases audience reach for all parties and maximizes the potential for a product to gain recognition through multiple platforms.

So who is losing in this equation? Although activations and experiential marketing has proven it’s positive effects for the time being, Austin is taking a hit on the real estate front based on property value and margins. Event spaces are being created and rented for large events like SXSW, then left in the dust as empty shells of buildings when the crowds dissipate. Even though these spaces are giving big corporations the opportunity to transform venues into completely different arenas for consumers, the city of Austin says this lack of permanent businesses can contribute a hit to the overall economy. Buildings are only used for certain small amounts of time while the rest of the year they sit vacant with no flow of revenue. The sense of community and stability that comes with the permanency of renters is lost. In many instances, small business can fall victim to large corporate event rentals when bidding for a space.

Sadly, SXSW has become such a large event that some are questioning it’s benefit for the city vs. the room we have to accommodate it. There were roughly 400,000 people registrants and attendees of the 2014 festival and this number has only continued to grow. Although there have been more hotel rooms built to alleviate the crowding of participants, prices per room have risen from year to year due to popularity and demand. Some are saying it may be time for another city to attempt to host the activities and give Austin back it’s unique culture. Aside from the debates, we do not foresee SXSW going anywhere anytime soon. After all, the only place that can create this fascinating draw and still maintain it’s music and technology roots is this place we call home. Keep Austin weird and happy SXSW!

To view more of the coolest activations to come to SXSW:

To read more about how SXSW has impacted Austin’s infrastructure: